Written by Josh Werre

Why are actors never supposed to say ‘Macbeth’ in a theater?

As most thespians can explain, it’s an old superstition rooted in the deaths, riots, and accidents that have plagued productions of “Macbeth”. Unless someone is rehearsing or performing the show, saying the word ‘Macbeth’ will bring about terrible luck.

For an actor like Tristan Taylor, however, the cursed ‘M’ word is more than just theatrical folklore. It’s the inspiration for writing a new play.

And it all began in a grocery store over two years ago.

The year was 2019. Taylor was on Christmas break. He had completed the fall semester of his sophomore year at the University of Sioux Falls where he planned to major in English with a minor in theatre. About 130 miles east of the University lies the unsuspecting city of Truman, Minnesota, Taylor’s hometown. A 20-minute drive from Truman will get you to Winnebago, a city nearly as small as Truman, but one that has something that Truman doesn’t– a grocery store.

During break, Taylor spent his time working at this grocery store. It was here where inspiration struck. “[O]ne of my coworkers was asking me about the whole “Macbeth” myth in theatre of why you can’t say Macbeth on stage,” Taylor explains. “[A]nd I was like, ‘What if I wrote a play about that?’”

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Taylor had registered to take a playwriting course at the university next semester. He would need as many ideas for plays as he could get.

The playwriting class would eventually culminate by tasking students to write one-act plays as their final project. Taylor already had an idea in mind. It wasn’t “Macbeth”, per se. Instead, Taylor’s play would be known as “McBethany”.

“McBethany” follows the story of a man named Joshua. Joshua is a first-time director getting ready to put on a production of “Macbeth”. As soon as he begins holding auditions, he learns that someone has taken the copyrights for all of Shakespeare’s works– including “Macbeth”. Strapped for cash, Joshua can’t afford to put the show on, so he must figure out how to make his own “Macbeth’’ while also avoiding copyright laws.

Taylor went throughout the rest of his sophomore and junior years revising, reworking, and showing “McBethany” to others. This past fall he began his senior year. Now a theatre major, this meant one thing for Taylor. He would have to put on a senior show.

Theatre majors at the university are required to put on what is known as a senior show. “A senior show is a culminating project that should take into consideration all of the experiences a theatre student has had and applying those things to some kind of project,” explains Associate Professor and Director of Theatre, Joe Obermueller. “[T]he senior project, ultimately, is a manifestation of what I like to encourage our students to do, which is to make your own work.”

Taylor enlisted the help of fellow theatre classmates Raelee Voss, Elliot Dallmann, and Bria Braniff to be his stage manager and assistant stage managers respectively. A day after the auditions were held, the cast list was posted, and a date was set for the first read-through of the script. Staging “McBethany” had become a reality.

But there was no time to waste. Rehearsals began last November and continued on Zoom during Christmas break. J-Term brought most of the cast and crew together where they continued to rehearse right into the beginning of the spring semester.

Taylor’s biggest fear leading up to opening night? “Actually having people see it,” he says. “It’s not only something that you’re directing, but it’s also your own play, so it’s double fold of how will people like this? Will people think it’s dumb? It’s all of those regular anxieties.”

On Feb. 10, “McBethany” opened in the Jones Studio Theatre to eager audiences. Interest in the show was so high that some people actually had to be turned away from the second performance because every seat was taken. “McBethany” concluded its run that weekend on Feb. 12.

At the end of the day, Taylor simply hopes that those who came to see the production enjoyed what they saw. “There’s no big, broad message that I’m really going for in this play. I’m just hoping people have a good time.”

What began as an idea in a grocery store is now a two-act play that has been produced for the stage entirely by students. And rest assured that saying the name of this play won’t bring about any bad luck.

Photos courtesy of Greta Smith

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