Kyle Sullivan and Gregory Jolivette duel in rehearsals for Keizer Homegrown Theater’s production of ‘Macbeth.’ The play’s run kicks off June 25. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

The curious thing about superstitions is that they are never true until they are and, by then, things have usually taken a turn for the worse.

Just ask Gregory Jolivette, who plays the lead of Keizer Homegrown Theater’s production of Macbeth. Jolivette’s last role before moving to Salem from Sacramento, Calif., was the titular Macbeth, a general who kills his king paving the way for his succession and a bloody, tragic reign.

“I broke my ankle and my leg on opening night. I did get to finish that performance, but I did not get to do the other eight shows. The show was canceled because we didn’t have an understudy and I left that production feeling bad and kind of cheated,” he said.

It may be that Jolivette was victim of The Scottish Play curse. Because of a history of–likely coincidental–disaster associated with the production, it’s considered bad form for actors to speak the name Macbeth in a theater space outside of rehearsal for fear of invoking the curse. It’s given birth to euphemisms such as the aforementioned Scottish Play and The Bard’s Play. In U.S.-based productions, Macbeth himself is sometimes referred to as Mackers.

However, Jolivette will have a second chance to play a role he’s coveted for years when the play arrives on stage at the Keizer Rotary Amphitheater in Keizer Rapids Park July 25-28. All shows begin at 7 p.m. Performances run about 2 hours.

“That whole element of it being the first time out and being part of something new is exciting,” Jolivette said. “There’s high stakes with a new company and we want to convince the audiences that this is something that deserves to be around.”

Keizer Homegrown Theater is the brainchild of former McNary High School drama diva Linda Baker and one of her students, Evan Christopher, a recent graduate of the Western Oregon University theater program.

Christopher, who directs the upcoming play, cut his teeth directing at WOU and as an assistant director for productions in Portland.

“A lot of the former students have settled down in Keizer and they didn’t pursue theater, but they’ve still got the acting experience and the desire to do something with it,” Christopher said.

While theater itself is a tough sell in the Mid-Willamette Valley–the community has supported only one long-running company in the past half-century–Christopher has done his best to create a production that will capture the audience’s attention and hold it, “I want them to expect that they will be entertained.”

Part of his recipe for success is preserving much of the violence in the script.

“We have an opening scene with a huge battle involving 12-15 actors coming on and off the stage because we want the audience to see the heroism of Macbeth when the play starts,” said Tim Manion, stage manager. “We have wonderful Three Musketeers-type choreography.”

Manion, a theater veteran, said he’s been impressed with Christopher’s lean cutting of the story that pushes the essential elements to the forefront.

“The quality of the production itself is amazing and the story is coming through real clearly,” Manion said.

One element that proves difficult for most theater companies is getting the costuming right, but Keizer Homegrown Theater is benefitting from the off-season for Shakespeare productions, Christopher said.

“We have the costumes of a much better, paid production thanks to the time of year,” Christopher said.

Jolivette was something of a late-comer to the party and ended up sending Christopher and Baker a letter of inquiry the day after formal auditions were held.

“After that first round of auditions we were still lacking our Macbeth and Gregory came out of the blue. He even had Shakespeare experience,” Christopher said.

The opportunity to work with a new company in a role that he’s wanted to play since that first “cursed” night, was one he couldn’t pass up.

“As an actor, the full performance comes to fruition over the course of a run and I didn’t get the chance to experience that the first time around,” Jolivette said. The joy of Shakespeare, he said, is finding those moments in each play when every scene and every player is feeding off the energy of the others. “When you’re doing it right, it’s impossible not to have the energy that you need.”