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April 15, 2020

Defying a global pandemic, SVSU will move production of 'Macbeth' online for the world to watch from home

In Melanie Frasca’s mind, she imagined one final farewell on stage at Saginaw Valley State University; a climactic curtsy as the curtain closed in front of her, signaling a poignant end to her beloved experience as a student actor there that began in 2016. But when a pandemic led to the closure of public events worldwide – including her planned portrayal of one of Shakespeare’s most iconic characters – it seemed Frasca and her fellow graduating seniors would lose their chance at a proper sendoff. 
Like any redemptive turn that arrives in the climax of a feel-good drama, though, Frasca and her classmates will get their chance to bid adieu in style – and safety – after all. 
Using the trendy teleconference app known as Zoom, SVSU’s Department of Theatre will produce a live online performance of “Macbeth” Thursday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m., allowing audiences far and wide to watch for free (instructions on how to watch are available below). 
“This is a way to get closure and to heal a little bit of sadness that is coming from losing those last moments of my senior year,” Frasca said. “It means so much to me that I will still be able to perform in my final show at SVSU.” 
The change in venue may actually work more in favor of the theatre major, whose performance as Lady Macbeth will no longer be limited to those able to attend the production on campus. 
“My family lives far away and may not have been able to make it to the show when it was at the theatre,” the Waterford native said. “They will be able to see me perform now.” 
Four stage performances of “Macbeth” originally were scheduled this week before the COVID-19 pandemic led the state – and much of the world – to cancel public events throughout the spring. While there are plans to reschedule the stage version in the fall at SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts, director Tommy Wedge was inspired to organize the online adaptation after seeing the Midland Center for the Arts and Sciences produce its own version of a classic Shakespeare play on Zoom last month. Audiences responded well to the “King Lear” production – part of a series known as “Shakespeare & Chill LIVE” – and Wedge decided to take a page from his peers’ playbook, applying it to “Macbeth.” 
“It’s a way to come together in this strange time, to reconnect to each other,” said Wedge, an assistant professor of theatre at SVSU. “We’re looking at it as a way to share the work we’ve been doing while celebrating our graduating seniors.” 
The cast and crew began rehearsal in the weeks before the cancelation of the stage performances. While the students returning next academic year are expected to maintain their roles in the fall, two actors – including Frasca – as well as two crew members involved in music composition and sound design will not be involved in the stage production because they are expected to graduate in May. 
Wedge said the Zoom-based version of “Macbeth” will be a fun, entertaining experience that will showcase students’ talents and creativity. Each cast member will perform their role from the safety of their respective residences, using computers and smart devices to record their work. Audiences attending from home can watch live as their computer screen features rotating windows, each capturing a different student's portrayal of a character from the Shakespeare tragedy. 
“Whatever props or costume pieces the actors have at home are fair game,” Wedge said. “It’s not perfection, by any means. We’re making do like the rest of the world around us.” 
The production will involve a high level of coordination from crew members to highlight the cast of 21 students set to appear. Wedge, though, is experienced in leading plays involving high levels of coordination. His last directing job was the much-celebrated fall 2019 local production of “Mamma Mia!” The Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance-produced show featured an unprecedented collaboration between three area theatre companies: Midland Center for the Arts and Sciences, Bay City Players and Saginaw-based Pit & Balcony Theatre. 
Wedge said he is excited to bring the Shakespeare classic – about a man consumed with murderous ambition to fulfill a witch’s prophesy – to an online audience craving an entertaining distraction. 
“Hopefully, it’s an opportunity to let off a little steam and take a break; to just relax with a little Shakespeare,” he said. 
The lead for “Macbeth” – typically a role played by a male -- will be portrayed by a female performer, Megan Meyer, a fine arts major from Owosso. Meyer expects to return for the stage version in the fall. For others such as Frasca, though, Thursday will provide a final farewell as student performers at SVSU. 
“While nothing can replace performing on stage at the Malcolm Field theatre one last time with my theatre family, this is such an amazing way to still get to showcase all our work,” Frasca said. “Lady Macbeth is a dream role of mine, and I am blessed that I can bring her to life.”


To watch SVSU’s production of “Macbeth” online, audiences should follow these steps: 

  • Minutes before the show begins Thursday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m., another web link – this time, connecting to the performance produced using the app known as Zoom – will appear within the Facebook Events page. The link will not be available until the Zoom meeting is created shortly before the show begins. 
  • The performances likely will begin closer to 7:40 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., director Tommy Wedge plans to kick off the event by providing an introductory presentation, giving late-comers time to arrive before the show starts. Audiences can watch the show live or view a recording of the performance later.