Adrian Danzig is aware of the risks. He knows that his show 500 Clown Macbeth–in which clowns attempt to perform William Shakespeare’s tragedy–is taking on a centuries-old superstition that the original play is jinxed.
“We’re going for it,” says Danzig. He gestures to the heavens and taunts, “Bring it on.”
Actually, only three clowns perform in 500 Clown Macbeth: Danzig, David Engel, and Paul Kalina. The trio tries to stage Macbeth but gets sidetracked by interruptions like latecomers and beepers, a collapsing set, explosions, and gunshots. “We should be getting hurt, because the play is cursed,” Danzig says.
The Macbeth curse is one of the most enduring superstitions in theater; if actors must mention the work, they’re careful to say “that play” or “the Scottish play.” One of the most widely accepted explanations for the “curse” is that Shakespeare used a real witches’ spell in the opening scene, angering practitioners of the black arts. And ever since the boy playing Lady Macbeth died before the first performance, myriad other injuries, deaths, and misfortunes have been linked to the hex. But a few hundred years of folklore don’t scare Danzig. “I’m all about combating this superstition,” he says.
A founding member of Redmoon Theater and an early member of the Neo-Futurists, Danzig has been doing physical comedy for the past ten years. He got the idea for 500 Clown Macbeth a few years ago when a teacher of his clowning class instructed students to play with hypothetical works in the Shakespearean style. Last month he teamed up with fellow professional clowns Engel and Kalina–who along with Danzig cheer up sick kids at the University of Chicago Children’s Hospital as members of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit. They formed a company called F, an allusion to the failing grade. “Central to the work is the idea of failure,” Danzig says. “We try to do Macbeth and we can’t.”
Though Danzig is an aficionado of Shakespeare’s text, quoting lines throughout our interview, language is not the focus in 500 Clown Macbeth. “We’re not working our verbal chops in this form,” he says. “Each night the only part of the play I know we’re going to say is the first 12 lines.”
The clowns also tempt fate by saying or starting to say the play’s title, which sends them turning in circles, spitting, and knocking on dressing room doors in an attempt to put things right. “There’s a lot of risk,” Danzig concedes with a smile. “It’s a wild night.”
500 Clown Macbeth runs this weekend at Charybdis, 4423 N. Milwaukee. Performances are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 11 PM. Tickets are $10. Call 312-697-0723 to reserve a seat. –Jenn Goddu
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eugene Zakusilo.