Macbethmachine (2010)

A performance experiment with The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home

A commission from The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home to four heterosexual couples: Ben and Lorena, Dan and Penny, Tim and Britt, Lena and Gary

During the World Cup 2010 summer, Gary and Lena wrote Macbethmachine after Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine. In creating this performance text, we read ‘Macbeth’ closely, discussed it in depth, researched ‘Hamletmachine’ and Heiner Muller’s work, thought about recent European history and the fall of communism. When writing we followed the structure of ‘Hamletmachine’ and its 5 scenes. All of our creative and discursive sessions were held in 90 minute sessions, in line with the then ongoing World Cup matches. 45 minutes play, a break, 45 minutes play. Full Time!

Thematically we picked up on the failure of communism (in Muller’s work) which translated into the failure of capitalism and its promise of freedom (in our text). We were intrigued by the notions of violence and heteronormativity (in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Lady Macbeth) as well as family life/childlessness. Capitalism, ambition, failure/success were further broad themes that we addressed through the writing. ‘Macbethmachine’ builds on the work we did through the Institute’s project on Miss Julie in Utopia in 2008 (after August Strindberg’s Miss Julie). In ‘Miss Julie in Utopia’ we worked with Cathy Butterworth and Bryan Biggs and the performance took place during summer solstice 21 June 2008.

In the time period between autumn, 23rd September, and winter solstice, 21st  December, 4 couples worked towards a short performance loosely based on our performance text Macbethmachine. The 4 performances by 4 couples took place at the Institute on 21 December 2010.

Strict Rules for the Commission:

  • The performances must be developed through the medium of heterosexual couples (Ben and Lorena, Dan and Penny, Tim and Britt, Gary and Lena). We are interested to further explore the notion of violence as it exists through ‘coupling’.
  • You must work on the premises of 7 Bright Street in one of these four rooms: living room, dinning room, master bedroom, children’s bedroom. You can express your preference for the room but must work in the one which will be allocated to you. When working/rehearsing in the room you must keep the door closed behind you.
  • You can use text from Macbethmachine or Shakespeare’s Macbeth in any way/form/order you want. You should address the themes of failure of capitalism, [heteronormative] violence, illusion of freedom and ambition.
  • You must work on this commission in 7 sessions, 6 of which would be 90 minutes long and the last, 7th one, would be a performance. The structure for 7 sessions and 90 minutes comes from 7 matches that the winner of the World Cup must play and win. We must agree on your working schedule for the first 6 sessions.
  • The final performance will be performed in your couple in your room with the door closed. The performance will be viewed by other performers-couples and members of audience, also in couples. We are anticipating a scene of some 5-10 minutes, which will need to be repeated throughout your first 45 minutes of the session, but can also be durational for the whole 45 minutes period, if you wish.
  • On this day you will have to see the other 3 performances by other couples as well.
  • The remaining 45 minutes of your session will be spent in the Institute with all 8 performers creating something together – having just seen each other’s performances for the first time.
  • You will be paid £62.26 each – this sum is derived from 10.5 hours work (7 x 90 minutes sessions) x £5.93 (minimum wage). Additionally you will get Xmas bonus of £30 each. This makes your total sum £93.26 each. You will receive this sum immediately after the performance on 21 December 2010.

‘As an intellectual you belong at last to the middle class; as soon as you even make the beginnings of a career, as you have some success, you belong to the establishment you fight against. You get into the establishment by fighting it; as a writer of literature, for instance, there is no other way to join it, I believe. But then you’re ‘in’ and live in the dilemma that you belong, yet don’t like it. (don’t like it, don’t like it – in Sid’s voice). And it’s quite typical here that once very good authors have written a bestseller, their tragedy of success begins; people are ground down by success.’ Heiner Muller

Lena and Gary have written about Macbethmachine in Performing Ethos: An International Journal of Ethics in Theatre & Performance, Volume 3, issue 2 (December 2012) under the title ‘Working notes on the end of Capitalism and Performing in Couples’.