Tonight we focused on Act IV Scene ii, in which Othello verbally abuses Desdemona, she asks Iago for help, and Iago plots with Roderigo to kill Cassio. We took some time to read and discuss the scene before putting it on its feet.
We tried using a chair in the scene in a few ways, including Othello circling Emilia as she sat in the chair, which felt like an interrogation and was very interesting. We also decided to try the scene two different ways – one in which Emilia has no idea that Iago is to blame for what is happening, and one in which she does know. After we saw how it works when she doesn’t know, we had some discussion. “I think she has some idea,” said one ensemble member. “It’s like when you say something about someone to see how they react, to see if it’s true.”
Our Othello had played the scene in a quiet, sad way, and we asked her to bring some more anger and frustration to what she was doing, as this scene is the follow up to one in which Othello physically abuses Desdemona in front of others – he is really unraveling. Sarah suggested that Othello plant more and move less.
In our second go at the scene, Emilia and Iago ended up on either side of Desdemona, with Emilia shouting over her head. It was interesting to see what happens when Emilia knows that her husband is manipulating the situation, but the group was still torn. “If there was ever anyone who did things obviously in my face and I didn’t see it, it was my husband,” said one person. Our Emilia decided to try to split the difference next time we work on the scene.
We then talked a bit about Desdemona in this scene – why she comes in with hope and leaves with none. “I think any person would take a slap better than being called a whore,” said one woman. “Words hurt much worse.”
Another ensemble member agreed. “The sting from a slap goes away. The sting from words lasts a long time.”
When we arrived this evening, we were told that our Desdemona has gotten into a program that precludes her involvement in ours. We discussed what to do about replacing her, and since there were four people interested, all of whom are newer to the group, we decided to have them audition. We chose the scene we worked on at our last meeting, and made sure that everyone understood the material before they auditioned.
The group was very encouraging of all four women, who all gave intelligent and emotional readings. Our Othello, in the meantime, got to have a lot of rehearsal on the scene. She became more and more confident in expressing her character’s frustration, sadness, and rage. “I was afraid of her,” said one woman who was auditioning. “She makes it easy to play the part.”
Another woman who auditioned did so as her first time ever being on stage. She used her nerves to fuel Desdemona’s confusion, and it worked beautifully. The other two women auditioning likewise were wonderful to watch. “She acted like she’d been abused by him before,” said one woman.
We asked the four of them to leave the room so we could discuss. It proved difficult to make a decision; we truly enjoyed all four interpretations. We also asked our Othello with whom she had felt the most connected. The discussion was open, honest, and respectful. We narrowed it down to two women, choosing a short monologue of Desdemona’s for them to memorize and bring in on Tuesday, when we’ll make our final decision.
When the four came back into the room, we let them know all of this, and the two who were not chosen seemed to take it well, although they were obviously disappointed. This felt like casting sessions in previous years that had been open and respectful, and I hope we can bring that feeling back to our first casting session next year rather than voting anonymously, which we thought would be helpful but didn’t end up being a better option.
At the end of the session, our Montano announced to the group that she would rather be a director than perform, and that she wants one of the newer ensemble members to play her role. Everyone was open to that, and as soon as we settle on a Desdemona, we’ll plug everyone else in.