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Uncertainty Principles

Hello once again from your blogfriend Louis—Roderigo in Folger Theatre’s Othello, where we have now played five preview performances to consistently packed houses. You gotta get over here! Tonight, Sunday night, we will have our press opening. I wanted to take this opportunity to write one last post from the relatively safe cocoon of our “unexamined” production.

The joy of rehearsal is that we are in a state of total play—we invent the world as we go. The only rules by which we must play are those dictated by the director and designers, in conjunction with the producers and the institution.

The joy of previewing is that we share this little child that we’ve brought to life with you for the first time. We listen to you, we learn from you, we make the machine run more efficiently. All of us learn together, without preconceived notions, and come to the experience with fresh eyes.

It’s been a wonderful experience. And it’s about to come to an end. Why? The reviews are coming.

Every single person consumes and parses criticism differently. It will be obvious to say, at this juncture, that people who are the object of criticism process it in a way that is, perhaps, more personal than those who create the criticism, or use it to determine whether or not they want to buy a ticket, brave the Metro, and sit in a theater for a couple of hours.

Even within the ranks of those who are the object of criticism, there are different factions. There are those of the “I Never Read Reviews” school of thought. For these folks, the old aphorism—not repeatable here: it’s to do with opinions being like a particular body part in the sense that everybody has one—holds true. They prefer not to read reviews for fear that they will become self-conscious about some aspect of their performance, costing them spontaneity, or some such.

More nerdily, for me, there is something of Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” to the whole exchange. In a nutshell, this is a notion from physics, which admittedly is drawn from an attempt to measure something, but it’s close, which suggests that the act of observing a thing fundamentally changes the thing being observed. Those engaged in the act of creation complete a circuit with those observing the thing created.

I guess what I mean by that is that as soon as a review is published, it changes the way an audience comes to the show. They now have a preconceived notion of what they’re about to see. There is a framework and a context for the way they perceive the play, which comes from a hierarchical construct, with critic at the top. Is this troubling? Not really. It is a necessary part, and one of the great joys of the process.

I love reading reviews. Further, I enjoy the bad ones more. They make better cocktail party stories—you sound like a real idiot if you go around with a plate of finger sandwiches, quoting the nice things that are said about you in the newspaper. Ah, who am I kidding? I don’t go to cocktail parties.

Here now, for your enjoyment, are some of the stranger things that have been said about me in the press over the years:

Louis Butelli as Roderigo

“Louis Butelli offers his usual, overly fussy clowning.” This one is great on several levels. I admit to a certain amount of fussiness in my work. Still, to my own defense, some of this might be attributable to the characters I play. Regardless, it is use of the word “usual” here that really does it for me.

“Louis Butelli is menacingly silky.” I have absolutely no idea what this one means. It does conjure an image, though, of me wearing a black cape and applying moisturizer.

“Louis Butelli is a droll milquetoast.” This one is best for its utter truth. I am indeed a droll milquetoast. Where this one goes wrong is in the fact that it is a critique of my real life, rather than my work.

“Louis Butelli is adequate.” This, far and away, is the worst thing that has ever been said about me. Of all of them, this is the one that kept me up many, many nights.

Regardless, we have a show to put on. Whatever happens as a result of press night, we are proud of our work, and are excited to share it with you.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much you’re gonna dig Othello. By all means, read the press—or not—and then buy your tickets.

And remember the old aphorism about opinions and body parts.

See you at the theater!


  • Louis—Two things. First, I am glad I found your blog. Second, I loved the show. I was there in the front row yesterday afternoon. I am not a tremendous fan of the front row (I was there for Macbeth, too), but there are definite advantages. I am up close to the action. I see the spit fly, and I have to move my feet as actors use the aisle in front of me as a passage. What really gets me, though, is that when in the front row, I am sometimes “there,” you know? I am a fly on the wall; I am listening at the door; I am standing next to Iago. I am complicit in a way I cannot be when there are people between me and the stage. I am only glad that Iago did not ask me what to do in order to satisfy his vengeful fury—“what? WHAT?” he asked a person in the second row. I may have been tempted to whisper “Handkerchief” or “Frame Cassio.” No matter how well I think I know Othello, I always find myself surprised at how easily he is swayed by Iago. One line, one suggestion from Iago begins Othello’s tailspin. It may be human nature to slip into the throes of jealousy, but it is pure genius to act it in such a way as to make me clench my fists and hold my body rigid, even when I know the story well. I was utterly transported from my seat into Othello’s and Iago’s world.
    One last note. The scene change to Cyprus: pure magic. And I did let out a “Wooo!” at the curtain call. Standing is awkward so close to the stage, and, well, sometimes a Wooo is simply the most concise way to express one’s appreciation for a job excellently done.

  • @Judy. Wow – thank you so, so much for your kind and thoughtful comments. I am thrilled beyond belief that we were able to inspire a sense of “complicity” in you. That is exactly what the theater is meant to do, and is exactly what we set out to accomplish with Othello. I’m happy you felt we were successful in this regard, and am deeply honored that you shared your thoughts.

    Glad you enjoyed the change to Cyprus. I agree with you: it is pretty magical.

    Finally, thanks for “woo-ing” at curtain call.

    Please do keep reading the blog – it’ll keep going until the end of the run, so long as I can keep coming up with things to talk about.


  • I remember this little kid roaming around the house wearing his towel cape held tightly at the throat with a large safety pin, paper cup gauntlets, cardboard sabre, pajama, tucked into red sock, boots, paper head band, looking very much like a young Depp. Not much has changed. It’s your mother’s fault!

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