The internets move quickly, and I wanted to take a moment to say something about our first few days of rehearsal before we get too entrenched in the process, and forget the sheer bliss of this play’s newness. Also, Ian Merrill Peakes, who is playing Iago, is an extraordinarily needy human being, and he just won’t give me a moment to myself.
I’m kidding, of course. But not really.
In any event, here are some impressions of the first couple of days.
DAY 1: ZOO ANIMALS
For the actors in a show at Folger Theatre, first day on the job brings with it all manner of delights. There are hugs and greetings. There are snacks. There are speeches. There are design presentations. Finally, there is that most precious of things: the very first read of the play.
One of the most delightful things about first read here is that a huge number of Folger Staffers are in attendance. Beyond the cast and creative team, there must have been an additional 20 people – from PR and Marketing, from Education, from Front of House and Box Office, from Development, even the Big Bosses Michael Witmore and Janet Griffin were there – all sitting and listening patiently as we nervous actors fumbled our way through this great play. Thank goodness for the snacks.
I’ll just confess at this point that something about the long table at which the actors sit for the reading, complete with name tags, evokes a Senate subcommittee hearing. Taken in tandem with the wall sized plate glass window in the conference room where the reading occurs, and the passers-by on East Capitol Street looking in, one can almost feel a bit like a zoo animal. Disclaimer: I am not now equating, nor would I ever equate, the august institution of the Senate with a zoo.
On the play. I was in a production of Othello in New York back in 2007. What was most interesting to me about the first read for Folger was discovering how much I remembered and, more to the point, how much I had forgotten about this play. Of course, some of the more famous lines – the “green-eyed monsters,” etc. – stuck with me.
What I’d forgotten, and what the incredible Owiso Odera, the actor playing Othello, made clear for me, was just what an amazing thinker Othello is. This play is all the more tragic because of how easily such a fine and beautiful mind becomes totally unhinged. As Ophelia says of Hamlet, Othello’s thoughts become “like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh.”
Alternatively, the play also sort of feels like a tragic Much Ado About Nothing set in a military bar on Cyprus. Try the snacks!
DAY 2: SPACE, THE FINAL FRONTIER
One of my favorite things about the process employed by Robert Richmond, our director, is that he encourages us actors to just play. “Play” is such a loaded word. Othello is a play. Hamlet is a play. Children play. You got to play or get played, playah.
What I really mean by this is that, on Day 2, we spent the entire rehearsal in the theater. And Robert, essentially, turned the space over to us actors to use as a playground.
Don’t be alarmed. Our stage manager, Che Wernsman, made sure we didn’t break anything. The incredible team of docents and security guards made sure we knew how to get in and out of the building for cigarettes. Well, they made sure I knew where to go for cigarettes. I can’t vouch for anyone else. We were all very careful to ensure that events in the Great Hall in support of the new King James Bible exhibit (SEE IT!!!) were respected.
Still – the Othello ensemble needs to own this space. And Day Two was all about walking through it, climbing up and down the staircases, peering out the “Juliet windows,” spreading out into the aisles, exploring the various backstage corridors, and standing on that glorious stage.
As Robert points out, this is a space that was built, primarily, as a museum replica. Still, a stage is a stage is a stage, and this one wants people to play with each other on it. Also, oddly enough, the Folger stage is one that allows for incredible intimacy and public spectacle almost simultaneously. I won’t mention the Senate again at this point.
There will be an entire new post about the extraordinary nature of this space very soon. For now, I’ll just thank Robert for giving us leave to play.
DAY 3: DELTA FORCE
I realize that I’ve short-changed what actually goes down during a rehearsal in the chapter above, and I’ll address it soon, but for now, I must just say…
Casey Kaleba, Fight Choreographer = Amazing.
Our final session on Day 3 had us meet with Casey for a couple of hours to begin an exploration of the idea of “Medieval Mixed Martial Arts.”
I’m probably a bit like you in this regard: I have absolutely no idea what that means. That said…
Casey put across to us his idea of Othello as an “ambush” – both psychological and physiological.
Before actually handing us knives, he also talked about the idea of an elite military unit, the Venetian soldiers in the play, as a “Delta Force.” A group of soldiers who don’t quite have the time to dance around with rapiers and quips, as Mercutio and Tybalt might. If these dudes don’t finish their opponent in three strategic strikes, well, they’ll have their own tendons sliced and won’t be able to fight the thousand friends the enemy is currently bringing up the hill. Etcetera.
What was most interesting about our session with Casey – apart from the vivid imagining of a knife slice causing a severed bicep to retreat up an arm “like a snail” – was the idea he put across of members of a Delta Force, trained killers, sitting idly in a bar in a resort town. “If they have nothing to do now,” Casey suggested, “they will find something to do.” Indeed. Kill or be killed.
And, try the snacks.
More is coming very soon. Thank you very much for reading this far. See you at the theater!