Tonight we decided to review the work that’s been done on Act I Scene iii and keep going with it. After our review, we again pondered Roderigo’s situation in this play.
Why doesn’t Roderigo suspect Iago of taking advantage of him? “He’s super focused on Desdemona,” said one woman. “He’s not thinking about anything else – he’s obsessed.”
“I fight against my own emotions and intelligence with this,” said the woman playing Roderigo.
“Even if there was a solution, you’d still be a little gloomy,” said another woman about Roderigo’s state of mind. “But sometimes false hope is the best thing,” said another.
“Well, I feel silly,” said the woman playing Roderigo. “Then you’re doing it right!” said someone else.
After going through the scene again, one woman asked if maybe we should set the whole thing in front of our curtain so that, when the scene is over, we can open it on Cyprus. The whole group was enthusiastic about this idea.
We spent some time playing a game, and then some people had to leave. We decided to work on one of Othello’s monologues with the remaining time, a monologue in which he denies feeling jealous. After one read, we all chipped in to guide our Othello to find greater truth in the piece. Her second read was much more effective, and when she finished I asked her how she had accomplished that. “You’re not gonna like it,” she said, and whispered to me, “I used the Method.”
I asked her, “Do you mean you were re-living a past experience, or were you recalling and using that past?” She answered that she had not re-lived anything, but, rather, had thought about when she felt a similar way and used that in her performance. The facilitators then clarified that this is an effective tool to use in rehearsal (often called “the magic as if”), and is not the Method and nothing to be worried about.
Readers may recall that we have had a few intense discussions about safe approaches to the material, and it’s good that this ensemble member got clarification about the tool she was using. In our program, we can’t avoid looking at our play through the lens of our own experience; it’s using that experience safely and effectively to tell a story that needs to be our focus. If we maintain that, no one should have to re-live past trauma.
Tonight began with a discussion about costumes, set, and props. We are not allowed to use military uniforms, so we had to work together to come up with something that would signify military without going against prison policy. We believe we have come up with a good solution, but that, too, will need to be approved by the prison.
Most of the ensemble members have a very clear idea of what their characters should be wearing. The woman playing Bianca emphatically stated that she should wear red even though in everyday life she doesn’t like the color – she feels that Bianca would. Our Othello had suggestions for how she could look slightly different from the other military characters.
We also talked through some problem solving about Desdemona’s smothering. I haven’t asked specific questions yet of prison staff, but I anticipate that this will be a challenge to stage while staying within the rules of the prison. We’ve come up with several solutions that I will present to staff soon.
We then continued with our blocking, beginning with Act II Scene i, in which we arrive at Cyprus in the wake of a storm. Two ensemble members whose characters don’t appear until the second act gamely took on the roles of the two gentlemen in the scene. Our Cassio seemed unsure of what she should be doing, but she knew she felt the need to move. “Well,” said a longtime ensemble member, “What do you do when you’re nervous and anxious?” Cassio answered that she paces. We decided as a group that it would be appropriate to pace and look out to sea for Othello’s ship. One person suggested that Cassio grab a telescope from Montano as well.
We have a backdrop of an ocean that was painted for our Tempest, and this same longtime ensemble member suggested that we put it at the back of the house. This suggestion was met with enthusiasm and praise for her consistently wonderful design/concept ideas over the years.
We also decided to revisit this when we’re back in the auditorium (we sometimes meet in a classroom on Fridays) so that we can explore different levels in the scene.
It was a very positive evening, and we are chugging along, figuring out how to stage our story.