Motorcycles will roar into the set to the sound of screaming heavy metal guitars. An ambitious leader kills for the seat of power and starts a murder spree to keep it and cover his crimes, spurred by his ruthless accomplice of a wife.
Lines of loyalty are drawn in blood. Explosions will rock a final battle on the hot asphalt.
It’s not a story of outlaw bikers. It’s Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” performed by motorcycling, tire-iron-wielding actors in Wyoming’s Black Hills during the Sturgis Rally. A dress rehearsal, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for about 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Washington Park band shell in Casper.
“Motorcycle Macbeth” was the idea of Bill Conte, who creates “environmental theater” when he’s not teaching theater at Casper College. This time he set a Shakespearean tragedy against a backdrop of the Flying V Lodge’s medieval-esque architecture in Newcastle and the rumbling of Sturgis-bound bikes.
“Everything in the play corresponds very, very well to biker culture,” Conte said. “So the audience won’t have a difficult time recognizing the important themes of power, loyalty, ambition, lust, clan conflict…”
‘Something wicked this way comes...’
The show is a blend of theater with a place and time –amplifying all three – which is what environmental theater is about.
“I’m drawn to project ideas that respond to whatever may be happening socially, culturally or politically,” Conte said. “When I can merge a text with a location and whatever is happening with the zeitgeist, I think I’m doing something that creates a sort of synergy ... and they amplify each other and everything speaks to each other. Then the event becomes something other than it would have been if you had just staged it in a conventional theater setting.”
This show doesn’t imagine what Shakespeare’s characters would be like as bikers but what it would be like if bikers performed “Macbeth,” Conte said.
That means the first character each actor had to find was a biker, Clint Saunders said. His character started coming together when he began sporting fake tattoos on his arms, he said.
“The more I look like a biker, the more I tend to act like that,” Saunders said. Within his biker character, he portrays Scottish nobleman Macduff, who rightly suspects Macbeth killed the king for the throne. His real-life daughter Sami portrays Macduff’s son, whom Macbeth also murders, along with his wife.
Saunders is a community theater veteran, but the prospect of his first Shakespeare play terrified him. The lines were harder to memorize than even previous lead roles, he said. But audiences needn’t worry about the Shakespearean-era English.
“That’s the cool part,” Saunders said. “When I’ve watched Shakespeare done well, I didn’t have idea what they said, but I still knew what happened in the play. You still get the story.”
Daniel Quintana’s learning curve was steep as well. This show adds his first full Shakespeare play as Macbeth to his 27 years of experience from opera to TV and film.
When he wasn’t cramming lines, the now Casper College theater student was learning to ride a motorcycle for the title role. He toppled a castmate’s bike while learning to ride last week, but damage was minimal, he said.
“It’s been a crash course in more ways than one,” Quintana said.
This production doesn’t change any language in the original script. But instead of Scottish broadswords, characters fight with tire irons and crowbars. They kept the shields, and Macbeth still uses the old-fashioned dagger to start his murdering career. He later wraps a chain around his fist to beat one adversary to a pulp.
“There’s lots of betrayal and lots of blood,” Quintana said.
Elijah Leinen took a motorcycle certification course recently and bought a bike to portray the contemplative nobleman Ross. He’d wanted to bike for a couple of years, and the play was the catalyst, he said. He’s teaching Quintana to ride as well.
He’d performed Shakespearean monologues while studying theater at Casper College, but this is his first full Shakespeare play, too, he said. He researched biker culture to develop his character in “Macbeth.”
“For this this play I think it fits very well,” Leinen said. “Some comment that ‘Sons of Anarchy’ is basically the same story, but we’re doing our own thing.”
Brandon Paad is a longtime biker and community theater actor in the show. He portrays Malcolm, a son of the murdered king out to avenge his father’s death.
“I love theater and I love motorcycles, so this was a no-brainer for me,” Paad said. He arrived at his first rehearsal inadvertently in costume with his regular clothes.
Still, he had to take on the persona of a biker friend of his for his character to click.
“I just wasn’t feeling it with me doing it, so I separated myself that way,” Paad said.
Katelynd Faler’s research spanned psychological disorders to a large book of academic papers on motorcycle culture and women for her role as Lady Macbeth. She even learned to ride a motorcycle even though she doesn’t on stage, she said. She enjoys analyzing her dialogue and heavily researching roles and she’s portrayed in various productions in the community.
“A lot of people portray her as just raw evil, but I approached her character with the attitude that everybody thinks they’re doing what’s best,” Faler said. “I’m just very convinced that she loves her husband.”
Others are either in Lady Macbeth’s circle or out, and her husband is the only one in, Faler said. That plays into the mental torment into which both descend.
“Basically only her husband is in her circle,” she said, “When he starts to lose his mind there’s nobody in her corner, there’s nobody in her circle.”
‘Full of sound and fury...’
This isn’t your grandmother’s Shakespeare, the play poster warns.
Three witches who prophesy Macbeth’s rise to power are heavy metal-rocker bikers in this play.
“Double, double toil and trouble/ Fire burn, and cauldron bubble,” they chant over their cauldron. In this production their evil brew looks like a meth lab. Elizabethan poetry soliloquies are accompanied by heavy metal music from a live band.
“It really works, especially when you consider some of the darker ideas that are being expressed in these soliloquies,” Conte said. “The music seems to lends itself very well to that death metal soundtrack that underscores discussion and plots of murder and treachery, lust, ambition and so forth.”
The play ends with an army storming Macbeth’s castle in a cacophony of bikes, wielding metal and explosives, as the playbill describes.
“So the Battle of Birnam Wood is basically a biker brawl,” Conte said.
The festival setting isn’t unlike the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were performed in his time, with audiences eating, drinking and socializing during the performances, he added.
He produced plays and large-scale environmental theater events in venues such as beaches, rooftops and forests during a 25-year career before moving to Casper. He launched his latest project he calls Theatre of the Poor with a production of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” in an empty downtown storefront last April.
“I know what the effect is going to be, and it’s going to be mind-blowing,” Conte told his leather-clad cast after a rehearsal last week. “Part of my mission since I got to Casper has been to get everyone I work with—my students, my actors, the audiences—to think differently about theater and what the possibilities are. And that’s why we’re here.”