Pop Up Globe in Sydney
Carly and Hamish sat down with Amanda Billing and Stephen Lovatt, Company Members of the Pop Up Globe, Sydney who will be starring as Macbeth and Macbeth's Wife in the upcoming production by the same name. Chatting all things Shakespeare and what it's like performing in this great space, have a read of more of our conversation below:
What do you think audiences are going to get that makes this experience different to a traditional theatre? What is the magic of this place and how does it enhance the work?
Amanda: I think that there's nothing like a groundlings ticket - I think that’s a really wonderful thing about the pop up globe those tickets. You have to stand up for two hours so you have to be able to physically do that but if you can, you get the best positions in the house. You are likely to get blood on your face, you’re so close to all of the actors, you are standing beside all of your fellow audience members – there’s a festival aspect to that particular type of experience. Sitting down is equally energising but there’s something about being in the groundlings that makes it an electric experience - that’s what you get.
Stephen: The thing that really is the eye popper for me in this case is the direct address to the audience, the eye contact uninterrupted by anything technological. And without that technology - like lights for example, it feels like somewhat of an uncovering, you know. You know like they had those old paintings and someone has a go at it and finds out that Rembrandt had the warrior holding a peach or something. You know what I mean – its like that, and this is the return season from a previous metropolitan area – it just works. It really works and works between us and the audience.
There’s something so authentic and so raw about not having all of the technological production elements that we see everywhere as you proved in the scenes we just previewed...
Stephen: There’s no where for us to hide and the audience know it, there’s no props to fiddle with, no furniture to hold, there’s nothing just you , your heart and the audience and its sort of intimidating but its also wonderful, and really that’s what we came into this to do. Like a great pianist wants to make people feel the music, we want them to feel this story, and this theatre is the best mechanism I have come across for that.
Amanda: It’s about a connection. Connection feels like a neutral word but in a space like this, this building seems to amplify anything that occurs in it, so no matter what feelings are happening - because as actors we are connected to ourselves and to each other and to the audience - we are always connected to the audience. There is something about this space that amplifies and intensifies the experience that you go to the theatre for - there’s a nuts and bolts aspect to it as well.
Carly: There’s a camaraderie really.
Amanda: Yes - that’s a great word for it!
A lot of these young guys coming along will have studied these plays at school. For you guys, as actors, what are your views on why these shows are still relevant to 2018 audiences – what do we get out of them coming to these ones still?
Stephen: This language is still incredibly potent and very few writers can so successfully write the bare heartache of what it is to be human. I mean we know that some writers have, but to do it with such regularity and so magnificently - I mean just within the Macbeth that we are doing there are 3 or 4 pieces of writing in there that have never been better just by themselves. A speech like ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,’ you have to say as an actor it’s just so intimidating because its so deep and its trying to bring that to every single moment on stage that is a huge responsibility. But, it has been done – I have seen other actors doing it on stage and that’s the scaffold I hope to climb. And really, all you can do as an actor is sincerely attempt that climb because, I believe, an audience will give as much to a sincere attempt as the attempt is sincere, but if there is insincerity they will start to walk away . This is the big challenge of these old plays because when we read them dryly, we have to remember that they weren’t written to be read, they were written to be said. Shakespeare’s world was verbal. It was incredibly verbal, and it’s like with all great poetry its written to be said and heard and there is a huge difference ... anyway, in answer to your question, its not just the story, it’s not just the character, it’s because if English is a language you know this is the master work and it thumps along, and it bangs you in the face.
Amanda: Shakespeare for me is the Leonardo Da Vinci of text, or the Monet of text - someone who was incredibly skilful
Stephen: And across genres as well!
Amanda: No wonder people think that they are fake, you know! They are so exquisite in their talents.
Carly: Of course, cause it gets you thinking - how can one man be responsible for all of them? What a genius!
Amanda: He was quite an extraordinary man! I think that when you get smart intuitive people doing Shakespeare, it’s not boring and it’s not hard to understand because you can see that its incredibly relevant. Critics have said that before Shakespeare there were no characters who spoke the way Shakespeare’s characters speak and who are so many different things - they don’t just serve a dramatic purpose or a political purpose - they’re human beings. There’s no villain. To me, even the so called evil people – if they turn out that way they don’t start that way – or if they begin that way then they don’t end that way. I think that Shakespeare wrote human beings beautifully. I think that that was a big part of his talent – to render human beings beautiful even in their flaws. Even if they are doing terrible things, he finds their justice. And there’s a lot of that happening now in the world.
Stephen: I want to say about Macbeth - Macbeth to me particularly now, it’s not about tyranny but its centrally concerned with tyranny and usurpation - and these are times we are living in! It reminds us that that shit is what still matters, and Shakespeare is telling it so long ago
Carly: It's quite horrifying to think that it is equally as relevant in 2018 as it was in Shakespeare’s time and about the same things.
Stephen: Well, this is Shakespeare’s thing as well - We mustn’t worry too much because as Much Ado reminds us, there is still joy and the bastards can’t grind us down. But, that said, Macbeth does have some warnings in it.
Amanda: It may, in a doomsday kind of way, speak to the human condition. It’s a reminder of what happens when you organise society in particular ways.
Stephen: Macbeth is Gaddafi. You know, a guy who at the end of his life tried to do something good but had poisoned too much and there was no going back – ‘tomorrow and tomorrow’ for him is right on the button.
Amanda: And I mean, I’m not playing the accomplice character, I am playing his wife.
Stephen: She is pretty culpable.
Amanda: But I do see myself in her sometimes and I don’t know what to think about that. She shows ambition and jealousy and a sense of lack and wanting to feel better.
Stephen: But you’re not Madam Mao sending hundreds of thousands of people off to their death.
Amanda: No, no, I’m not. But just speaking to that relevance, at the end of the play whenever I hear that line that says ‘the butcher and his fiend like queen,’ I go ‘hmm hmm’ and sometimes Blake, who delivers that line, looks at me – and its like an in moment for our cast. But I hear that line and I think ‘fiend like yes, but she is still a person.’
When you have to play the ‘bad guy,’ you have to be on their side ultimately. You have to really go there as an actor and feel what they feel enough to be motivated to do what they do.
Carly:I guess it really goes back then to the good old acting technique of never judging your character and also to what you were saying about Shakespeare being the master of writing humanity.
Amanda: Absolutely! And its always different. And because of that, I would encourage anyone who can to come to Sydney and not just see one of the shows but see all of the shows. There is such variety. And if you can, come again! There is so much to see! Your experience will be completely different depending on which side of the stage you are on, or if you are sitting or standing. Because even though I have heard the play so many times, sometimes I hear something and it makes me stop and think ‘holy shit, life is like that!’ Shakespeare just does that all the time.
Carly: There’s always a surprise.
Amanda: There’s always a surprise but he is always nailing it right in the bullseye with an economy of words that blows my mind every time.
Speaking of an economy words – let’s do some rapid fire questions!
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Carly: Wow! No one has ever answered the question that quickly – I’m impressed – you’re the winner!
Stephen: I suppose I am thinking about Pop Up Globe and that was the show that I got to see at the Globe Theatre.
Amanda: I’m going to say Orchids which is a dance piece and if it ever comes to a town near you. See you! It’s the most exquisite piece of dance theatre I have ever seen in my life.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Amanda: Hawaii – the big island, no, the garden island
Carly: Same! With you every time.
Stephen: Buenos Aires. I found that when I was in Argentina, the people reminded me a lot of the Kiwis and Aussies. They are also very post-colonial and genuine. I hope that the Jaguars and the Pumas become really good at rugby and join the club cause they deserve to be there and I want them to be there.
Dream Role to Perform?
Stephen: I’d like to have a go at Willy Lowman.
Amanda: *Whispers* I am playing it already! No, I’m getting older so I guess Blanch, well, I guess she is still a way off though isn’t she. Oh actually, I would love to give Katherine from Taming of the Shrew a go.
Probably what I would like to do the most though is have another crack at Rosalind because she was the first Shakespeare gig that I ever did and I was very green. We did it outside in a rose garden in Auckland. I love her so much! She is sassy and super smart.
A hobby you have beyond the theatre
Carly with Stephen and Amanda
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Amanda Billing and Stephen Lovatt
Scenes from the Pop Up Globe, Sydney