Behind the Scenes: Quick-Brewed Macbeth

An Exclusive Look at the Spring 2019 Production of Quick-Brewed Macbeth

PPA produced Quick-Brewed Macbeth at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (MECC) on April 25th, 2019. This is the first time the show was performed inside prison since 2015 at Northeast Correctional Center (NECC) in Bowling Green, MO. The information below is provided by Christopher Limber, Artistic Director, who directed the show in both 2015 and 2019. The 2019 production of Quick-Brewed Macbeth was dedicated with love and appreciation to PPA artist and friend, Jerry McAdams.


How many days did the incarcerated Artists have to prepare for the performance?

When preparing a Shakespeare performance there are two basic parts of the process:. First is the comprehensive study of the play itself—in this case, Shakespeare’s Macbeth—and second, the rehearsal.

For this project semester, our group of 25 inmates initially spent three months every Monday for 5 hours (close to 60 hours) studying the play.  We started by reading several synopsis versions of the story and watching two films of the complete play. Then, we discussed the individual characters—who they are (Royalty? Land owners? Servants?) and then, what their relationship is to one another (Love? Hate? Jealous Competitors? Family?). Next, we examined the themes of the play; for example, The Corrupting Power of Unchecked Ambition, Fate vs Human choice, and The Difference Between Kingship and Tyranny.  We talked about the structure of the plot—what happens, and how Shakespeare orders the events to make an exciting story.

Next, we did a close reading out loud of the whole play, taking time to look up unfamiliar words, examining Shakespeare sentence structure and the difference between his poetic language and his prose language and how that represents character.  

Only then were we ready to rehearse our hour-long cutting of Macbeth.

How long did the rehearsals last with each practice?

We rehearsed for another 3 months on Friday’s, adding in an occasional Saturday or weekday evening.  Close to 60 hours total.

Did everyone comprehend the language?

It depends on the person. Some have a rudimentary knowledge of Shakespeare from school, and some do not. Doing a Shakespeare play is the best way to become familiar with his language—and that is the reason to perform his plays rather than read them as literature.  They are written to be performed.

Shakespeare’s language is like a code of sorts. By speaking his language aloud and knowing exactly what you are saying and how to communicate that through word emphasis and spoken melody, an actor quickly learns the Shakespeare “Code.”

Shakespeare orders language in some different ways than English today, and there are words not in use anymore, but that just takes a little study and practice to communicate out loud.  Our performance cutting deleted some of the more obscure language but kept a full hour of the more easily understandable original text. Though there was a lot to learn and be sure of, the actors were soon talking to each other onstage, expressing feelings with their voice and language and playing the story with commitment and emotional power.

How hard was it to deliver Shakespeare clearly to the audience?

The work we did as an Ensemble of actors was minimum University level theatre/acting work, but often was rigorous and demanding of any professional situation. Before PPA, I was the Education Director for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and a professional Director. I always ask the very best of the incarcerated actors I work with. This is not an easy class or rehearsal process, but a highly rewarding one for everyone involved, including the audience.  The men really triumphed because many in the audience commented on how clear all of the language was. This is a HUGE accomplishment, especially for some who were new to Shakespeare.

How enthusiastic were the incarcerated Artists about the performance?

This was not an easy process—great artistic work never is—but it is ultimately joyous and satisfying and demands lots of focus, concentration and homework, reading about the play and learning lines. The dedication of the inmate artists was very high.  There was frustration and occasional artistic disagreements, all of which became food for thought and eventual learning opportunities about process.

There were also many moments of creativity, accomplishment and discovery.  So, because of all this, Prison Performing Arts projects are so valuable to incarcerated individuals.  The work we do helps build respect, friendship and mutual understanding. We create a very high-functioning team and everyone learns to help one another.  Any creative work helps people work well together and feel expressive, recognized and understood for doing positive and intelligent work.