Pigeon Creek board member and repertory company actor Kate Bode (Second Witch, Lady Macduff, Gentlewoman, Seward) discusses the physical side of playing non-human characters.
I was very excited to begin exploring the witch characters of Macbeth. After all, they are some of the most famous of Shakespeare’s characters.
As I started my process of trying to create a character, however, it dawned on me that they are some of the most famous of Shakespeare’s characters. This suddenly became a very intimidating thought. Everyone knows about the witches. Everyone has some preconceived notion of what they should be. How can an actor live up to that? But then I thought: I don’t.
It is my job to create this character anew, and share it with the audience.
For me, the biggest struggle is the physical creation of a character: how they walk, how they move, their mannerisms, their habits, etc. My friends all know how much of a klutz I am, and my movement is sometimes hindered by chronic knee pain. So, for me, movement becomes an even bigger challenge when working with a non-human character.
But I found that I can use these weaknesses to my advantage. Because the witches are non-human, my awkward movements and lack of grace can actually help me to distinguish my character’s movement qualities from those of the other (human) characters in the play. Strange, angular movements that look so clumsy and so pitiful in the real world, seem fantastical, “weird,” and completely appropriate in the world of Macbeth.
I also found myself defaulting to the movement qualities I worked so hard on for the character of Ariel in The Tempest – the non-human spirit that is a servant to Prospero. At one point, one of my fellow actors pointed this out to me, and I realized that, while that movement quality worked for Ariel, it does not work for the witches. I had to deconstruct that movement and use bits and pieces of it to build a new, and more appropriate, character for an altogether different kind of world, and discard the things that didn’t work.
In the end, I hope that the movement and character that I have created for my witch will be both new and familiar, and that the audience will enjoy the hard work and effort of my clumsy, awkward self.