Shakespeare Project's performance of "Macbeth" for Anniston High School students Thursday afternoon at Anniston Performing Arts Center. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

Hundreds of students from Anniston High School gathered in the auditorium today to see a live performance of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” modernized with them in mind.

While the dialog was still Shakespeare’s, the soldiers wore modern-day uniforms. The ruler of Scotland was a female politician in a white pantsuit. And the three witches were no longer witches.

They were clowns.

Are clowns scarier than witches?

“Definitely,” said Kaleb Whitfield, a 12th grader at Anniston High.

“Macbeth” is the second annual production for the Shakespeare Project, which presents free performances for local high school students and the general public.

“Macbeth” was adapted and directed by Carrie Colton, artistic director of the Shakespeare Project and a former drama professor at Jacksonville State University. She tries to approach the plays from the perspective of the high school students who will be watching.

This week, some 2,000 area high school students attended five performances of “Macbeth,” including students from White Plains, Pleasant Valley, the Donoho School, Wellborn and Jacksonville, as well as students from outside Calhoun County.

Thursday afternoon’s performance was attended by Anniston High School students from grades 9-12. It was a high-energy show.

When Lady Macbeth greeted her husband with a passionate embrace, the audience whooped.

When Macbeth drew out a bloody dagger, the audience gasped.

When Macbeth got into a knife fight, the audience screamed with each punch, slash and stomach kick.

When (spoiler alert) Macbeth was finally killed, the auditorium rang with cheers and claps.

The audience favorites, though, were the three wicked clowns. Played by Jacob Sorling, Leila Acheson and Lizzie Powers, the three roamed the auditorium and the stage, laughing and shrieking.

At one point, Sorling engaged the audience in a raucous game of jokes. “Knock knock!” he said. “WHO’S THERE?” shouted the students.

Afterward, several 11th grade students said they enjoyed the show. “I really liked the theme: taking something older and making it new,” Amara Parker said.

“It was easy to comprehend. It was fun,” Kalyn Heard said.

“It was hilarious,” said Jamari Jackson.

“The lights, the scenery ... it was awesome,” Xavier Storey said. “I’m currently doing a class on ‘Macbeth.’ This helped me out a lot.”

Glen Ray and Justin Myles both wanted to know how they could audition to be in a play.

In a question-and-answer session with the actors after the show, the students wanted to know how long it took the actors to learn everything (about three weeks), why there were wearing army clothes (because they were coming back from war) and why they enjoy acting (“I love the stories” and “I like being in a different world, leaving all this behind for a while”).

Emily Duncan, executive director of the Shakespeare Project, explained to the students that there used to be a Shakespeare festival in Anniston back in the 1970s, with performances in that very auditorium. But the Alabama Shakespeare Festival moved to Montgomery in 1985, and since then local students haven’t always had an opportunity to travel to see Shakespeare.

“So we brought this to you,” Duncan told the students.

Several students answered back, “Thank you!”

There will be three free performances of “Macbeth” for the general public this weekend at the Anniston Performing Arts Center, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.