So none of any of what I've been talking about has any meaning if we don't have an audience. The work doesn't really exist in a vacuum in any meaningful way. It can be an exercise for the performers, but without someone to watch it, it doesn't become much more than that. I've spent part of my life as a musician, and I've found that this is something that can be forgotten by musicians, but not really by actors. I think it has something to do with the fact that as an actor you can never really see your own work. As a musician—at least as an instrumentalist—you have the same capacity to hear your playing as anyone else, but as an actor you can never be completely outside of yourself when you're acting; in fact, if you're paying too much attention to yourself, something is most likely wrong. Your focus is always meant to be on your scene partner and your objectives in the scene (i.e. what your character wants). There is a technical component of every actor which is monitoring the outside—after all, if you actually went so deep into a character that you "became" them, you would be clinically insane—but it is only a part, and arguably a lesser part, of what his or her focus should be. I think that because of this inability to completely monitor one's own work, the actor is very dependent (maybe to a fault) on the observer, on someone watching the actors do their thing. This is why direction is so important. In any event, there's usually a time in rehearsal when actors start to cry out for the response, for what the audience has to tell us.
It's been very interesting coming to Macbeth from Hamlet. They are such different plays. Their "heroes" share some interesting similarities, but on the whole they are fundamentally different, and the plays are shaped from their essences. Hamlet, though it is a play about murder, ghosts, madness, suicide, horror, and possibly incest, has something celebratory in it with regard to its central character. It is a kaleidoscopic explosion of language, a powerhouse of ideas and words. We admire Hamlet though we may not always understand his choices: he is the best, the worst, the most and least understandable parts of ourselves all wrapped into one. He's also very funny. Macbeth, on the other hand, is a play about murder and Hell: the hell of our surroundings and the inner hell of the two central figures' lives. There is very little to celebrate in Macbeth, and we feel this keenly in an age when powerful unchecked leadership has figured so strongly. Think of the 20th century... and pray for the 21st. The blind lust for power has cost humanity so much throughout history; why should we wonder that this play has always been popular? Its effect on an audience is very different from Hamlet. One is often left stunned by the brutality of the world it creates, and at odds with the incredible nihilistic vision of its "hero:" life for him is "a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." No surprise then, that it's hardly a feel good experience—except of course that the play contains some of the most exquisite poetry in the English language.
All that said, our audiences have been extremely instructive. The show has moved forward very strongly since our initial previews. An audience will tell you what's clear, what needs to be clarified, what's funny (thank you Mr. Nussbaum), what needs highlighting and what can be left alone. It will tell you everything if you can learn how to listen to it correctly. I've been finding that as our shows have progressed I've needed to get out of the way of the words; that I was forcing the power of the verse instead of allowing it to come through. I think I'm better now than when we started, and that's because of direction, both from Barbara and from the audience. Of course it's possible to listen to the baser impulses of the audience, or to misinterpret what's out there. I think that's particularly true in comedy. Again, if you can learn to read the signals properly, the audience has a wealth of information to offer; and of course, as I said before, there's just not much point in putting on a play without one. In The Empty Space, a seminal book on theater by Peter Brook, he says that he can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. When a human being walks across that space, a moment of theater occurs. I didn't bring the book to Chicago—it's one of those books I should really bring everywhere—so I don't remember if he mentioned the audience, but of course without one, it would be a moment of theater witnessed by no one.