As this unique school year came to a close, with students once again roaming the hallways and various traditions coming back, including an in person graduation ceremony, South Pasadena High School Drama Department premiered their high octane film version of Shakespeare’s MacBeth. Catching up with Drama Department head and director, Nick Hoffa, he tells us “It was a whirlwind at the very end, as we had a short window to shoot and edit to make sure we could present the production before the end of the year.” The company of actors and technicians shot for 9 days, one student at a time, alternating between the green screen in the auditorium and a smaller green screen outside for non-dialogue moments and sword fights. “The shooting was difficult but incredibly fulfilling as it had the similar energy to the production week of the play or musical,” says Hoffa, “ I couldn’t be happier and prouder of what the students accomplished. Rather than doing an inferior production that no one was all that happy about, they took on one of the most famous pieces in the history of western theater, and did it with so much commitment and dedication.”
Kayla Nielsen, who played MacBeth, and is headed to NYU’s Tisch School of The Arts in the fall, says she can’t talk about the show without first “thanking Mr. Hoffa for all his hard work. Not only did he direct the show, but he also edited it. I know he spent hours upon hours working and editing and it truly could not have happened without his constant dedication to this show and its production.” Nielsen says it was the most challenging role she’s ever played, having mostly appeared in ingenue roles. “The Macbeth that Mr. Hoffa and I created together is a strong, ambitious woman who is both a warrior and royalty. I’m so grateful that Mr. Hoffa trusted me to lead this show in a very non-traditional way.”
The production of this show was a long and arduous process but also a unique and rewarding one,” explains Linus Wood, who took on the role of Lady MacBeth. “Doing this like a film and shooting footage instead of performing on stage was a wonderful change of pace compared to what we’ve done with high school shows before, and I’m really glad I got to have this unique experience.” Wood says the sense of satisfaction he felt after filming his final scenes at 10 pm on a weeknight was completely different from anything he’s done before. “That’s the main thing that was great about this show” he says, “even though the film and green screen style was absolutely a concession for Covid, there were zero concessions for quality and the fun of putting a show together. I think Mr. Hoffa was really smart and careful about this process and because of that we ended up with something good.”
The choice of material by Hoffa turned out to be inspired as the entire cast expressed what a challenge and journey it was to dig into this classic piece of literature. Wood says “there were numerous times during the production when I felt like if this wasn’t Shakespeare, if this wasn’t one of the greatest plays ever written and one of the most fun characters I’ve ever played, I’m not sure if I would be able to keep going. Because Lady Macbeth is seriously one of the most fun characters EVER! She’s got so much charisma and presence and she commands the scene just like she commands Macbeth. She’s got no shortage of fantastic one-liners and iconic moments, as well. Not to mention, she’s incredibly nuanced and well-written, with emotional repression running as deep as her ambition. That aspect of her character was really exciting and relatable, and I got to channel a lot of past emotions that I’ve grown up from through my performance. The role was really cathartic in that way, as well.”
“We’ve been working since October on this production and I am so proud of every cast member and producer, as well as Mr. Hoffa and Mr. Jontz,” says Nielsen. “To everyone involved in the production I want to say: We were faced with so many difficult times this past year, and I just want to thank everyone and this production for being a bright spot in my life. Despite all the challenges, like having to memorize 800 lines in Shakespearean English or the 8 hour filming days, I am so proud of what we created.”
Echoing that sentiment, Wood says, “Ultimately, I’m extremely proud of our cast and crew, and especially of Mr. Hoffa for doing the seemingly impossible and putting together a proper show during such a difficult time for everybody.”
The cast and crew didn’t get a traditional opening night, but they all gathered at night in one cast member’s backyard, gave out the traditional senior roses (normally reserved for the last Saturday night of the musical), and watched it together on blankets under the stars. Said Hoffa, “In this world where everything got cancelled/postponed for 14 months, that night was the real accomplishment.” Bravo!