Reimagining Macbeth – During Intersession

Article and photos by Jessica Nieberg

“On Christmas Eve, I sat in my empty dorm room, with nothing but Macbeth typed at the top of my page. For 20 minutes I stared at the blinking cursor and thought to myself, what am I doing?” said Benjamin Long, a Baruch College student from the original Boston, on England’s east coast.

At age 4, Long began being involved with plays, which, he says, is common where he grew up. By age 6, he was cast in his first role, reading lines from Macbeth for a class assignment. While all students were required to participate, Long’s teachers deemed him a natural on stage, capable of memorizing lines and sounding great while reciting them. He would be cast in all the lead roles, all of which were Shakespeare’s work, and he gradually became more comfortable on stage.

Ben Long, 24, has directed his own adaptation of Macbeth, set in a kitchen.
Ben Long, 23, has directed his own adaptation of Macbeth, set in a kitchen.

“Back home, when you come out of the womb, they give you a Shakespeare book…and a cup of tea,” he said, so it wasn’t all that difficult for him to try to write a modern-day adaptation of Macbeth.

It began when Long, now 23, first started at Baruch last year and noticed a handful of students who enjoyed acting, but couldn’t find productions they found interesting, as the school’s theater program seems to put on what he refers to as “obscure plays.”

Long organized a meet-up with other students of a similar mind and they decided to create a club called Exit Stage Left.

Long, whose thick dark brown hair falls to one side as he speaks, leaned back in his chair on a recent afternoon on the Baruch campus. Crossing an ankle over his knee, he rested one hand on his propped-up foot and spoke with the other. 

Long originally enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Midtown, but left shortly after starting, nearly five years ago. A teacher told him he’d be better off leaving the school because he wasn’t going to learn anything he didn’t already know from training in England, Long recalled. So he applied to Baruch, a school he chose essentially by accident, after coming across the campus on a walk after leaving the academy. He is currently completing his third semester at Baruch.

Exit Stage Left will debut its first performance, Long's Macbeth adaptation, on May 7.
Exit Stage Left will debut Macbeth, Long’s Macbeth adaptation, on May 7 at Baruch College.

As Exit Stage Left brainstormed ideas for its first production, Long suggested Macbeth.

The idea was quickly shot down when his peers agreed it would be difficult for them to successfully reach an audience through Shakespeare. Long felt he could persuade his team otherwise – that is, if he found the right adaptation. For hours, Long researched modern translations, but nothing seemed to fit the club’s needs.

Over winter vacation, everyone in the Baruch dorms was going home for the holidays – everyone but Long. He sat at his desk and decided he would write the script. Completing it in three weeks, Long showed the script to professors, the executive board of Exit Stage Left and to friends back home. Everyone gave him two thumbs up.

Macbeth will run in Baruch’s Bernie West Theater on May 7, 8 and 9 in four performances – a Thursday matinee and three evening productions. Lady Macbeth will be played by Tamara Chichian, Banquo by Kevin Khayutovsky.

“He can write, act and direct, there is no limit for him!” said Dominique Plaisant, Long’s theater professor. She said Long was exceptionally hardworking, and that any time she critiqued him, he computed her feedback, explored, felt it and made changes within himself, not just with the task at hand.

Long and his team decided they would put on a production, with or without the school’s backing. Long confidently pitched his idea to Baruch’s Performing Arts Center administration, explaining he had a script and cast of 16 and was going to put on a show. Luckily, college officials approved the performance.

Long hadn't originally attended Baruch when he moved to New York from England.
Long didn’t attend Baruch when he first came New York, but came across the campus on a walk.

Though not planning to, Long will play the role of Macbeth in the production. He said he hoped to audition fellow students for the role, but when nobody came forward, he stepped up.

Even as the playwright, Long is always open to suggestions from the rest of the cast.

Long “is determined. The amount of effort he puts in is truly inspirational to the rest of us,” said Ezekiel Jiles, vice president of Exit Stage Left.

Long is enthusiastic about doing the best job possible. Even in rehearsal, cast members could see how focused he appeared. Long’s voice quivered when it must, and his eyes appeared glassy on cue. His posture and attitude completely changed; rather than Ben Long standing on stage, it was Macbeth.

The members of Exit Stage Left are confident the audience will relate to Long’s fresh take on a legendary tragedy. Long hopes their production at Baruch is just the debut of his Macbeth. Long would like to find an an off-Broadway venue for his play and for it to be turned into a film that could be entered in local festivals.

In a poem Long wrote, Out, Damned Spot!, he says, “A character with which I can relate, a man that went too far, could not turn back. From what he’d done. And, so accepts his fate.…”

Long said he sees many of Macbeth’s qualities in himself and vice versa. And while he has been determinedly optimistic throughout, trying to put together rehearsals with students tied up with classes, work and other responsibilities has been frustrating, at times, he said.