We decided to stick to our plan of playing games through the new year. I introduced a new game, with the caveat that it might lead to potential triggers, and I asked if that was okay with the group. First off, we decided that if something came up, we’d let each other know. Then one ensemble member said she was okay with triggers because she feels safe in the group again. Many ensemble members vocally agreed with her.
The first game we played was very silly and allowed everyone to have a good laugh during a very tough time of year. Then a few ensemble members said they’d like to try a game that wasn’t necessarily funny. I then led “Real to Ideal,” a Theatre of the Oppressed exercise in which we look at a real situation, then what it would ideally be, and the possible transitions between the two. Our first situation was a hostile workplace in which a tyrannical boss was lording it over co-workers. An ideal version of this showed the co-workers pointing out their good work to the boss, and the boss smiling and encouraging them. We determined that, in order for the situation to change, the workers needed to stand up for themselves and have empathy for the boss, who wants productivity above all. The boss needs to also have empathy for the workers.
We then decided to try this in relation to Othello (since some ensemble members were itching to get back to Shakespeare). They chose Iago’s “put money in thy purse” monologue, in which Roderigo is won over and thoroughly cowed. What would it take to change this dynamic?
“It would take a change in conscious thought,” said one woman. “This guy is just full of crap, and I’m gonna do what I think is right.” This, she reasoned, would decrease Iago’s confidence.
In the play, we wondered, why can’t Roderigo advocate for himself? Some think it’s because he’s naturally a follower, although others lay the blame on his naiveté. By and large, we don’t think he’s stupid. “He wants something, and Iago can get him what he wants,” said one woman. Some called this a “deal with the devil,” and we drew parallels between this and Emilia’s thought that she would cuckold her husband for the world. The play seems to be full of such bargains.
Then the conversation expanded. “Don’t you think that this setting, with NA and AA, makes you more empathetic to these characters?” said one woman. “The prison journey helps you understand people better – you become self aware.”
There was general agreement. “I’ve been the manipulator and the manipulated. When I was the manipulator, I never thought people were stupid – I just thought I was really good,” said one ensemble member. “This is why I wanted to do Othello,” said a member who was in the group last year, “So people can learn from its messages.”
“Do you guys ever feel bad when you admit you were the bad points of these characters?” said another woman.
“Absolutely,” replied a longtime ensemble member. “I feel so close to Roderigo because he’s ruled by his heart. I’ve been that person, and it’s sad.”
“It makes me aware of how I used to behave, how I behave now, and how I’m gonna be in the future,” said the woman who had posed the question.
“Iago is a sick person,” said another woman. “Maybe he’ll go on a journey of self discovery in prison.”
Another woman had doubts. “This kind of sickness is like TB – you can go get better, but it can hide out and come back, like addiction.”
This led us to wonder about what happens after the play’s end. “You could do a whole play on Iago in prison,” said one woman excitedly. “If Iago went to prison, he’d never change because he’d be like everyone there,” said another.
Our plan for next week is to make the first round of cuts to the play. Some people are eager to do this, and others are nervous. This usually starts out awkwardly and quickly becomes a lot of fun, so I’m looking forward to it. It will be good to get back to work on the play!