Tag Archives: Macbeth

Macready Invents the Spike Mark, 1916

The following first appeared in a 1916 book titled “Recollections of a Scene Painter”,  written by an E.T. Harvey. In this section, Harvey talks about the famous English actor William Macready, who dominated the stage from 1818 to 1851. We hear what the carpenters in Philadelphia did after the Astor Place Riots, and we witness what may be the birth of the spike mark.

Macready was before my time, but he had made extensive tours in the United States, and many stories were still in vogue about him. Edwin Forrest, when in England, met with some severe criticism, which he and his friends attributed to Macready’s jealousy. This is generally believed to be without foundation, but it caused a bitter feeling here and when Macready played in New York, the Astor House riots occurred [in 1849], and seventeen people were killed. The same thing was threatened in Philadelphia, when he played in the Arch Street Theatre. The second night the mob was expected to reach the stage, and the old stage carpenter, Charley Long, told me many years afterward, that it was arranged to turn out the lights and open up the sectional stage, which would have thrown the mob in the cellar. The men stood all ready to do this. The crisis, however, was averted by the coolness and courage of Macready himself. But it was said the big chandelier in front of the theatre was filled with missiles thrown at him.

Many stories were in vogue to show his exactness of method. A message delivered to him on the stage had to be given on a certain spot, and when the actor playing the messenger had failed several times at rehearsal, Macready had a mark put upon the stage where he should drop on his knees to deliver it. At night, it was said, the actor went groping all over the stage to find the mark.

An interesting thing that I believe to be true was pointed out to me at the St. Charles Theatre, New Orleans. (The St. Charles was the historic theatre of New Orleans). Near the prompter’s stand were a lot of jagged holes in the brick wall; these were said to have been made by Macready, with a dagger in each hand, to get himself in the nervous tremor as “Macbeth,” after he has killed “King Duncan.”

Original Publication: Harvey, E. T. Recollections of a Scene Painter. Cincinnati: W.A. Sorin, 1916. 29. Google Books, 15 Feb. 2008. Web. 5 Sept. 2012.

Sleep No More

The lobby of the McKittrick Hotel, where "Sleep No More" is set
The lobby of the McKittrick Hotel, where "Sleep No More" is set



This week, I took a chance to watch Punchdrunk‘s current New York City production of Sleep No More. You may remember I previously wrote about Punchdrunk when I showed some Art Deco footlights I constructed for this production. I do not normally write about productions I see, but this was such a unique experience with a heavy reliance on props, so I thought I’d share.

First, some background. Punchdrunk is a British theatre troupe known for their immersive brand of promenade theatre. The actors are interspersed throughout a venue, and the audience is free to walk around and watch whichever scenes they wish, or just explore the space on their own. For Sleep No More, Punchdrunk has taken a set of three connected warehouses and lofts in Chelsea (former site of one of the super clubs back in the day) and transformed all six floors into a noir-ish world straight out of Hitchcock’s Rebecca, with many of the story elements from Macbeth. In other words, it’s “Shakespeare in the Dark”. The audience is given white masks to hide their faces, brought up an elevator in small groups, and set loose to explore the world and pick up pieces of the story. Hundreds of rooms have been created with literally thousands of props, with excruciating levels of detail. You can wander into a room which looks like an office, open a drawer in a desk, open a book, and find a scrap of paper with a note written by one of the characters. If it sounds like a lot of work went into this, it has; a team of artisans, shoppers and dozens of interns spent almost six months working non-stop on the physical production.

The New York Times has a wonderful article on Sleep No More. You really have to click through to the interactive feature where you can view a photo slideshow with audio commentary on a few of the hundred rooms in this piece. The pictures give you a better sense of the “look” of the place than I can describe. The “gestalt” of the piece, however, is something which not even pictures can describe. The whole experience is so intense, and the conventions it creates and exploits serve to create a uniquely theatrical event; “theatrical” in the sense that it can only be done as live theatre, with any attempt to transform it into film, text or interactive digital inevitably falling far, far short. You can read another write-up at the Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, the New York Times article is the only source of photographs for this production, as the Punchdrunk group plays their marketing close to the vest to keep an air of mystery and discovery to the whole affair.