Doug Weaver isn’t superstitious. At least not about theater.
“I’m intensely superstitious when it comes to my golf game,” he says. “But not when it comes to theater.”
So the prospect of directing the most legendarily cursed play of all time — William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” — didn’t daunt him. In fact, he was looking forward to it.
“I’ve wanted to do it for a long time,” he says of tackling the famous tragedy.
If you go
The Summer Youth Theater’s performance of “Macbeth” runs Thursday through Sunday at the Lawrence Arts Center, at 940 New Hampshire St. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m., except Sunday when it is 3 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 785-843-2787 or online at lawrenceartscenter.org.
It didn’t worry him either that he’d be directing teenagers instead of professionals. Weaver, who teaches drama at Bishop Seabury, has plenty of experience working with young actors and is a veteran of helming projects for Lawrence Arts Center’s Summer Youth Theater.
“The truth is the kids get it,” he says of his young charges’ understanding of Shakespeare. “I find that if you teach kids what they’re saying and how to use their mouths, they do just fine.”
That doesn’t mean he didn’t work carefully with them on it. He spent the first week of production talking about what the script says with the cast. He brought in Matt Patterson, one of Seabury’s English teachers, to discuss the play with them.
“So much of the play is based on human frailty, human greed and human mistakes,” he says. “It breaks down to the human cost. We made sure they understood that — that it wasn’t just a slasher play.”
“Macbeth” is Shakespeare’s second-bloodiest play by Weaver’s reckoning, and it’s pretty violent. That means teenagers swinging big, metal swords at each other onstage. Weaver made certain his students were well-educated there, too.
“David Miller, our fight choreographer, spent a lot of time working with them,” Weaver says. “We’d start with them doing it empty-handed two or three times. Then they’d have wooden swords for three or four practices before we let them have the steel.”
Weaver found some apocryphal material to use. Earlier versions of the manuscript had an expanded role for Hecate, the queen of witches, and there were originally six witches instead of just three. The Summer Youth Theater production puts all that back in.
“Our conceit,” Weaver says, “is that Hecate and the witches are controlling everything. They’ve chosen Macbeth to take this tragic journey, and they’re going to make sure he takes it.”
It all lies with Weaver’s belief that “Macbeth” is largely misunderstood.
“Too many people think it’s about evil — that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are evil people,” he says. “But if they were, she wouldn’t kill herself, and he wouldn’t worry himself to sleeplessness.”
But what about the curse? Weaver may not believe, but what about his students?
“They’re not really that worried about it either,” he says. “Actors are superstitious. If they can connect something to something and make it not their fault, they will. But we haven’t really worried too much about it. We called Macbeth ‘Bubba’ during rehearsal, but otherwise, they’ve had a lot of other, more important things to think about.”
So forget curses and forget that Shakespeare can be daunting. “Macbeth” is set to enlighten and entertain on a grand scale.
“The mystery is huge; the greed is huge,” Weaver says. “It’s bigger than big.”
— John R. Phythyon, Jr. is a paid staff member of Summer Youth Theater