All projects have at least three steps – pre-production, creation, and evaluation. Gather resources, use them, think about the effectiveness of what you’ve just made.
The third stage is where all the damned insecurities can creep in.
Tuesday night was the final night of our scant four evening run. Four nights, ~300 audience members, ~1,800.00$ raised for the Victoria Shakespeare Society. The biggest role of my life thus far. Over in four nights. I could have played him for months.
And what a marvelous experiment it was, to prove to myself that I COULD play such a significant role, Iago, the character with the third most lines in all of Shakespeare (still a lot, even in our ~2.25 hour long production). The character Samuel Coleridge describes as having “motiveless malignity” (which is not a very easily playable consideration for an actor). Such a hugely physical, and even, yes, sexual role, to stir up Roderigo‘s lust for Desdemona and Othello‘s epilepsy over Cassio‘s supposed actions. And by and large, according to the audience reactions and my own overall impression, I pulled it off.
My wonderful stage manager, April Fortin, on several occasions remarked that while all our patrons enjoyed the show, most of the comments she received consisted of complimenting how unsettling, two-faced, and, yes, evil, my performance was as Iago. Several people commented on how great they found it that I could twist into such hatred, then resettle myself and turn around as honest, honest, Iago, friend to all. One patron said I was better than the Iago that played at Bard on the Beach.
I’m listing all these compliments to build up my ego for what I am exploring next: the second thoughts.
But Andrew, all those comments on your portrayal being evil – Surely that meant you were missing the humanity of his character? After all, don’t all villains believe what they’re doing to be right?
Well, yes, and no. Iago specifically acknowledges that what he is doing is Villainy (“Hell and night shall bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light!”), is devilwork (“When devils will the blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows, as I do now”), is evil. But I do think he believes what he is doing is right, just that he absolutely acknowledges that what he is doing is both right and so very, very immoral. My Iago really did feel everything he is putting Othello through, really does feel he lost his wife to this savage thing the moment she and Othello copulated together. So I don’t feel I played the mustache-twirling melodrama side too much, though there is certainly a glee he feels when his cunning plans come into effect. Plus, with make-up like what you see next to this post (yes, that’s me), there’s no getting around it in the design of the show.
But, Andrew, what about that line you misinterpreted, where Iago’s mention of “my lady” refers to Desdemona, not Emelia, his wife? Doesn’t that ruin your whole motivation, remove the proof that Othello had slept with her? How dare you continue performing with a mistaken line reading!
Faith, that was not so well, but I maintain that Iago still felt everything he puts Othello through, even on the mere suspicion, even if it is never proved. And yes, I could have changed how I was performing that scene, but I actually like the miscommunication, with he and Othello referring to two different people. I’m not sure what a difference changing that meaning would make for the audience.
Weren’t you playing against a white Othello? Does that make your play racist?
(Note: I never said second thoughts always made sense. They just linger.) Quite right, our Othello was white, which is why our design pushed everyone else into white-face and black clothes while he wore furs with tribal make-up. Does this ruin the integrity of our production? No, certainly not. The important aspect of Othello’s character is not that he’s black; it’s that he’s an outsider who gains power, a military man with a savage bent within him. Sure, we had to edit a few lines, and a few others make a little less sense, but I don’t feel bad that we went ahead with the show even after no black people auditioned (Victoria, BC, Canada has a very, erm… white theatre community). It’s a powerful show that deserves to be performed, and I am proud to have been a part of it.
But, Andrew, couldn’t you have found better blocking? I’m sure you weren’t getting lit right for some of those scenes, especially when you chose to roam about the stage.
For a show being put on in a non-theatre designed space, without a tech rehearsal, where the lights were still being put up with half an hour to go before the first performance, I think we did pretty darn well, thank you very much. I actually got quite a kick out of the improvisational element of moving to find the light on my face for certain moments, and I appreciated being kept more in the dark for some of my roaming asides.
Aren’t you worried about Iago creeping into your real personality? You were rooming with him for a couple of months, after all…
Well, I did type ‘damned’ near the beginning of this post, but no, I’m really not worried. I feel quite centred in myself. In fact, if anything, I’d say being Iago helped me better connect my body to my emotions in general, day-to-day life, and I certainly discovered the benefit of proper vocal warm-ups before doing anything exerting on that front.
But… but… but… you’re not talented, you… stupid… person!
Okay, insecurities, I can see you’re running out of steam, so I’ll let you go now.
One thought on “Othello Day 4: Post-Closing Second Thoughts”
Hey Andrew, thanks for the interesting read. Thanks for putting your worst neuroses aside for the process, and for what you brought to the production. You did everything right as Iago, and as director I only needed to tailor things slightly to make the overall picture an integrated one. I don’t think we’ll ever forget this play, the run, and the excellent friends we made during the time. Now we just need to figure out how on Earth to better this experience a year from now…