There's something wild happening at Priest Point Park - and though there are animals involved, they aren't the usual deer and squirrels that live there.
The Animal Fire Theatre Co. is staging its first Olympia production in the park. It’s Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
The wild part is that the company’s founders, recent graduates of the University of Idaho, are in touch with their inner beasts. They met in an acting class in which students chose an animal to embody.
“The world of an animal is life-and-death situations,” said Peter Beard of Olympia, who’s playing Macbeth. “The stakes are always really high, and you have really clear objectives. You have to get what you need to survive.”
The actors staged “Henry V” in a warehouse in Moscow, Idaho. “Macbeth,” in its opening weekend at Priest Point Park, is their first South Sound effort.
Before the production opened, there were nightly rehearsals in the park — and those weren’t limited to doing scenes written by the bard.
“We like to push ourselves,” said Arthur Anderson of Olympia, who is directing the production. “We do some big physical exercises and some big acting exercises. Sometimes, people walk by and wonder what are the noises coming from this field, and I have to say: ‘Oh, we’re fine. We’re just actors.’ ”
The exercise that attracts the most attention is the one where the actors get in touch with their animal side. “People might see 8 or 10 people crawling around on all fours, making animal noises, and sometimes fighting with each other,” Anderson said. “It can raise a few eyebrows.”
It’s not as if Beard is playing Macbeth as a mountain gorilla (the animal he chose when he took the course). But the experience feeds into his approach.
“Macbeth starts out as a human at the beginning of the play, and he evolves into a beast at the end,” said the actor, who was recently seen in Harlequin Productions’ “Rabbit Hole.” “He’s lost almost everything and he doesn’t care anymore.”
“Every character in Shakespeare is always living their life on the knife’s edge,” Anderson said. “The language is elegant, but it’s about basic simplistic human themes – jealousy, revenge, anger, passion, revenge, lust.”
Getting actors in touch with their animal natures isn’t the only unconventional aspect of this production. For one thing, the cast members are all in their 20s.
“This is a very ambitious project for us, to take one of the hardest plays in the canon and just do it,” Beard said. “Otherwise, none of us would be able to play these roles for another 10-15 years.”
And the production aims to draw audiences that might not normally go for works written hundreds of years ago. The play has been condensed to an hour and a half long, and some characters have been combined so that a cast of 13 can perform a play that originally had 30 named characters.
“We’re interested in delving into Shakespeare with a younger aesthetic,” Anderson said. “It’s driving and fast-paced, with no intermission.
“We get going, and we just work ourselves up into a Shakespearean frenzy.”