History Class Collaborating with Theatre Production to Enhance ‘Macbeth’ Experience

Macbeth-BOX OFFICECAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 15, 2014 – Students in “Castles in Context,” a European history class offered at Southeast Missouri State University, are creating interactive displays for theatre goers to explore when they attend the upcoming Department of Theatre and Dance’s performance of “Macbeth” during its run later this fall.

“Macbeth” will be performed at Southeast’s River Campus at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30-Nov. 1 and Nov. 6-8 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 9 in the Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre. At each performance, audiences will have an opportunity to enhance their understanding of the time period in which “Macbeth” is set.

“What we are doing is making a display on the castles of ‘Macbeth’ for outside the auditorium as part of the requirements for the history course, EH 400, ‘Castles in Context,’” said Dr. Victoria McAlister, professor in the Department of History.

The project is designed to encourage audience interaction before the performance and provide background information on Shakespeare’s dark tragedy, “Macbeth.” The exhibits will help audiences better understand medieval life and what they are about to experience. The project also is designed to show the relationship between history, art and theatre.

Two- to four-person student groups are researching certain aspects of medieval life or castles. They will then apply the information they find to different areas to help create a display about the castles mentioned in “Macbeth.”

John Carter of Kennett, Missouri, Julia Hight of Bakersfield, California, and Daniel Will of Wheaton, Illinois, are engaged in the project.

Will, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts with majors in history and historic preservation and a minor in French, is working on Lumphanan Castle, which is mentioned in “Macbeth.”

Carter, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in history with a minor in religious studies, is partnered with another student to create a pamphlet about music during the medieval era.

Hight, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in historic preservation with a minor in history, and her group are working on a different aspect of Cawdor Castle in Scotland, the main castle featured in “Macbeth.” Her group will describe architectural features and style as well as landscaping and life in the castle during the time.

“I feel like Shakespearean literature is always misunderstood because it’s hard to understand and most people don’t understand the setting of the plays. We are going to try and bridge that gap for the audience so that they can become more invested in the performance and enjoy it better,” Hight said.

Also, it provides viewers with medieval background, allowing them to fully understand each scene, conjuring up images beyond the play.

“You will understand what Cawdor Castle really looked like and imagine yourself there with Macbeth,” he said. “You will understand the role of a lady in the castle, possibly looking at Lady Macbeth as something besides ‘crazy.’ You will hear the music of the play, but you will be drawn into the music of the medieval era. We want to connect the audience, people of the modern era, with the people of the past, the medieval era.”

For the students, they are able to create a hands-on project and do historic research to get better acquainted with medieval life as well as castle structure and design.

Carter, who wants to be a teacher after he graduates or pursue a doctoral degree, says that by taking the class, he realizes the importance of having interdisciplinary lessons, and he plans to apply this concept to the classes he teaches.

He enjoys working on his piece of the display.

“It is always fun to be working and learning about new things. We have these standard ideas about what castle and medieval life was like, based on movies and TV, but a majority of our ideas are wrong,” Carter said.

Carter says he is pleased that his class project may be able to help someone else better understand medieval life, especially in Scotland, where “Macbeth” is set.

“It always feels good to have your hard work displayed for other people to view.  It is also fun to feel like you’re the expert with this ‘secret knowledge’ that you can teach other people,” Carter said.

Will decided to take the class because it sounded interesting and he wants to be a museum curator or director, and this gives him practical experience in setting up displays.

“Creating these displays will very much help me out for my future endeavors. Wanting to work in a museum, it is important to know how to set up display cases for museum goers so they can learn but also be entertained. You have to create displays that will draw people in off the streets, so they have to be creative and fun,” Will said.

Hight, a senior, decided to take the class because she has always loved castles and medieval life.

“I’ve learned that castles are so much more than what we imagine from fairy tales and Disney. They’re not only just large-scale masonry buildings but can also be dirt mounds and timber framed structures,” Hight added.

After graduating from Southeast, she would like to pursue a career in Main Street working in historic downtowns or as a historic site administrator.

“For my profession it’s always great to be able get more experience in historical research,” Hight said. “It also has helped me think out of the box better in relation to categorizing architectural styles and features. Most castles have been turned into historic sites and that is something I’m also strongly interested in, so it’s probably good experience to get a better understanding of sites I’m not familiar with.”

In addition to a lifelong love of castles, she says she is excited about working on the display because she loves Shakespeare, especially “Macbeth,” and plans to attend one of the performances at the River Campus.

“I think it will be great for the audience to be able to connect to the play in a deeper sense so that they would know fully and completely what’s going on even if it’s difficult to understand the words,” Hight said. “I hope everyone comes to the show and enjoys the experience of our exhibit.”