House manager Jane Eisner joined the crew of Othello on the community tour, and has been keeping notes during every performance. She has written previously about her unique perspective on the audience response to Othello—read on to see how the tour is faring, and join us for one of our public tours, Friday in Oakland or Saturday in Concord.
Excerpt from House Report 1: Ygnacio Valley High 10/18/16
Hello all, congratulations on opening the tour! Ygnacio Valley High school had a pretty good turn out with 75 people in attendance. Many students seemed to be captivated and were eager to engage during the talk back. Some students seemed fidgety and lost their attention, while others were misty eyed and on the edge of their seats. A large group stayed after to meet the cast and take a picture with them.
Right before the start of the show a group of students performed a devised piece they had written in their drama class about immigration. It was lovely and set the tone for the night.
Talk Back: Initial thoughts and feelings
“Omg! You have me on my toes!”
Student: “I don’t believe a man should hit a woman and I believe he crossed that line.”
Adult: “I think Iago is the king of conspiracy theories.”
Adult: “I am thinking of the word “honest” Iago — and I believe it—I look at him so sweetly.”
Liz’s question: “Were the women always honest?”
Student: “The women’s words weren’t taken as true, only the men’s words were.”
Liz’s question: “How did it feel to be a part of it?”
Student: “You’re here — he hit you in front of me.” (Referring to the slap) “You’re in front of me, you’re human. Even though it was fake, I could feel it. It hit me.”
Student: “There was definitely emotion because you guys were all crying. I started crying cause you started crying.”
Student: “I liked the part when the truth came out – when she found the handkerchief the truth came out — all that happened was because of lies — it was good when the truth came out.”
Adult: “No one is completely honest during the whole thing, that adds to the tragedy.”
Student: “I thought that the strangling, gunshot, and slapping was so uncomfortable I was like, ‘I gotta go!’ It was right here!”
Lance: “Thank you for sharing that and feeling that and staying.”
Excerpt from House Report 2: Berkeley Food & Housing Project 10/19/16
Hello all, yesterday we held a performance through Berkeley Food & Housing Project at the First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley. Many of the audience was comprised of folks who came with Berkeley Food & Housing and others were long time Bruns attendees who missed the main stage production.
The performance space was small and intimate. The wooden floors and natural light that peeked through the glass doors alongside the noise from the busy street, transformed the performance to something very real. The space itself created a living room vibe—making it even easier to draw connections between the play and our own lives. The intimacy between the actors and audience members was palpable.
The audience was comprised of people from many walks of life and exuded an energy of both excitement and caution in being there. On one hand, there was a genuine desire to be in attendance and an eagerness for the show to start, while at the same time, a combat of the inner-dialogue, “proceed with caution.” This caution was expressed through hesitation in sitting in the front row as well as several moments where folks took breaks outside.
At first people were reluctant to participate during the talkback and stayed silent. At this point Lisa [Evans, Associate Director of Artistic Engagement] jumped in and helped moderate the dialogue. Lisa expressed their own reaction to the strangulation scene, sharing their anger towards it. This opened up the floor and others began sharing as well but were still hesitant. It was obvious that people had a lot of feelings and didn’t know how to interact during the talkback—at this moment Lisa led a group breathing exercise which was really amazing and allowed people to relax and share more comfortably. (Thank you, Lisa, way to read the room!) It has been suggested that we start each talkback with a group breathing exercise for the remainder of the tour.
It was clear that the story of Othello hit home with this audience. None of this story was perceived as trivial or small. No one picked apart the direction but rather focused on the story itself and how it related to them.
Talkback: Initial thoughts and feelings
“Love and deception.”
Question: “Do we see these things [in our lives]?”
“Domestic violence. Abuse.”
Question: “How did seeing those images make folks feel?”
“Took me way back to about 25 years ago.” (This woman later elaborated on her own domestic violence story)
Question: “Having that feeling, how do you feel about being taken back there?”
“My stomach is in knots and I don’t normally disclose. Thank you the acting is amazing.”
Question: “How many people are feeling tender?”
—Almost everyone raised their hands.
—Lisa then led a breathing exercise. The group all did several breaths in and out.
“I am struggling with my really strong desire to be able to empathize with Othello and I can’t right now. It’s a really difficult experience to be having.” Continuing, “In some ways he’s (Othello) a victim and we see that unfold. In some ways he’s responsible for the acts of violence.” Continuing, “I want to see the black man who is being manipulated and say I’m on your side, but I can’t do that.”
“I spoke about deception and the tangle way when you practice deceit. And then I see Othello being victimized since he was a war hero so his response was violence and I think he was preyed upon by the man who rejected him. Things happen.”