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workshop essence work

Photography generously provided by: Alex Seyum / Carnival Pictures


It feels a lifetime has come and gone since Saturday. A handful of our core company members woke up with the sun and gathered at the Saint Sophia Cathedral for an entire day of Macbeth immersion.

What a luxurious day it was. We want to sincerely thank Peter Nikkos (who also participated in the workshop as an ensemble member) and the Huffington Center at the Saint Sophia Cathedral for generously providing a beautiful, nourishing space to call our own for the day. We found a very open and productive energy at the Huffington that allowed us a springboard from which to dive into this text.

Brooke Bishop and Colin Martin, in Mary Ellen Schneider's essence piece, which was paired with Lady Macduff's text from the play

Brooke Bishop and Colin Martin, in Mary Ellen Schneider’s essence piece, which was paired with Lady Macduff’s text from the play

Our day consisted of a long movement-based warm-up, a table-read of the play, and a synthesis of textwork and essence work. After our dinner break, we welcomed guests to watch and dialogue with some of the essence piece and text combinations we’d been developing. In case you haven’t heard my essence spiel before… essence work is a technique I learned and adapted from Shana Cooper, a directing mentor of mine. The goal is to use all the elements of theater (movement, costume, props, sound, music), everything except words, to get out of our heads and learn about a story as viscerally as possible. In showing each other these short, physical performances, we as an ensemble also begin to develop a common sensory vocabulary to use in rehearsals.

I’ve used some variation of this essence work in every production I’ve directed, but Saturday was the first time I shared essence pieces with audience members. And our audience was very generous – they gave useful feedback, expressed their physical and emotional reactions to watching the work, and asked us challenging questions. We learned an incredible amount about the energy, tone, and core of Macbeth. I learned a great deal about the potential of collaboration, and glimpsed the possibility of removing ego from the craft of directing.

Ashley Tsai, a friend of the company, who participated in this workshop as an audience member, said she had previously never seen Shakespeare without all the “fluff” of costumes, pretense, and grandeur, and that she felt she could finally relate to the real people she saw speaking this text. This is the greatest compliment we at CityShakes can receive – seeing our mission in action.

Here’s to many more workshops in the future, and to a long love affair with Macbeth.

If you’re an artist, and you want to be involved in our fall production in any capacity you can imagine – join our mailing list or go ahead and shoot us an email at

– Brooke



One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] So far, Colin helped us clean, cleanse, and infuse it with our energy. Each cast member shared an essence piece. Jose and Mary Ellen led us through some Suzuki exercises. We’ve done Viewpoints, lots of […]

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