ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
Macbeth - A Lesson About Audiences
The dictates of commerce are playing havoc with some of the movies coming out of the major animation studios in Hollywood. As I have pointed out previously, the problem arises when you have a "family" film. The demographics of a typical family consist of a mom and dad and a couple of kids under ten years old. Since the adults are the ones with the wallets, the movies are made primarily to attract them. That is a big reason we have celebrity voice talent, for the adults in the audience. Kids could care less if George Clooney is the voice of the wolf.
Okay, so the movie is geared to adults. What do we do for the kids in the family? The usual solution I see these days is to have the story constructed mainly for adults and the playful animated images on the screen mainly for children. This is not really a fix, however. How many people have told you how much they loved the first half of Wall-E, but not so much the second half when the action shifts to the space craft? That is because the first half is a love story and environmental lesson for adults, and the second half is an action flick for children. If you ask a child what she thought of the movie, she is likely to tell you about all the funny fat people in chairs.
Which brings up a recent London production of Macbeth. For children! Shakespeare did not write plays for children. This masterpiece is about ambition, murder, envy and the power of prophesy and is full to the brim with bloody sword fights, sexual power plays and people dropping dead one after another, a combo pack guaranteed to get the kids kicking the seat in front of them. Steve Marmion, the director of this sold-out, standing-room-only, 2-hour production of Macbeth for children retained the original script with only slight abridgement. Then he conceptually targeted an audience "6 years and up."
How did he pull off this hat trick? In a nutshell, he re-designed the play so that it worked for very young humans. A 6-year-old simply does not have the mental references and would never grasp the big themes without some help. If it has been a while since you saw a production of Macbeth, here is a brief synopsis. The difference between a Macbeth for adults and a Macbeth for children -- and here is the object lesson -- is in the performance. When actors are acting for an audience of children, they give a different kind of performance than they do when acting for adults. This was what Walt Disney understood so well, and it is a defining characteristic of his movies and theme parks, all of which were made for kids.
As the audience members take their seats in the open air London show, actors on stage are carrying around these large cardboard cut-outs of lovely and graceful swans. The kids see clearly that these are not real swans, but are puppets. So, before the show even begins, we know we are going into a land of make believe. Then, during the first scene, those very same beautiful swans are turned upside down, which transforms them into three scary reptilian-looking witches. The kids are engrossed and delighted because there are visual tricks on stage. The famous incantation, "Double, double toil and trouble" is made into an audience sing along so that they stay involved. (Think Peter Pan. "Do you believe? Clap your hands if you believe!") Also, during that pre-curtain period, all of the characters introduce themselves to the audience while standing in front of what appears to be a giant white-board that is similar to the kind children see in school every day. Each character's name appears on the board in huge graffiti over his head. Later, as each meets his doom, a big "X" appears through his name. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!
Lady Macbeth is really the spine of any good production of this play. She is ambitious and sexually manipulative with her husband. How would you handle this kind of adult interplay in a production for children? Emphasize it! Make Lady Macbeth larger than life - like the Evil Queen. Convert her into a classic Disney villain, the kind that is one-dimensional, for kids. And as for the sex, the director draws out one kissing scene between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into an event that goes on and on and on. The longer the kiss, the louder the kids groan, of course.
And those bloody sword fights? Instead of inflicting the mortal wounds with swords, this production uses water balloons filled with fake blood. Yes! Underline the fact that the blood is not real. We have cut-out swan/witches and balloons of blood. If little kids were to see what appears to be actual sword fights and actual deaths on stage, it would give them nightmares.
Shakespeare's plot calls for Birnam Wood to move to England at a critical story point, and of course kids know that a forest cannot uproot itself and move. Solution: Give each member of the audience a twig from a tree so she can rattle it when it is time for Birnam Wood to reach England. The kids themselves bring Birnam Wood to England. Then, at the terrible climax of the story, instead of simply killing Macbeth, cut his head off entirely and carry that big old ugly head all around the stage, like one of those swan puppets we saw early on. "Ewwwwwww!"
Curtain. Standing ovation, from an audience of children. For Shakespeare's Macbeth. Marvelous acting lesson for us all.
Until next month...
"Actors and Animators are Shamans!"
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks