Highly lauded and Victorian Drama League award-winning director Emma Sproule is back with Dionysus Theatre’s latest production, Macbeth.
“Macbeth is an interesting Shakespearean work,” states director Sproule, “given there are no less than four strong and influential female roles within the text that drive the majority of the plot.” However, Sproule laments, that while they are all indisputably powerful and influential, not one of them gets to hold the title of leader.
“Therefore, my work will explore the challenges women still face in attaining and maintaining positions of power today, especially to wield the same power as a man, given leadership is still seen as a man’s role, ” she says.
Sproule opines that the perception remains that leadership requires the traits associated with being a ‘strong male’ – traits not generally respected or tolerated from a woman in the same role. “Men and women in leadership are also not assessed with the same criteria or even described (or criticised) with the same language; think of physical appearance and mental health labels, for example, ” continues Sproule. “Women can be seen as great and influential but all too frequently there needs to stand a man in front of them to enact and, potentially, take credit for their ideas.”
Sproule cites one of the most powerful characters in literature, Lady Macbeth, as an example of the need to defeminize.
“Lady Macbeth even acknowledges in her ‘Come, you spirits…’ speech that to do something powerful and dastardly, she’ll need to remove her femininity as in order to be cruel, you need to be male. In order to be respected as powerful and in a position of power, you need to be male.”
“Therefore, the ‘triumvirate’ of official power holders throughout the play, Duncan, Macbeth and then finally Malcolm will be played by men but all other characters will be played by women, as women. I find it significant that it will be a female who finally unseats the tyrant Macbeth from the throne, only to then hand the leadership over to another male. One who, by his own admission, is not suited to power. These women may not always be kind, their decisions may not always be noble and their morals may not always be good, however, why should they be? Would that be real? Would that be authentic?”
Sproule has been inspired to delve deeper into Shakespeare in recent years and has decided to direct one of his works every second year. “After directing Aristophanes’ political yet farcical war of the sexes ‘Lysistrata’ last year, I found the deeper potential of the women in Macbeth a strong pull for this year’s project,” she says.
Sproule finds Shakespeare’s works, and the man himself, both intriguing and contemporary, with a deep significance for a modern day audience.
“I remain fascinated that a writer from such a different time, both historically and culturally, remains so ever present in our contemporary theatrical climate'” she says. “His work is rife for reinterpretation and recontextualisation without needing to undermine the art and intention with which the script has been crafted. I also enjoy that while so much is known and spoken of his work there is very little known about the man and in fact, the extent of what we don’t know and cannot prove lends itself to controversy and questioning. And yet the work is still produced year after year to the delight of artists and audiences across the globe. Speaking of which, just look at the immense popularity of Melbourne’s Pop-Up Globe!”
“A couple of years ago, I found myself re-watching one of the film interpretations of ‘Romeo & Juliet’s. Emotional involvement was high and I found myself hoping that this time the message would arrive, that Juliet would wake up in time, and that Friar Lawrence’s plan would finally work – anything to avoid the tragic outcome. But I also knew that wouldn’t happen and it made me consider how in this age of ‘spoiler alert’ etiquette, particularly in social media, how many modern stories are considered ruined and no longer worth watching if we know the ending before we start. And yet 400 years later ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is still considered the greatest love story of all time, people continue to flock to it and even if somehow you arrive a performance not knowing its tragic outcome, you soon learn it in the opening prologue. You cannot sit down to this story without knowing how it’s going to end and yet we continue to be drawn to it, it remains timeless and we are always affected by the outcome without the element of surprise. So many of Shakespeare’s play defy this ‘spoiler alert’ rule and it’s tarnished their popularity and relevance in no way.”
Sproule, and her company, are well known for tackling texts with fresh eyes and working them without compromise to fit the vision of their mission statement. So should audiences expect to see a traditional interpretation?
“No, audiences shouldn’t expect to see a traditional interpretation and if they know me at all then they won’t expect one! I’ve addressed the main facets of my interpretation in the first question and touch on other aspects in the next one,” she says.
“Dionysus’ Macbeth is staged at a crossroads as it explores the challenges people face and subsequent decisions they make when faced with either the pursuit or the disillusionment of power. It is a modern staging set in an undisclosed corporate world without supernatural elements. The three witches are not black and midnight hags but rather wise, powerful, bold, commanding and securely confident in their strength and impact. They are empowered by this, and by one another. Highly influential women in each of their professional fields thus rather than them being the conventionally ugly, grotesque, unfeminine and inhuman witches they are instead women who possess qualities that are often seen as unattractive in women.”
Sproule has added a Greek Chorus styled body of women. “In this interpretation they’re called The Movement as they symbolise both the many years of the women’s movement up to this point and the fight that women still face today,” she explains. “They are the, often silent, voices in the face of oppression or even highlighting what oppression actually looks like. Predominantly, their role is stylised and symbolic.”
Sproule allows that this interpretation has remained truthful to the unfolding events of the plot, the characters as written and Shakespeare’s words (outside of one key moment), however, contextual adaptation and embellishment of roles has occurred. This allows the production to present a more prevalent view of our current world and to deepen each character’s individual story.
Sproule explains the messages and themes explored in the work and how they will resonate with a contemporary audience.
“While there is clearly a feminist focus, particularly examining women in roles of leadership and how we as a society do not tend to cope with this, I also aim to explore how corporations in general are often propped up and run by the individuals far lower on the hierarchy. People that are given responsibility without authority and work tirelessly behind the scenes but without the credit they deserve. I feel that ‘minor characters’ in prominent works such as ‘Macbeth’ can serve as a strong parallel for people (male and female) in these types of institutions as they’re often seen as devices to further the main character’s story as opposed to having a story of their own. Every individual has depth and significance and so have endeavoured to explore this within my interpretation without detracting from the key elements of the story and Macbeth’s own character. Particularly in our ever-expanding and rapidly moving society it’s very easy to be caught up in your own responsibilities and how key events in the world only impact on you. I would love people to be able to stop, breathe and look around them to see the bigger picture, as well as to appreciate the full depth of their role and capacity within it. ”
Sproule is very open when it comes to her audition process, which is a boon for an actor when presenting their interpretation of a character which may otherwise clash with a director’s preconceived notions.
“When I hold auditions there’s a marriage for me between what I know I want and what I’m completely open to,” she says. “Many times I won’t lock ideas for certain characters in as I don’t want to close myself off from the potential presented to me in the room. For example, based on the actor’s audition, my entire vision of The Porter has been reworked and the actor involved has played a key part in this process.”
The setting is also a contemporary setting with traverse staging in the form of a crossroad. “I want to explore the weight of facing life-changing decisions and the impact of doing so with confidence versus doing so with doubt,” Sproule explains. “Whether your confidence stems from your own experience that you’re following the right path or relief that someone else is guiding you instead and that the decision you make does not actually have to be your own, standing in that crossroads is daunting.
Sproule founded Dionysus Theatre on the Mornington Peninsula in 2011 and in that time it has grown considerably and continues to do so. Sproule credits the many passionate and talented individuals that are now a part of the team as prime motivators and conduits for the theatre company’s success. “I’m very keen to provide innovative and accessible theatre for audiences, performers and practitioners from all parts of Melbourne,” she says. “The work we explore and produce offers enormous scope to artists of all mediums as well as varying degrees of experience and training. We have projects that require professionals at their helm, community-based work that involves both professionals and amateurs as well as an internship program for younger people with the hope of being future theatre makers. I’d encourage people to check out our website that details all the current opportunities within the company as well as currently being updated to reflect the projects and opportunities currently in development.”
“Given that Ancient Greece was the birthplace of Western Theatre, the company takes its name from the patron of Drama; the Greek god of wine, pleasure and fertility (suggesting a great night out). Every year in Athens, festivals were held in Dionysus’ honour, including competitions between playwrights as their comic and tragic works were performed, much drinking and debauchery. We at Dionysus Theatre thought we’d do some theatre and serve some wine, but that perhaps we might just leave it at that for now.”
Sproule urges audiences to come and support local artists, to come and celebrate the timelessness that is Shakespeare, to come and support a developing yet award-winning theatre company and to come and have an amazing, thought-provoking (and even, at times, comical) night out with friends. “Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, remember? Come and have one with us!”
October 13-21, 8pm
McClelland College Performing Arts Centre
Just some closing thoughts…
If Hillary can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?
– Donald Trump
If you are a woman politician, it is impossible to win on the question of family…If you do not have children then you are characterised as out of touch with ‘mainstream lives’. If you do have children then, heavens, who is looking after them?
– Julia Gillard
Ms. Gillard is unfit for leadership because she is “deliberately barren”.
– Senator Bill Heffernan
And of course, as a woman in public life, the violent threats take on another sickening dimension. Threats of violent abuse, of rape, are far too common. A woman in public view may expect to receive them almost daily.
– Julia Gillard
I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
— Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty.
— Lady Macbeth