Does Shakespeare on a budget still sound as sweet?

By Steve Coons, Staff Writer

Salt Lake Shakespeare has been bringing one or two productions of Shakespeare to Salt Lake City almost every summer for the past decade. Not quite every summer, though.

The Utah Arts Council ruled against granting any funds to the independent theater company, described by its artistic director, Hugh Hanson, as working under the guidance of the U’s theater department, partly because of the irregular production schedule. Hanson said it was also difficult to associate summer productions with the university in order to gain access to educational funding, though the theater department has donated space and equipment for this summer’s production of “Macbeth” in the Babcock Theatre.

If the theater department hadn’t stepped in, the company wouldn’t have been financially viable, Hanson said.

“It’s tough to keep it afloat,” he said, noting that various theater professors have taken the reins over the years.

With the added difficulty of selling tickets during the summer, Hanson’s troupe has to cut a few corners. Because Salt Lake Shakespeare is a professional company, the actors or designers belonging to a union must be paid according to a scale, while students are generally paid a stipend. Hanson said because of the budget crunch, all the actors and designers worked for less than the company has ever paid before.

“We didn’t spend quite as much money as last year, but we were just as successful,” he said.

Apart from the budget, Hanson was also worried about making the dialogue coherent.

“It’s impossible to understand all of Shakespeare,” he said.

Hanson likes the language to be as clear as possible, and he tried to accomplish this by using good actors, and to afford them, he limited hiring by having actors play multiple roles. Although conceding that this is a cost-cutting measure, he insisted that he enjoys Shakespeare when it’s done that way. Some viewers might disagree, as the strategy can be a source of mild confusion throughout, especially in the case of the same actor playing both Banquo and Macduff, each a central character in the play.

Coincidentally, both characters’ families were grievously harmed by Macbeth’s power play. Hanson wanted to focus on portraying evil’s power to promote divisiveness and rip apart families, and he succeeds in this, though the identity of the family in question isn’t always clear. He also wanted to highlight Macbeth’s modern correlatives.

“When people have the opportunity for power, sometimes horrible things happen,” Hanson said. “Especially when they feel that the power is not from this world. We’re seeing it in Korea, in Iran. We saw it with Hussein.”

Hanson hoped to illustrate this insight with a bit of experimental costuming. After Macbeth is crowned, he begins to wear a green, modern-era military coat. An apparent parody of Kim Jong Il and other dictator-bureaucrats who put on military airs, the sloppy gesture seems a lonely anachronism, if not forced social commentary, but it doesn’t detract too much from the play. Shakespeare on a budget is still Shakespeare.

[email protected]