The real and reel Macbeth

The real and reel Macbeth
By Walter Ang
February 28, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The real and the reel will be used in Anton Juan Jr.'s staging of William Shakespeare's "Macbeth."

Months ago, Judy Ick casually mentioned to Juan a concept that she had for the Bard's tragedy of a Scottish soldier who gains power through murder: "I wanted the supernatural world [of Macbeth] projected onscreen as I felt that that would be the closest analogue to the supernatural in the present day."

"Think about it, all our fantasies, desires and projections are embodied on screens that hold special power over our imagination -- cinema, television, the internet. They really govern the way we imagine ourselves," she adds.

Internationally renowned for his unorthodox stagings of various works, Juan liked the idea and developed it. "Screens show and conceal. Screens in movie theatres, television, computers, mobile phones and digital gadgets mirror only one or two dimensions of ourselves," he says. "However, there are the other dimensions not captured by these screens. These are our deepest desires and fantasies, which we do not show but conceal."

Retitled "Screen: Macbeth," the production is presented by the Department of English and Comparative Literature, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines as part of its centennial celebration.

"I can't lay claim to anything but the germ of it because what audiences will see staged comes from Anton's imagination," she says. "And no one has an imagination like Anton!"

Nonetheless, Ick has an involved hand in tending and growing the idea. Not only is she acting as Lady Macbeth, she is also the production's dramaturg.

"Dramaturgy can be best explained as responsibility over the performance text," she says. "Not only its creation?that is, producing a text that best embodies the director's vision of the play?but also ensuring that all the actors have a deep understanding of the text they are working with."

From teaching the correct pronunciation of certain words to explaining "the Jacobean ethos that envelops a play like Macbeth and why and how it differs from other Shakespearean plays," Ick is more than qualified to provide guidance.

She teaches Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the graduate and undergraduate levels at the department and she's authored papers on Shakespeare (in relation to Southeast Asia) that have been published in international journals and presented at international conferences. The same lines that Lady Macbeth invokes are the title of a book Ick has written: "Unsex me here: Female Power in Shakespearean Tragedy."

"Dramaturgs should also ideally be able to provide performance options by talking about how differing productions have chosen to interpret certain scenes, characters, etc."

More than merely cutting lines to fit a specified running time, Ick notes a dramaturg must also be able to "edit a text meaningfully, to best bring out the director's vision of the play and his readings/interpretations of the characters."

"A dramaturg must be steeped in many things -- literary, historical, cultural, intellectual, philosophical, critical backgrounds and contexts, performance histories, a keen sense of what is possible, plausible, or plain unacceptable," she says. "It really demands a knowledge of the play and its sources beyond what is commonly supplied by Google."

Ick believes that the Manila theatre scene "needs to arrive at more relevant engagement with Shakespeare in order to make the work less distant."

"Our stagings, thanks to our colonial mentality, tend to be very static attempts at reproducing the Shakespearean texts? as if we were little tropical Elizabethans" she says.

She commends director Ricky Abad's ability to weave Philippine performance traditions (komedya, sarswela, bodabil, etc.) and Philippine history into his productions (such as an America vs. Philippines twist to "Taming of the Shrew"). "Aside, of course, from the keen sociological sense of audience that underpins his Shakespeare," she says.

Ick also notes "R'meo luvs Dew'lhiett," director Herbie Go's jologs-speak rendering of Rolando Tinio's translation of "Romeo and Juliet" as "terrific because it localized Shakespeare meaningfully."

In this particular production where Juan "will beef up the videos with all kinds of local allusions to present-day realities," Ick feels that the use of projected imagery "brings Shakespeare closer to today's more visually-oriented audiences. Unlike the more language/oral/aural-oriented audiences of Shakespeare's day."

"The play is about greed, power, ambition, moral ruin -- surely themes that resonate in these days of 'forgetful' generals," she says.

Surprise guests
"I welcome any and all attempts to do something with Shakespeare that work to make him mean to us in ways that require far less effort," she says. "That way, Shakespeare's plays can reach wider audiences which, to me, can only be a good thing because I firmly believe that Shakespeare has much to say."

Partnering with Ick as Macbeth is Teroy Guzman, joined by actors such as Romnick Sarmenta, Earl Ignacio, Jamie Wilson, and Chiqui Burgos, among others.

Box office and television comedy queen Eugene Domingo will have a special appearance along with other surprise guest actors, all former actors and students of Juan who have become established names in theater, television and film.

The production has video design by Winter David and assistant direction for video by Katte Sabate. Assistant direction for stage is by Pat Valera, sound design by Jethro Joaquin, set design by Ohm David, technical direction and lighting design by Meliton Roxas, costume design by Lhenvil Paneda and weapons design by Paul Gaerlan.

"Screen: Macbeth" runs Feb. 28 to March 6 at the Media Center of the College of Mass Communications, UP Diliman. Call 0927-749-1842, 0915-452-6372 or 926-3496. 

"Unsex me here: Female Power in Shakespearean Tragedy" by Judy Ick is available at UP's Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Development. Call 927-2567 or 927-2309 or order through

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