This evening began with our Othello letting us know that, due to her shift at work, she needs to relinquish her part and take on something smaller. She doesn’t want to let the group down, and she feels that she will have too many absences to carry the role without stressing everyone out. We all expressed that we understand, although we will miss her Othello. We asked her to understudy the role, which she accepted.
Our heretofore understudy Othello then requested that we immediately make more cuts to the play so that she can get going on line memorization. We settled on a “divide and conquer” approach to the evening, with Othello, Iago, and me working on cuts, some others working in pairs on their lines, and a number of ensemble members working with Sarah on the “senate scene.”
I checked in with our new Othello prior to beginning cuts, making sure we are on the same page about keeping her emotionally safe while playing the role. She acknowledged that it may be challenging, but she feels she has a lot of life experience to bring to the role, and she is confident that she can do so without further traumatizing herself. This is her fourth play with us, and all of her roles thus far have had comedic elements; she is excited to do something completely different this year.
Meanwhile, Sarah worked with the ensemble on that senate scene. From Sarah:
We sat down to work on a Duke, Senator, Messenger, Sailor, Officer section of a scene this evening that seemed a bit dry and impenetrable. We read it through once. While nobody seemed confused about the meaning of the scene, none of us really knew right off the bat why Shakespeare put it in the play and what we were going to do to make it live for us and our audience. Our ensemble member who has been acting as a director, led discussions and really delved into the meanings with us. As we discussed the text more and more, it became clear to me that I had not really understood the fun, the purpose, and the full meaning of the scene until we all read it several times and talked it through. Our whole ensemble agreed. We realized that with Shakespeare sometimes you think you understand, but it's not until you go deep into conversation and collaboration that you get to the meat and fun of a seemingly throw-away scene. This was an exciting revelation for everyone and inspiration to speak up when we don't FULLY understand and know what our characters WANT in a scene.
This was an extremely productive evening for the group. It’s time now to buckle down, as we perform our play at the end of May, and everyone is doing a great job not only doing her own work, but encouraging all members of the team to do their best.
Most of our time this evening was put toward staging Act V Scene I, in which Roderigo and Cassio fight, Iago kills Roderigo, and Bianca is swept up in the chaos. This proved to be a challenging scene to stage, especially since we were meeting in a classroom rather than the auditorium. It is difficult for many of our ensemble members to envision how their work in the classroom translates to the stage; as a result, we did only loose blocking with the intention of firming it up on Tuesday.
As we began work on the scene, our main director asked the actors to envision the scene as Shakespeare intended: “It’s pitch black. You can’t see anything. It’s a bloody mess.” We initially staged the scene so that Roderigo and Cassio injure each other at the same time (since we don’t have much rehearsal time for intense fight choreography), but some ensemble members want to see how it works for Iago to wound Cassio instead, as many people interpret the scene. We worked together to try to keep everyone on the same page, which worked a bit better after I drew a rough floor plan of our performance space to clarify things. Eventually, though, as noted above, we decided to leave the finessing until Tuesday.
Our Desdemona was absent, so we decided to jump to the part of Act V Scene ii with just Othello and Emilia, after Desdemona’s murder. There are still varying interpretations of Emilia here, and the ensemble member playing the character tried to take it all in.
Why, I asked, does the scene move so quickly, with shared lines? Why does Shakespeare leave so little room for Emilia to silently process what’s happening? “You’ve figured it out, it’s running through your head, but you still don’t believe it,” said one woman.
We then talked about how Othello threatens Emilia toward the end of this section, and she’s seemingly fearless. Why doesn’t she cave to his threats? And why doesn’t Othello immediately take her out? “Othello’s not a murderer,” said one ensemble member. “He murdered his wife, but that doesn’t mean he’s gonna murder everyone.”
Our Emilia has a tendency to rush her lines, but when she moved quickly through this scene (not just picking up on cues, but rushing her lines internally), it didn’t work too well. “Shakespeare gives you lots of punctuation when he wants you to slow down and breathe,” I reminded her. “So if your instinct is to rush, but the playwright is telling you not to, you need to figure out why that is and how to make it work for you.” She is going to work on this.
We are in a good place to finish our blocking of the play next week, following which, our plan is to start over at the beginning, smoothing things out and plugging in our new Othello.