By Virginia Ogden ’18
Ogden is among eight students this summer in the Dartmouth Department of Theater’s course 65, New Plays in Development. The class’s first project was VoxFest, in which Dartmouth alumni theater professionals come for a week in July to develop and workshop new work with the help of the students in the course. Odgen wrote about the play she worked on, Macbeth in Rhythm, one of four works brought to VoxFest this summer. Theater 65’s next projects are the Frost & Dodd Student Play Festival, July 29-31, and the New York Theatre Workshop residency in August.
This summer, I am a member of Theater 65, a class that allows students to play an integral role in the three theater festivals that Dartmouth hosts during the term. The first of these festivals, VoxFest, is a presentation of completed and “in process” works by Dartmouth alumni in all capacities. I was a part of Macbeth in Rhythm, a piece directed by Hannah Chodos ’06 and starring Ben Weaver ’03 as Macbeth. The project approached Macbeth from a rhythmic perspective, incorporating Hannah’s unique training at the Song of the Goat Theatre in Poland in the hopes of revitalizing a classic work of theater. The abridged version specifically looked at often-cut characters and scenes as well as iconic ones, from the charming, little-known porter scene to Macbeth’s famous “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech.
As a student, I expected and would have been happy to simply observe the project’s development. However, much to my surprise, I was offered a significant performance role as the First Witch and Macduff’s son. Having grown up working around a movement/training-based Shakespeare company, I came to the work intimidated but not expecting to be surprised. However, the process of creating our final performance was unlike anything I’d previously worked on. Hannah worked largely without a “final goal”—we had a script and a performance date, but the process of creating that final performance was largely organic. We would begin by playing training “games” she led, getting in touch with each other and our bodies, and eventually began to explore the work through this specific, training-based lens. The idea was, if these exercises prove remarkably effective in preparing an actor to play a certain role or a certain scene, why should they be excluded from the performance as well? For example, in rehearsal as well as performance, the actors playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth used a stick held by each of them at either side to show physically how the two manipulate and control each other while they did their scenes, adding a new physical life to these iconic characters. The result was a powerful and moving piece of theater.
My immersive involvement in a project that had already been workshopped by this group of professionals for months as well as the remarkable trust awarded to me by those professionals was an unprecedented and deeply rewarding theatrical experience unlike any other I’d ever been a part of. It speaks to the pedagogical commitment of the festival and the considerable trust the department places in its students.