06/28/2013 12:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Colorado Shakespeare Festival: Brutal 'Macbeth' Scenes Cleared With CU-Boulder Police

Leading up to an intense gunfight scene in a rehearsal of "Macbeth" on Thursday, weapons director Geoffrey Kent gave a rallying call to actors: "Are you ready to die horribly?"

And, with that, actors -- who have gone through extensive training with the prop guns -- took their places to rehearse a gruesome scene in one of William Shakespeare's darkest tragedies.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production of "Macbeth," which opens Saturday at the University of Colorado, is reimagined to take place in Afghanistan on the eve of the Soviet invasion.

On a campus where Nerf and toy guns are banned and at a time when people's sensitivities are heightened about school shootings, those behind the play are following several safety measures, using blank-fire guns and alerting the public of war noises coming from the theater.

Tim Orr, director of the festival, said organizers have used fliers to notify residents of neighboring University Hill that actors will be firing blanks from the prop guns during rehearsals and performances. Emails have also gone out to businesses and Greek life groups on the Hill.

Though the festival wasn't required to pull permits, the organizers notified the CU and Boulder police departments as well as the city's fire department. The agencies inspected the festival's "arsenal" and learned how the props would be incorporated into the play before signing off on their use.

Orr said somebody from the festival notifies the police agencies each time actors plan to fire blanks on stage, for rehearsals

or performances.

Of the guns, a half dozen are blank-fire pistols. During the play, 30 blank rounds are fired, and, if the gun doesn't make a noise, a pre-recorded gunshot noise reverberates throughout the Mary Rippon Theatre.

"The recorded action of bombs and helicopters and aircraft sounds theatrical," Kent said.

After the first rehearsal, police received no calls of concern.

At a behind-the-scenes table, a gun wrangler oversees 16 rubber pistols, eight rubber AK-47s and a couple dozen fake knives. He tells the actors if the guns are "hot," meaning loaded with a blank. At the end of the show, the guns are locked in a locker.

At Thursday's rehearsal, actors used packs of water instead of fake blood. The red syrup will be used for live shows. (And, in case you've ever wondered, it tastes like mint.)

While the festival intends to elicit emotion with its production, "We don't want to scare the audience in real life," Kent said.

CU police spokesman Ryan Huff said any time a group on campus wants to use simulated weapons, they must work with police to make sure they follow safety protocols and don't cause alarm.

Additionally, the actors never point weapons toward the audience. Theater-goers are also warned of the sounds of gunfire.

The Shakespeare Festival isn't the only group to get the go-ahead to use simulated weapons. For example, Huff said, students in an anthropology class observe a spear demonstration on a

roped-off lawn as part of a lesson on the ancient weaponry.

Jane Page, head of the University of California-Irvine's drama department, is directing the CU festival's production of "Macbeth."

"I think the story lives in a world that's awash in blood," she said.

Prior to Thursday's rehearsal, she discussed why she chose Afghanistan for the play's setting, saying that for most people it elicits a visceral response because it's a place of war, a graveyard of empires and tends to be shrouded in mystery.

"It will be like no other 'Macbeth' anybody has ever seen before," she said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or

If you go

What: The Shakespeare Festival's production of "Macbeth"

When: Opening night is Saturday. The play runs through Aug. 10.

Where: Mary Rippon Theatre on the University of Colorado campus

More info. and tickets: ___