Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

MacB: The Macbeth Project

Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

MacB: The Macbeth Project

Article excerpt

MacB: The Macbeth Project

Presented by The African-American Shakespeare Company at the Buriel Clay Theatre, San Francisco, California. September 19-October 5, 2008 and Willow High School, Crockett, California. March 9-March 20, 2009. Directed and adapted by Victoria Evans Erville. Lighting designed by Kevin Myrick. Set designed by Atom Gray. Costumes designed by Steven Lamont. Choreography by LaTonya Watts. Fights directed by Dave Maier. Music by Dogwood Speaks and Johnathan Williams. Teaching by Sherri Young. With David Moore (Macbeth), Melvina Jones (Lady Macbeth, Melody), Johnathan Williams (Banquo, Hipcat, Macduff), Maikiko James (Witch 1, Old Man, Ensemble), DC Allen (Witch 2, Porter, Ensemble), Toya Willock (Witch 3, Lenox, Ensemble), Clifton Jones (Duncan, Ross), Levertis Stallings (Fleance), and others.

San Francisco's African-American Shakespeare Company recently finished staging its second hip-hop Macbeth. This time it's a project. Not too long ago, at the height of the culture wars, any project combining hip-hop and Shakespeare seemed like the radical and inventive solution to increasingly turbulent racial politics and troubled divisions between high and low culture, but today we can find Shakespeare and hip hop conjoined in a host of pedagogical and performance practices. Stephen Greenblatt has enthusiastically endorsed Flocabulary's hip-hop curriculum, Shakespeare is Hip Hop, and Ian McKellen recently recorded a rap version of Sonnet 18 before joining Akala, a British rapper claiming to be "Shakespeare reincarnated," to form East London's Hip Hop Shakespeare Company.

The San Francisco Bay Area is no stranger to hip-hop Shakespeare. In 2006, we saw Jonathan Moscone and the California Shakespeare Theater performing Naomi Iizuka's hip-hop remix of Hamlet, Blood in the Brain, at San Francisco's Intersection for the Arts. In 2007, we saw Ayodele "Wordslanger" Nzinga direct West Oakland's Lower-Bottom Playaz in her localized and poetic hip-hop adaptation of Macbeth, Mack, A Gangsta's Tale. It's no surprise, then, that this year the Bay Area, home of everything Mac, from Oakland's The Mack (1973) to Vallejo's Mac Dre, hosted a play calling itself MacB." The Macbeth Project. What did the African-American Shakespeare Company add to the mix with their Macbeth Project?

We might begin by looking at what made the AASC's Macbeth a "project." The word "project" evokes corporate and artistic collaboration at the same time that it conjures the specter of public housing. As an action, "project" is doubly verbal, containing both language and movement; to project is to utter in the linguistic or theatrical sense, but it also includes the spatial emanation which results from such utterances. A project can be simultaneously an eidos, its logos, and its telos. The AASC's project performs all of the above. The Macbeth Project is an ensemble of sites and institutions, players and pupils, actions and ideas. Partially funded by an NEA grant as part of the latter's "Shakespeare for a New Generation" initiative, the Macbeth Project conjoins performance and pedagogy as its teaching artists engage at-risk Bay Area youth in theatre games through their "Shake-It-Up" program (The NEA's "Shakespeare for a New Generation" program is part of the larger "Shakespeare in American Communities" initiative, both of which are partially supplemented by funding from the US Department of Defense and the Department of Justice's Office of Justice and Juvenile Delinquency Prevention). The Macbeth Project involves schools in San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, and Crockett. As a series of nodes in a larger network of projects, the Macbeth Project operates, in part, as the local and mobile expression of a national arts pedagogy as it projects itself through local voices and bodies.

I attended a performance of MacB towards the end of its run in San Francisco. Before taking my seat in the Buriel Clay Theater, I decided to get a closer look at Atom Gray's set. …

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