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Shakespeare & Beyond

Orson Welles and the Voodoo 'Macbeth' that launched his directing career

Credit: Library of Congress

That’s a hot ticket! (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

Can you feel the feverish excitement in the air? This photograph from April 14, 1936, shows the crowded streets outside the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem on opening night for the Federal Theatre Project’s Macbeth, directed by a young Orson Welles. (He was only 20 years old!)

The Federal Theatre Project’s Negro Unit was a New Deal program under the Works Progress Administration that generated jobs in the arts for the black community during the Depression. Set in 19th-century Haiti, this innovative take on Shakespeare’s play featured voodoo drumming, colorful jungle scenery, and an all-black cast. The wildly successful production launched Orson Welles’s directorial career; it sold out in New York and then went on tour around the country.


Excellent. I recommend the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane, which touches on Welles’ “Voodoo Macbeth”:

Quintin Peterson — May 7, 2016