“Macbeth” is one of Shakespeare's great masterpieces. It tells the story of a general who, driven by his political aspirations and an ambitious wife, murders his way to become King of Scotland. Now the 400-year-old play is being reimagined by the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles as a virtual live-action graphic novel. You can stream it on-demand until July 30.
Ben Donenberg, Executive Artistic Director of Shakespeare Center LA, tells KCRW he got the idea to put a new, creative spin on the play during a virtual meeting.
“It just kind of dawned on me as I was in the middle of a Zoom meeting that all of these squares looked a lot like a graphic novel,” says Donenberg. “I tried to figure out how to zoom in on Shakespeare and create a storytelling technology that would be compelling, and particularly appeal to young people.”
Shakespearean plays have been produced in many different ways, but Donenberg says a live-action graphic novel adaptation is a first.
“There are graphic Shakespeare novels, but there's never been one that's … having people watch the story unfold visually before their very eyes in this graphic novel format.”
Donenberg says that this version of “Macbeth” was produced entirely online as a “massive experiment.”
“We had wonderful illustrators, two young people named Michael Hurt Hall and Sophia Mata. They storyboarded the entire play. We have 200 illustrations, pen and ink and then color,” explains Donenberg.
He also says while the format may be novel, his play features seasoned and diverse performers. “I have a wonderful actor, Keith David — three-time Emmy Award-winning actor — leading this company of highly skilled Shakespearean actors. But none of them were in the room with each other.”
Among all Shakespearean plays, Donenberg says “Macbeth” appears to be the fitting choice during this chaotic, pandemic era as it poses the question of how one’s ambition could be used for good.
“[Macbeth] has that core theme about the nature of ambition. While ambition itself might not be either good or evil, but how a person decides to use their ambition is the question that Shakespeare is exploring in the play. As we emerge from a pandemic, we have a chance to reset and ask ourselves — and I’m asking myself every morning — how am I going to use my ambition today?”
Correction: A previous version of this story said streaming was available until June 30. The date has been updated to reflect July 30.