The intensity of performance mounts.
Our third performance of Othello felt like a blessed release of pure energy. I reordered the clauses on a few sentences, true, but hit all my objectives, and therefore all my lines, surprised audience members, possibly surprised my fellow actors, and found a few lines completely anew, as if I hadn’t really been speaking the words before. I connected. We all did, and I fully expect to come out of tonight’s final performance with a few bruises…
My co-actors and I have really been feeding off the energy of the audience and each other to the point where the chokeholds are becoming less hold and more choke, the nails digging into the neck, the stage kicks making strong contact, the yelps becoming half-acted, half-real. And you know what? I don’t mind at all.
Yes, there is a safety limit, beyond which we should take a breather and reconnect to the non-contact stage-combat techniques, but I don’t feel we’ve hit that limit yet. A small bruise on my arm that produces a gasp from the audience suits me just fine, considering our limited run. If we were performing eight times a week for a month, perhaps I would change my tune, but we have just one show left, and I want us to give it all we’ve got.
This brings me to the kiss. You see, there is a point in Othello where Iago recounts to Othello’s jealous mind a (fictional) story of Cassio and he sharing a bed. (Digression: I am choosing to go the soldiers-sharing-a-bunk read of the scene, rather than the Iago-and-Cassio-are- bisexual choice some actors make. My prime motivation for Iago’s hatred of Othello is the fact that Othello once wooed and slept with Iago’s wife, Emelia. I feel this motive would be weakened if Iago also slept around. Without that angle, for Iago to destroy Othello’s psyche with jealousy is poetic justice… or at least a powerful, powerful push toward malice.) In Iago’s story to Othello, Cassio, in his sleep, exclaims his love of Desdemona and seems to believe himself to be in a bed with her, as he grips Iago’s hand, kisses him hard, places his thigh over Iago’s thigh, and cries out “Cursed be the day that brought you to the Moor!”
In rehearsals, I had shied away somewhat from what this scene needed – I had first just said the lines to his face, then moved on to kissing his hand, then, in the final week of rehearsals, kissed his cheek hard… I knew what my instincts were saying, I knew what the scene needed, but would not allow myself to take that extra step and make the scene really come alive… until the final rehearsal, until performances. From that last rehearsal onward, I have planted that kiss firmly on his lips to the great shock of all, and boy does Othello react in horror to that, and boy does Iago, when he is done his line, wipe off his lips in disgust, and boy does the audience gasp and laugh in equal parts at that one powerful moment.
I gave into the intensity of Iago’s intentions, to what he knows must be done, and created a hugely memorable moment for our audience, and heightened the power of the moment tenfold.
When I graduated high school, I worried I acted too large, too big, too strong; how naive I was. When I trust my instincts and go the distance, great things develop.