Showing posts with the label Macbeth

Federal Theatre Project

Orson Welles came of age as the nation descended into The Great Depression . Roosevelt was in office, and as Welles was garnering press as an upstart of the stage, the New Deal was in full swing. The WPA, Works Progress Administration, undertook the re-employment of hundreds of thousands of able workers. One of the WPA’s initiatives was the Federal Theatre Project, whose aim was to provide work for theatre folk, with a nice side effect being quality theatre productions to Americans at affordable prices. The program was allotted six million dollars and it produced a large number of performances in an array of genres. Orson Welles was involved in several of play productions, inlcuding “MacBeth,” “Horse Eats Hat,” “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus”, “The Second Hurricane,” and “The Cradle Will Rock.” Sources Coast To coast: The Federal Theatre Project. Library of Congress.


The Negro Theatre Project was a subset of the Federal Theatre Project , a New Deal program to put actors and other theatre professionals to work. The NTP had units in many US cities, including Harlem. Enter Orson Welles, whose friend John Houseman was in charge of staging plays in Harlem through the NTP. Welles got the nod to direct a production of MacBeth, and wasted no time launching it in the direction of a Haitian, voodoo theme. However, the play wasn’t set in the real Haiti, but what was, in his mind, a fictional version of it, an island that existed in myth rather than reality. Welles cast Edna Thomas and Jack Carter in the leads, and held open audition for the other parts. He then flew full swing into rehearsals, which started after midnight and often went around the clock. He referred to it as one of the most sleepless times in his life. Abe Feder, the production’s lighting director, said the company “just loved (Welles). They ate, the liquor flowed--and they wer


Having already staged Shakespeare’s MacBeth more than once on the stage, in 1948, Welles endeavored to bring it to the silver screen. The result is a Republic Pictures release directed by Welles with him also starring as MacBeth, with Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth, and with Dan O’Herlihy and Roddy McDowall. John L. Russell handled the cinematography. As was the case with the Mercury Theatre production, Welles took great liberties, greatly re-working the play. He retained some of the voodoo aesthetic of the play, along with garish costumes. Charles Higham reports that the actors were annoyed with Welles’ grueling working days and some of his usual directorial antics. This results, in Higham’s opinion, in performances that “seldom rise above the amateur.” On the other hand, says Higham, “the movie creates a world of its own, another expression of Welles’s extraordinary talent--a world of rain, fog and stones...we explore a labyrinth that effectively mirrors MacBeth’s ow