Whoosh! Issue 73 - October/November 2002


By Sarah Mears
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
2241 words

Author's Note:
Anna Anderson was the Director of the Shakespeare by the Sea production of Macbeth. This interview took place on July 6, 2002 during the intermission of that evening's performance of Macbeth.

Andersen was a joy to talk with. She was very animated and expressive, with an obvious passion for her work, which came through in how she was in a constant, excited movement when she talked. She had an amazing smile, joyous laugh, and eyes that sparkled in the golden light of the lamp. Theatre was definitely her life's blood!

As we strolled over to a more secluded and quieter area of the park, I noted how the cast appeared to be having a great time together. She affirmed that with gushes of what a great cast she was blessed with. For such a large group of people to be so talented and to get along so well, was wonderful.

Why Macbeth? (01-06)
Researching Macbeth (07-10)
Directing (11-17)
Auditions (18-20)
Renée O'Connor (21-31)
Collaboration with the Actors (32-33)
Macbeth in General (34-40)
Interview Aftermath (41)


Why Macbeth?

Shakespeare really had more hair, but the artist had issues.

It all started with Will...

[01] Why Macbeth? (She laughs.) Was that your choice?

[02] I requested it. It's the shortest tragedy, yet it still contains some of the most complex relationships and characters. They all have a huge arch that they travel, and what happens to them, and how their relationship develops. Everything they go through is so intense. It just kills me every time. I've always loved that play. It's always been my favorite.

[03] I have seen other productions of Macbeth, but I never really got it before. I don't know if it's the way it was done. Perhaps they tried to put too much stuff into it. But your production is so simple that it is just coming true.

[04] That's the thing with Shakespeare. He does it for you.

[05] Yes. Just let the words go.

[06] Exactly.

She is her own muse.

... and Anna Andersen

Researching Macbeth

[07] Obviously, you have loved this play for awhile. Did you have to do a lot of research before?

[08] I did. I'm very interested in history. It was based on an actual occurrence, but the actual people who were involved were not the Macbeths. Macbeth and his wife did become king and queen at one time, but they did not kill Duncan in their castle. They actually had a war, a battle. It was all legit. But there was another couple who had a king come in and killed him in the castle, and all of that. So the Macbeths got a bad rep.

[09] Macbeth was actually an incredible king. He ruled for seventeen years, he established many great, great laws. A really great king. But yeah, I did a lot of research just because I'm fascinated with it. It helps just knowing a lot of the stuff that's behind [the play].

[10] Also, what was going on in Shakespeare's time when he wrote it is fascinating. The reasons he put a lot of the stuff in there, [especially] with the witches, the whole idea of the witches being vague. They equivocate a lot. You hear the porter talk about equivocation a lot. The trial of the century was about a man who hadn't lied, but he just hadn't told the truth. Was he guilty, because he was equivocating? He was being vague with the intent to mislead. It was a huge, huge public issue at the time. So, Shakespeare took that and put it into the play.


[11] How many productions have you directed?

[12] This is my fourth.

[13] Of Shakespeare, with this group?

[14] No. This is my first time with this group. I did direct the Shakespeare Outreach program for the group. I did a benefit last year. They did As You Like It and The Tempest last year and I directed a combination between the two. I wrote and directed the whole thing. It was cute. Just a "As You Like The Tempest" kind of combining the characters. It was crazy.

[15] Then I directed at Palos Verdes Players, Which was very enjoyable. I did a play within a play called The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It. It was about seven people putting on As You Like It. [It was] very different, very funny. Kind of commedia dell'arte, kind of slapstick, [and] crazy. I love directing.

You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll...well, that's about it.

The Palos Verdes Players is a community theater located in Torrence, California
Click here to find out more about them

[16] Are you an actor too?

[17] Yes.


[18] In particular with Patrick Vest and Renée O'Connor, what was it in their auditions that you really liked?

[19] This is the first thing I told them the first rehearsal. Patrick is very light, not only on his feet, but also in his approach, cause he's very spontaneous. He's studied a lot of Meisner, they both have. They're very off the cuff and [when] something hits them, they use it. Both of them have that going for them. But Patrick is much more up in the air with things, which is how I see Macbeth. He's very spontaneous, and impulsive. He's almost child like in the fact that he's all over the place. He feels something, he commits to it. As soon as it's decided, it's done. "I go, and it is done."

[20] I like that quality in Patrick. And Renée came in and planted her feet and was absolutely grounded and centered. There was something in her eyes that just sparked everything. She had this naturalness about her, and that was during her first monologue. I was just blown away. I just went "Wow!" She was so strong. Then, when she came in and read with people, she always looks them in the eye, and she's also got the spontaneous, off the cuff thing. It was remarkable to see them together. The two -- her grounded strength and his [flightiness] -- they [played] off each other. It was magic. It was immediate. I knew immediately when they read together, I went "Oooohhh!" (She swoons.) There they are!

Renée O'Connor

[21] There was talk that Shakespeare by the Sea did not know who Renée O'Connor was. (Anna starts shaking her head.) Were you one of them? (I laugh.)

[22] Yeah. I had no idea. (Big grin.) It was funny, when she came in and I looked at her résumé. There was no theatre on there. As a director, especially when you're directing [theatre], you look for theatre. I remember looking at her picture going, "Oh, she's got something great!" and she'd studied at these great places. I really wanted to see her. Then I saw it and said to her, "So you have no theatre experience?" (We laugh.) She was just very pleasant. We hit it off right away. She's very sweet.

[23] We were joking around before the audition, and I was like, "Ok, well let's just see." I'd seen [previously] 35-40 women [for parts in the play] and she was the only one that night. She finished and I said, "I'd like to call you back for Lady Macbeth." I had no idea who she was, and no theatre experience on her résumé, and I just went, "Come back tomorrow at seven o'clock. Please!" It was immediate. Then, a couple hours later, one of the stage managers came back and said, "Do you have any idea?" Uh… No… (She says in a "dorky" voice.)

[24] Has it changed the feel this summer?

[25] No. Not in my part, at all. But I think the production side of it [has], just because there are many fans. But everyone's so sweet and nice that it hasn't been [a problem]. It's been great. My side, [though,] it was always exactly the same as it always is.

[26] Just another actor?

[27] Yeah.

[28] You mention her having "no theatre".

[29] She told me later she has done theatre!

Eddie Munster's secret life.

Renée O'Connor in an earlier life
Photo courtesy of Sandra Wilson

[30] It's just not on her resume. (We laugh.) But [what about] her ability? O'Connor said this was her first Shakespeare performance. As a director how did you see that? Was it even noticeable? [How did it compare with] Patrick Vest, who is in his nineteenth production? Did it have any effect?

[31] No. No. Not at all. Renee is someone who goes home and studies every single line and every nuance of every beat, every pause, every comma, every word. You know, she would come in and tell me things about the lines that I had no idea. "Oh right! I never noticed that. You're definitely right." So, if you have the general acting talent, you have the intelligence, and you have the desire, Shakespeare is just acting. I don't want to say easier, but as I said, [Shakespeare] does do the work for you. And she has a very good feel for it.

Collaboration with the Actors

[32] Patrick Vest talked about the collaboration between the three of you was strong.

[33] Yes. The first night, it was incredible. Having this huge cast, I went into this little tiny room with just the three of us. The collaboration was magical, all three of us on the same page. It remained through the entire rehearsal process. [The] give and take of, "what does this line mean… how do we want to take it, where…" Then we would be off our chairs, just walking around, just so excited! (She demonstrates, with great enthusiasm.) To find two other people who work as hard, and who are that passionate, and think the same way. It was truly a gift. It came out of nowhere. Every time we met it was like a vacation. It was just wonderful! It was amazing.

Macbeth In General

[34] Now a couple of things I am interested in, in the show in general. The male witch. Where did that idea come from? And the costume?

[35] First of all, I knew I wanted to take the witches as the three furies of past, present, and future. So I knew I wanted witch number one to represent the past, witch number two to represent the present, and witch number three to represent the future. So, if you'll notice, he's very tribal. The one with the dark hair is dressed in a typical Shakespearean kind of dress. The other one actually has red highlights in her hair and in pretty much a modern day dress with the full-on make-up. (She sheepishly laughs.)

[36] I haven't actually given my source for my inspiration to cast the male witch, but it was a book I read by Ngaio Marsh. She wrote many mysteries a long time ago. She wrote one about someone who's putting on Macbeth. (She laughs.) When I saw Dorsla (the actor playing the 1st witch), that book came to mind, and it was this image that I never forgot. It was this same type of characterization of this man who was just kind of tribal… So yeah, (another sheepish grin) I borrowed it. (She laughs.) I give her full credit. Ngaio [pronounced nia - long 'i'] Marsh is her name.

[37] Another thing I found interesting was bringing Lady Macbeth on after she dies.

[38] That was Patrick [Vest]'s idea. The "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" speech is one of the most famous speeches ever. It's a very moving speech. We were talking about the intensity of it and the fact that it's been done--the whole play has been done so many times. It's not that your fighting against the ghost of every single Macbeth that's ever lived, but you know, you really want to connect with it in your own way. Ian McKellen did a version that I saw on tape, and it was just brilliant. But we don't want to do Ian McKellen. Patrick is brilliant, and we want to do Patrick's Macbeth. He came to me one day and he's like, "I have this idea." We tried and I just… (She expresses great awe.) Oh yeah.

And then...'Wham!'...I clobbered th' guy!

Patrick Vest

[39] It's wonderful! And the way he plays with her, it connects to what he's saying, so amazingly.

[40] Yes. It really worked well. We knew immediately. The first time she did it she was kind of in jeans and a little jacket (We laugh.), and we're just like, "Well, that's nice." But when she came out with her nightdress on, I just went, "Ooooohhhhh!" And she's never moved! She's never moved once! I always watch her and go, "Wow!"

Interview Aftermath

[41] At the end of the show, I had to go back to Anna Andersen and get the spelling of Ngaio Marsh's name. In doing so, I met her mother, who spelled the name for me and encouraged me to check out her books. The author is from New Zealand, she said! Good grief, is this a small world or what? Everything is connected!


Sarah Mears, "An Interview with Patrick Vest", Whoosh! #73 (10/02)
Sarah Mears, "An Interview with Renée O'Connor", Whoosh! #73 (10/02)
Sarah Mears, "Renée O'Connor in Macbeth", Whoosh! #73 (10/02)


Sarah Mears Sarah Mears
Sarah hails from Ohio where she performed in and worked behind the scenes in some 50 stage productions. She's now living in Los Angeles trying to work professionally in the big, bad world of the entertainment industry. Sarah has been a faithful Xena: Warrior Princess fan since 1998. For more information about Sarah's work go to http://PrincessMoon.biz. Further ramblings from Sarah may be found at her fan website, The Acropolis, http://samxart.8m.com/acropolis.html.

Favorite line: Gabrielle: "Lookin' good!" FINS, FEMMES, AND GEMS
First episode seen: SACRIFICE II
Least favorite episode: SOUL POSSESSION



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