“Bard in the Quad” returns for its fifteenth season, but for 2020 the outdoor performances are cancelled due to COVID-19. Instead Oregon State University’s (OSU) University Theatre presents a “Bard in Your Yard” audio production of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. The audio drama is available to download starting Aug. 14.
“Macbeth is really the perfect kind of play to create this really intriguing, immersive experience using a lot of sound,” said Director Elizabeth Helman, who is also an instructor at OSU. “I think the supernatural elements lend themselves to [the] potential to create a very interesting soundscape that allows the audience to really ignite their imaginations.”
Macbeth is a classic story of ambition, revenge, and paranoia. In some circles it is believed to be cursed and only referred to as “the Scottish play” – primarily because it was the play to take over a theater if another play closed early. OSU Theatre last performed MacBeth in 2010.
“I love this story,” Helman said. “Macbeth is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. It’s a gripping, horrific, violent, interesting drama about this terrible person who does terrible things and then does more terrible things.”
From Live Play to Audio Drama Podcast
Due to physical distancing requirements, OSU Theatre’s spring term productions were audio dramas, including their main stage show “The Importance of Being Earnest” and the annual student one-act festival. They built on this experience and took a more experimental approach with MacBeth.
“Bard in Your Yard” features a 25-member cast including OSU students, alumni, and community members. OSU graduate Alyson Fewless created an original musical score, and OSU student and sound designer Joshua Gassaway weaved in immersive sound effects throughout.
“The goal is to make the audience feel like they’re standing right there with Macbeth,” said Helman. “You know, you hear the wind or a witch come out of one to one speaker to the next.”
Helman said that during Shakespeare’s time people would talk about “listening to a play.” Shakespeare used relatively few stage directions and focused more on the word play. Normally as a director, she spends hours designing the physical space and creating pictures. Instead, she and the cast and crew focused on creating an intimate and immersive audio atmosphere.
“You know, kind of from the vein of Alfred Hitchcock,” she explained. “The monster in your imagination is always much scarier than the one that we put on screen.”
Live theatre is a shared community experience at its core. Helman said they will miss engaging with the live audience. Normally, between 200 and 250 people attend each live “Bard in the Quad” performance – around 2000 in all. Families, couples, and friends will usually bring blankets and picnic dinners to enjoy while they watch. For some local children, Bard is their first theatre experience.
“It’s a really special event,” said Helman. “And I wasn’t going to just let that go because COVID got in the way. Hopefully, in 2021 we do get to actually be in the quad and it will be huge.”
In the meantime, she hopes Bard fans will enjoy their own version of “Bard in the Quad” with their families or socially safe groups in their own yards.
“I hope that our audiences will download the production, set up a speaker, spread a blanket, throw something on the grill, and experience this epic story on a warm summer night with close friends and family in the comfort of their own backyards,” she said.
“We need to create these experiences,” Helman said. “There are ways of telling stories and different ways we can engage an audience.”
Cast, Crew and Sponsors
This year’s production features a larger than usual cast including 25 OSU students, alumni, and community members. Since all the rehearsals and the performance were virtual, the cast is not location limited. Previous Bard in the Quad actors returned including one who currently lives in Lancaster, UK.
Helman explained; “It’s been a bit of a Bard family reunion!”
The cast includes OSU students: Rina Alvarez (Lady in Waiting/Hecate), Libby Brennan (Witch), Keegan Dittmer (Murderer), Alessandra Ferriso (Lady Macduff), Noah Fox (Macdonwald/Porter/Doctor), Srimanyu Ganapathineedi (Sergeant/Attendant/Lord), AJ Glessner (Young Siward/Murderer), Brittany Greener (Witch), Natalie Harris (Macduff’s Son/Apparition), Leah Kahn (Fleance/Apparition), Thomas R. McKean (Lennox), Kian Mitchell (Banquo), Hannah Schwartz (Lady Macbeth), and Joshua Smith (Donalbain).
OSU alumni: Rue Dickey (Murderer), Lindsey Esch (Witch), Cole Haenggi (Macbeth), Alexander Johnston (Malcolm), and Jackson Lango (Menteith)
Community members: Daniel Barber (Duncan/Caithness/Apparition), Charlotte Headrick (Hecate), Adam Keenan (Ross), Kelly Oristano (Siward), Harriet Owen (Seyton/Hecate), and Jonathan Thompson (Macduff).
People who wish to support “Bard In Your Yard” and OSU Theatre may purchase virtual tickets at bardinthequad.org. The full audio drama will be available August 14 to download through OSU Theatre’s Dam the Distance podcast feed, Apple podcasts, and other major podcast platforms. Bard in the Yard sponsors include the Memorial Union and Block-15.
By Samantha Sied