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 final performances of the tour went.
Excerpt from House Report 6: Larkin Street Youth Services 10/26/16
Hello all, yesterday we held a performance at Larkin Street Youth Services, a community center that helps at-risk youth with housing, education, employment, health. The space appears to be a converted warehouse with exposed brick and large piping which run across the ceiling.
A combination of twenty-eight youth and adults who worked at the center were in attendance. At first, there were a lot of people getting up and down—but as we got further into the heart of the play people became more attentive and engrossed in the material. By the second act folks were totally hooked and engaged with focus and intensity.
There were a few interesting responses throughout the show. There was clapping at Cassio’s line about not wanting Othello to see him “womaned”—for me, as a woman in the audience and someone who has seen the show upwards of 30 times(!), I finally understood that line: to be seen as “womaned” was to be seen as weak, vulnerable, sensitive. It was an interesting moment to observe.
Yesterday was Lance’s last performance as Cassio. Congratulations Lance and thank you for all of your hard work—it has been a pleasure working with you!
“There was no way to prove her innocence.”
“It is [interesting] that Shakespeare wrote about this random act of violence. He could have been writing about any violence we see on the streets here, today.”
“I have a complicated relationship with Shakespeare because of this play. It’s like I’m an actor and this is a play I wish I could enjoy.”
“I feel that you have to learn how to enjoy it. You probably wouldn’t go to see Shakespeare if you didn’t know who he was. I liked how you guys put little bits in the middle. I like the description of the person getting choked out.”
“It’s a lot.”
“It’s hard to be same once you watch it.”
“There’s a play Red Velvet that I saw—I was a zombie after. It was really well done and so is this—this is everything that theater is and it’s a story about someone like me, who isn’t, because the decision that he is about to make is one that the character Othello is about to make but indirectly.”
“It makes me think a little bit about this election. How much have we changed in 500 years?”
“Iago is a scapegoat and we’re kinda complacent.”
Jim: “Iago wasn’t born evil. He was led to evil.”
Lance: “What would you do if baby Hitler were in the room? I would hold baby Hitler and kiss baby Hitler and maybe baby Hitler wouldn’t be the Hitler we know today.”
Excerpt from House Report 7: Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California 10/28/16
Hello everyone, last night we held a performance at the Islamic Cultural Center in Oakland, free and open to the public. The venue was gorgeous and felt sacred with stained glass windows and high ceilings with intricate carvings. With 125 people in attendance there was a large crowd waiting outside of the doors before opening, and they filled nearly all of the seats inside. The feeling in the room felt urgent—folks were ready to see the show and commit to its intensity.
One woman, a teacher, shared her experience of reading Othello in school as a student twenty years ago. She explained that as a student, the play wasn’t taught to her in a way that acknowledged the main themes she noticed during our performance—it opened her eyes to the racism, jealousy, and white supremacy laced throughout the play.
Kaiso replaced Lance last night as Cassio. He did a wonderful job all around and received many laughs when he crushed an empty water bottle against his head after chugging it during the party scene. Kaiso did not perform pre-show standup. Cassio’s jokes during Act 1 sat heavier in the room in comparison to other performances.
The audience was eager to share what was on their minds during the talkback. In fact, we had a 16-minute talkback as opposed to our regular ten minutes. Many folks acknowledged the white supremacy they saw in the show, a term that hadn’t come up too much for previous audiences.
The night was powerful and many actors remarked on how special it felt to perform in space that held so much beauty.
“Hyper masculinity and honor killings—theme of men and women relationships.”
“Manipulations playing on someone fears and doing their will.”
“Pride and you can’t see past it.”
“There’s so many different ways during the play the white and the black racial issue [surfaces]—there was so much anger around his position and Othello’s position—all of that came from a high level of anger and racism—he’s living in the white supremacist world and its just tears him apart.”
“Cal Shakes opened the season with Much Ado and I [love how] this echoes it between a comedy and tragedy: the book ends is such a powerful ending to the season.”
“I hated that Iago used the system to do all of that. The fact that it wasn’t a tragedy that Desdemona dies but it became a tragedy when we see that she was wronged. That makes me so angry.”
“What does it mean for intergenerational lives to exist?”
“What struck me the most is the matter-of-fact nature of the racism. It’s only [mentioned] a few times by the racist characters themselves and then it’s just an every day thing that’s going on. And Othello doesn’t acknowledge it. The dichotomy within him; here he is a general and at the same time he is helpless in love and has no control.”
Excerpt from House Report 8:
Rainbow Community Center at Olympic High School 10/29/16
Hi everyone, we wrapped up the Othello community tour with a show in partnership with the Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County (RCC) at Olympic High School. RCC seeks to build community and promote well-being within the LGBTQA community.
With 32 people in attendance, we had a personal show with an engaged audience, many of whom were moved to tears by the end of the performance. One man, a long-time Bruns patron, proclaimed:
“This was the 6th time I’ve seen Othello—I am over 90—I was never as moved as I was today. I have never seen this strong a performance. I have come to Cal Shakes before and this time I missed Othello, so I came here and I am so glad I did because this small group made it much more powerful and intimate…I am so moved, I hope you realize how much of an impact you have.”
This comment was greatly appreciated by the cast. Aldo thanked the man and called him a “godsend,” and explained that on the very first night of Othello at the Bruns, one patron stated during the talkback that this was the “worst Othello” he’d ever seen. Since that opening night, the cast reflected on this negative comment and discussed it during many pre-show moments. Aldo explained the poetic justice of this perfectly timed comment. It was definitely an uplifting and special way to end the final show. The cast brought everything to the table on Saturday and were received by an audience who left inspired.
“Sad what men can do to each other.”
“It’s confusing how easily Othello changed his mind about Desdemona.”
“Why do you think he did that?”
“Because women are discounted.”
“Because he was insecure.”
“You know the old saying: power corrupts: well it’s true as hell today.”
“Hella intense. It was awesome. At first my brain was thinking abut little political things about how it’s disturbing — and it’s disturbing because any of us can be influenced, anyone can be blinded. Humans are emotional creatures, and I think its so disturbing because anyone can manipulate anyone. If someone loves and trusts you, you can manipulate them. We choose not to because we care—but you can. This can happen to anyone.”
Thank you everyone. It has been a joy to work with you all!
Until next time,