Dan Spielman: the interview

Rarely do actors rise as powerfully as did Dan Spielman.  Despite having no formal training in theatre, Spielman has been acknowledged repeatedly for his performances, through awards, through his membership of The Actors Company, and most recently, in his starring role in Bell Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Which is why, when asked to interview Spielman, I was at once both flattered and nervous.  Nevertheless, as became apparent, Spielman is as amiable as he is talented, offering Woroni a clear eye into the details of his latest work.

On Bell’s production as a whole, Spielman was happy to provide a precise description of a fairly straightforward artistic direction.  “This production takes the piece in a fairly natural, abstract landscape,” he said, “We haven’t got in the way of any kind of interpretations or translations of any of the political aspects or tried to represent in any contemporary way – it’s a production that concentrates on the poetry and the collapsing psychology”.

Nevertheless, as Spielman was willing to accept, this did not necessarily mean a completely simple production either.  As critics have noticed, his characterisation of Macbeth is noticeably refreshing: “Where the expectation might be for a fairly martial character, a butch, heavily blooded warrior to begin with, he hasn’t been cast that way”.  Instead, what Spielman suggested he was performing was a Macbeth who started as “bright-eyed”, “with a lack of self-consciousness and energy”.

Most would understand that such a description of Macbeth is not constant throughout the play, and in Spielman’s words, the character in Bell’s production ends as “a rabid animal”.  Indeed, such a transition of character matches the overall purpose of Bell’s production, as articulated by Spielman: “What we concentrated on is following as clearly and closely as we can the threshold that Macbeth crosses in his mind, and in his conscience, step by step”.

Of course, accomplishing the full scope of the Macbeth character is a challenge venerated similarly to the playing of Prince Hamlet, and on this, Spielman was able to offer an extremely evocative image of what was required.

“I learnt most of [the lines] before coming into rehearsal,” he said, in relation to the most frequent woe of the amateur actor.  Instead, initial problems were more often physical, particularly the “intense training regimes for rehearsal [where] half of every day [was] boot camp”.

Above all else, however, what Spielman considered most pertinent to Macbeth’s challenge was the sheer complexity of the role.  “It’s a huge role,” Spielman said, “I’ve never had to manage the kind of energy for this before.  Emotionally the nature of his fall is so so far-reaching that the more I discover the more economy I find in the scenes the more it stretches me

“It’s an extraordinary challenge and privilege to be able to explore language like this, because it really does expand you.  You could do it for years and still be finding new space and dimension inside it”

With few minutes left in the interview, Spielman offered some words concerning other aspects of Bell’s Macbeth, most notably his work and friendship with co-actor and Lady Macbeth, Kate Mulvany.  As Spielman described working with Mulvany as “terrific”, describing her as a “very smart cookie”.  In relation to their performing together, he also added: “We’re very lucky that we get along, trust one another a lot.  I know we both really enjoy the ongoing discovery and exploration of this (Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s) marriage”.

Asked for some closing words, Spielman concluded with the following: “I’m more interested in what students think of the production than what subscribers and people who know the play do.”

“I’m more interested in inquisitive minds from all different sorts and what their (students’) response might be”.

Bell Shakespeare’s Macbeth is showing until June 2nd at the Canberra Theatre Centre.  Tickets are available from the Canberra Theatre Centre website.