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 our final public tour today in Concord.
Excerpt from House Report 4: Oakland International School 10/25/16
Hello all, this evening we performed in the multi-purpose room at Oakland International High School. The room was large and open but when the show started the space felt intimate. When we arrived we were informed by one of the teachers that many students would have to leave before the end of the show and would need to exit and reenter the room to use cell phones or communicate with family members. Since the performance was after school hours, many students were picked up by their parents well before the end of the show.
Despite the early departures and frequent breaks, many students were captivated and sat wide-eyed on the edge of their chairs with their chins wedged between their palms.
During the scene where the actors chant “A Sail”, some of the students joined in by chanting along with them.
Many of the students were Muslim or African-American and as one teacher explained, for some, this was their first time seeing live actors. Even for the students who could only experience 30 minutes of the show, the experience of seeing just a segment of live theater alone, was enriching.
To this end, there were points where students would pass by the room and watch from outside by peering in through the windows. They would call their friends over and spectate from afar. During the slapping scene, one student who was watching through the window, mouthed to their friend “is this real?”
At intermission a teacher who was thoroughly loving the performance stood up to take a break and said, “excuse me, I have to go wipe Othello’s fiery off my glasses.” (Hands down the best line of the night!)
Although the talkback was small and shorter than normal, we still got insightful feedback. One person mentioned how powerful it was to have the slapping scene be involved with so many people—making the point that domestic violence is not only a personal act—but rather is influenced by many people and also impacts those not directly involved.
Talkback: initial thoughts and impressions
“[I was under the impression], that the play was going to be about racism. For me the domestic violence is so much more prominent—maybe because it’s more physical and the racism is more in the words.”
“It was a really cool thing for the kids who were in and out.” (commenting on the fact that even though some kids had to leave early or take breaks during the show, they still enjoyed it).
“We got to have a very intimate performance.”
“Many of the students here are Muslim or African and may have never seen people act before.”
“Lots of students watched through the window.”
“We are talking about healthy relationships and tribalism and racism [in the classroom] and a lot of those themes are in here.”
Excerpt from House Report 5: Allen Temple Arms 10/26/16
Hello all, yesterday we held a performance at Allen Temple Arms, a community that provides affordable housing and social services to low income seniors in Oakland, CA. The audience consisted of mostly seniors who lived in at Allen Temple as well as a few friends or family members of the residents. The audience was very focused and followed along with seriousness and attention, taking everything in.
The group was happy to have us there, repeating over and over how much they love Cal Shakes and enjoy our plays. Ms. Alma from the Fences Story Circle was in attendance along with some of her friends who came to see Fences at the Bruns. Ms. Alma was all smiles and after being recognized as a Cal Shakes star, jokingly offered her autograph for $10 a pop. It was lovely seeing her again.
The slapping scene was very intense and the energy of the room changed at this point; people looked away or flinched and seemed startled when Othello chased Desdemona away.
Right before the strangulation scene, after Othello says “one more kiss, now this is the last” the crowd burst out into laughter. When Othello was holding the pillow, toying with the idea of suffocating Desdemona, an audience member shouted, “Don’t do it Othello!”
Energy was very high during the strangulation — some people put their hands over their mouth and tensed up. Many people looked like the wind was knocked out of them.
During the talkback, one woman felt strongly that Othello did the right thing in killing Desdemona, and another audience member countered the opinion. The talkback was very lively and engaged, with a wide range of opinions and this group was more vocal and forthright in sharing their thoughts than other tour audiences.
The day was all around positive and the actors brought a high-energy show which was received with an equal level of attention.
Talkback: initial thoughts and impressions
“Takes a lot of energy to be the bad guy.”
“The unfortunate tragedy of this love brings me to tears always.”
“The acting was superb too—I’ve never seen Othello before.”
“I wanted to say something to make Othello stop—but I didn’t want to interrupt the dialogue.”
“She was a conniving bitch—she wasn’t too bad at first but then I felt she wasn’t all that—when you do wrong stuff happens. I don’t know how other people perceive it but to me she wasn’t innocent, she could have been dumb and stupid, a lot of women really are like that. Men will be men and it seemed like she…I wasn’t sorry for what happened.”
Lance: “Do you think women have to be that because men will be men?”
(Same person)“Women have minds too. Maybe the life she lived made her like that. I mean she had a mind, she could think for herself.”
(Another audience member) “I think it was sad of him to listen to all of the negativity. We all have choices. No one can make you do anything. You choice. If you hang around negative people you’re gonna do negative things. If you hang around positive people you’re gonna do positive things.”
“If you been around a person for a long time you know a person—if you love a person then…I have a trust issue I am never gonna take anything at face value. I’m going to research it.”
“None of us is perfect. Nobody. We are all going to do some wrong. We must remember that.”