Past meets future in locals' take on 'Macbeth'

Macbeth (Vania Smrkovski), left, and Macduff (Mike Stanley) see the future differently in "Macbeth."

Macbeth (Vania Smrkovski), left, and Macduff (Mike Stanley) see the future differently in "Macbeth."

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Knoxville has seen its share of Shakespeare. But director Rob Simpson's post-apocalyptic vision for a film adaptation of "Macbeth" uses parts of the city that usually wouldn't be thought of as a likely setting for the play.

"There are some fantastic areas in this town if you really want to sell that the whole world is over," says Vania Smrkovski, who plays the title character. "It's awesome."

Simpson and Smrkovski (who with the director produced the film) struggled to define what they meant by "post-apocalyptic" and how much of the ravages of war they should show — "as much as we could pay for, which was practically nothing," says Simpson.

"So essentially we got a bunch of people in pea-coats and leather jackets, a bunch of biker dudes, swinging swords around," says Smrkovski. "We have this joke that there must have been a nuclear war, and radiation forces all guns to cease working, all cars to stop working, and all the radiation in your brain causes you to speak in Elizabethan English."

The mash-up of past and future will be screened at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, at the Lambert Recital Hall at Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville.

The 55-minute black-and-white film took about two years to complete. Simpson started shooting at the end of July 2010 and finished just over a month ago.

Smrkovski was actually his second Macbeth; the original actor got sick two days before shooting was to start.

"Kali Meister, who plays a witch, and Lisa Hatmaker (Lady Macbeth) both suggested Vania to replace him," recalls Simpson. "I'd never met him before. And I called him up and said, 'We start tomorrow.' I had no time to talk to him about his part or anything."

Simpson, a freelance videographer who studied filmmaking at the University of Tennessee, did most of his casting off Facebook.

"I have a lot of friends who are actors," he says. "These guys put their pictures from different performances up on there, and I was able to see a variety of parts they could play."

With the films he made in college and since graduation, "some professional actors were in them, but mostly they were just friends of mine that looked good on camera and could remember their lines," says Simpson. "This is the first narrative film I've been able to do where everyone was a professional actor and everyone in it could act."

That had drawbacks as well as benefits, especially since they were already limited to shooting mostly Saturdays and Sundays.

"Since a good number of the actors are actually professional actors, getting paying gigs, anytime we had shoots that dealt with four or five or more people, they kept getting delayed and delayed and delayed because some critical actor would find themselves in a conflict with a gig in North Carolina or Nashville," says Smrkovski, a computer programmer.

A good example is Mike Stanley, who plays Macduff. Stanley lives in Knoxville but has stayed busy in recent years working in film and episodic television, including the new show "Revolution," on which J.J. Abrams is an executive producer.

"Damn Abrams, stealing our people," jokes Simpson.

Locations, sets and props were mostly volunteered or "borrowed." East Tennessee-based Tuatha Dea contributed music free. Simpson says everyone did the film on faith.

"There's nothing in it for them unless they believe in it and they think that it's good work and that it may have a future," he says.---'Macbeth'

What: Locally produced film adaptation of Shakespeare's "the Scottish play." When: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12; doors open at 7:30 p.m. Where: Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall, Clayton Center for the Arts, Maryville Cost: $15 adult, $10 student (K-12)

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