Othello

Othello

May 2015

              poster

Shakespeare's challenging tragedy, Othello, engaged ODAG actors and directors for 7 months, starting in November, 2014. The process culminated in four performances for family, friends, and the Grafton general population in May, 2015.

In addition, for the first time in Ohio history, the ODAG men left the Grafton Reintegration Center to present Othello for the general population at other prisons. On June 3, 2015 they visited the Grafton Correctional Institution, and on September 21, 2015 they performed at the Lorain Correctional Institution. At the invitation of regional prison administrators, ODAG actors presented Othello at the Northeast Reintegration Center (NERC), a women's prison in Cleveland, on November 2, 2015.

The student directors helping to lead rehearsals included Sophie Becker, Katy Early, Isabella McKnight, Julia Melfi, Jackie Pitts, Arif Silverman, Sara Tolchinsky and Lillian White. Preparations for the performance were greatly enhanced through visits by drama teacher and director Pat Price, the participation of Equity actor and Shakespeare specialist, Lara Mielcarek, and by professional theater fight choreographer Ryan Zarecki. A highlight of 2015 was a story-telling workshop led by international artist Hector Aristizabal.

Following are selected pages from the program created by members of ODAG. To view a page, hover the cursor over the corresponding page number in the column on the left.

Page 1

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Page 6

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Page 9

Page 14

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Othello's controversial themes of racial persecution, misogyny, anti-Muslim prejudice, and lethal domestic violence required courage and dedication from ODAG actors and directors, who believe in the transformational power of great theatre.

Here are two excerpts from the ODAG performance:

Cassio Rails Against Alcohol

Emilia Breaks the Silence

As the great Moroccan general, Othello, heads the colonial Christian forces of Venice to defeat a Muslim fleet attacking Venetian-held Cyprus, Othello takes with him his Venetian bride, Desdemona.  Recently disowned by her father, Desdemona leaves her European world behind and follows her much older North African husband to remote Cyprus.  There, in an isolated island fortress, without a support system except for her attendant Emilia—whose submission to her own abusive husband Iago leads her to betray Desdemona—Desdemona soon meets her violent death at the hands of the man she has abandoned everyone for and who loves her absolutely.  Driven to murderous jealousy by his subordinate, Iago, whom Othello wrongly trusts with his very soul, Othello's learned self-hatred as a black man in a white supremacist society makes him vulnerable to Iago's poisonous lies. Exploiting the self-doubts Othello has internalized in white Venice, as well as the ready mistrust of women Venetian misogyny has also has taught Othello, the cunning Iago is able to persuade Othello to murder Desdemona.  To accomplish that, Iago tells Othello his wife secretly loathes him, as a black man, and convinces Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Othello's most trusted young, white lieutenant, Cassio.

Othello powerfully exposes how domestic violence depends on these learned self-doubts that feed jealousy and rage.  In the overt racism and distrust of women that Iago employs, we learn how these forces produce feelings of utter unworthiness.  Filled with self-loathing, abusers may overpower victims by separating them from support systems, and victims, who can believe themselves deserving of punishment, can accept their mistreatment and trust abusers.  Ahead of its time in its critique of these processes, Othello can enable audiences to appreciate how domestic violence may result in a social breakdown and tragedy.

Yet Othello also allows audiences to feel compassion for Othello as a great man abused by his friend and poisoned by his society. We are able to understand and forgive him and the trusting Desdemona, if Othello reaches its full tragic potential.

With its lush language of love, the heroism of the tragic characters, the dark comedy of Iago's manipulative creativity, and its remarkably contemporary ideas, Othello tested ODAG actors to their limits but rewarded their efforts with a profound theatrical experience.