The Odyssey Theatre and Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy co-production of Our Lady of 121st Street was chosen to perform at this year’s regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival!
This region represents Southern California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Hawaii and Guam. The LACC Theatre Academy/Odyssey co-production was chosen from over two hundred entered productions. This will be LACC’s fifth consecutive appearance at a KCACTF. LACC was in the first ever KCACTF in the 1969. The academy students performed in D.C. with a production of The Way of the World at Ford’s Theatre. It was the first play performed in the theatre since the night Lincoln was assassinated.
The Odyssey/LACC Theatre Academy co-production of Untitled Warhol Project was one of the most highly award shows in the history of KCACTF with the following awards:
- Distinguished Production of a Devised Work
- Outstanding Lead Deviser/Director of a Devised Work
- Distinguished Choreography
- Distinguished Costume Design
- Distinguished Sound Design
- Distinguished Performance and Production Ensemble
This collaboration between Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy and the Odyssey Theatre is part of the Odyssey’s Student Outreach Program THE ODDS and is funded in part by donations from the Odyssey’s subscribers and donors.
I am addressing the decision to cancel the opening of Othello, reluctantly, as we all still feel great pain about it. I believe all of us… director, actors, producers, designers, crew etc. worked extraordinarily hard and in good faith to create a terrific production of Othello. It just didn’t work and the production simply ran out of time and money.
Othello was jointly cancelled by myself and the co-producers at New American Theatre. To be perfectly frank we couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel by the time we hit Invitational Dresses last weekend. It’s been more than 25 years and over 150 productions since the OTE actually pulled the plug on a production! And, believe me, it wasn’t done easily or cavalierly.
Regarding financial losses – the actors will not be getting the stipends they would have been getting had we opened and that is sad. And the Odyssey/New American Theatre must somehow now eat a great loss in hard production costs (set, costumes, props, lights, construction crew, hanging crew, photography, billboards, posters, web design etc). as well as facility costs, staff and overhead, for over three 3 months of complete theatre darkness. That’s a huge gulp for which succeeding OTE productions will suffer significantly reduced budgets in order to slowly absorb that unbelievable and unpredictable loss.
Another loss is that of time and emotional commitment. I very much appreciate the emotions of actors who have worked 8 weeks on something with great dedication, something that evaporated. The producers have, also, spent at least an equal amount of time for many weeks before rehearsals ever began.
Another loss is the credibility of the Odyssey’s long cultivated audience and the critics, as we now bear the brunt of disappointment, dissatisfaction and even anger, as we cancel a production which they were promised. Canceling was not an easy decision, nor a quickly taken one, by any means.
Good intentions all around, but many hurdles and it just didn’t come together in the end. We had insufficient time to really ready this highly ambitious production. My apologies to all involved, but I don’t know what really could have been done very differently in the circumstances. The stars were simply not with us.
How did you cast this production? Do you work with a “company” of actors at LACC?
We do not have campus-wide auditions. It was cast from among the eligible actors in the Theatre Academy’s three-year, professional actor training program. The play was chosen because of my belief that we had a number of actors that could serve this play well. It was actually quite difficult to cast because there were so many good actors vying for these twelve parts.
You are working with a great script and a talented group of actors. What is your job as director?
To serve the play and the playwright. To render onstage the best possible communication of the playwright’s work. If I do that, I also take care of the audience at the same time.
How long and how often are you rehearsing?
We will have rehearsed for four weeks, six days a week, four to six hours a day. It’s a tough job [for the students], balancing class work and production work. We require complete commitment to both so we are all very tired at the end of the week.
The language in Our Lady is salty at times. What do you tell people who may be turned off by the prospect of sitting through a play that makes liberal use of profanities?
This is the way these characters speak and express themselves. In the play the action is played out in three major locations–a church, a funeral parlor and a bar. One of the characters in the play says that God spends more time in the bar than the church. The truth is these characters are speaking truth–and their profanity is part of their truth. There is wisdom being spoken–even when the speaker is using profanities.
The world of this play is one that combines the sacred and the profane–as symbolized by the church on one hand and the bar and grill on the other. Ultimately this is a play about reunion, of people reuniting, or at least, attempting to reunite. Of homecoming. And it’s a play about forgiveness–of people trying to find union. Union with each other and with themselves. The characters are here to rectify the past, to correct something, to purify something, to cure themselves, to put things right, to repair the damage of their lives.
Michael Herring October 2, 2014
Welcome to the Odyssey! Is this really your first gig with us?
Yes. I’ve seen a lot of plays here. More than any other actor, I’ve seen Laurie O’Brien here a lot. She’s a really good friend of mine. I saw Norbert Weisser in Way to Heaven. Over the years I’ve come many, many times and have enjoyed myself immensely. It’s almost psychedelic to be asked to come and do something here.
What finally brings you to us?
[Director] John Flynn was a producer on a film [Criminal Behavior] that I made with Farrah Fawcett. He and I became friends during that time, and I became aware of The Rogue Machine. I hold that place in such high regard. I just happened to go see my friend, Darrell Larson, there in his new play, Paternus. John was in the audience and came up and said, “I’m about to do Othello. You wouldn’t be interested in talking about that, would you?” And within a few days, we met with Jack Stehlin and decided that if we could make it work, we would.
Othello is one of the great heroes certainly of Shakespeare’s works, if not all literature. Are you daunted at all?
When you talk to John and Jack, you see it in a way that feels reasonable to do. Jack’s stance would be that modern American actors are uniquely well-‐suited to doing this play now that is accessible and relevant.
How is that?
I think Jack is talking about the embedding of method acting; the sense of truth that has been so widely disseminated now in American acting really can serve this. It’s an interesting challenge to try to bring that sensibility into this process. I look at some of the performances that have been committed to film where actors have played Othello so vastly big and brilliantly but in a way that you never forget that you’re watching someone onstage holding forth. There’s a sense that it’s an altered reality. If you’re willing to start there, the more operatic parts that are required of you are easier to get to. When you start from the point-‐of-‐view that we’re gonna do this tight and real and then you have to get so epically emotional, it’s a longer journey you have to take, and it’s a challenge.
John has billed this production as a modern take on Othello. What’s been changed or contemporized?
I think John sees the currency in the fact that it’s an occupying power trying to control a place where they have resources that are deemed critical to the well-‐being of the empire. Othello is a guy they use to get this done. You don’t have to try too hard to see that dynamic at play currently and forever.
But the language remains intact?
There’s an extra challenge in it when you bring that language into such a modern milieu. When you have words that are so archaic that there may be only a handful of people in the room who know what you mean, if you can find another word that stays in the meter that still makes that point and is reasonably current to the time, my inclination—and I’m just trying this—is to substitute for that word so that the person who isn’t familiar with the archaic term is not dropping out at that point. As an example, in the big speech in the council, I speak of “antres vast and deserts idle.” I can say “caverns” there, and the point is made. It’s in the meter. It’s a word that is in the time. I want people to know what I’m talking about there.
Sounds like a sizeable undertaking.
I spent some time getting really invested in the scansion and the meter, seeing where that took me. I’m not a fan of singing it. When you see it done masterfully, it is both sung and legitimate. But you can easily drift into singing it before playing it legitimately if you’re not really in command of yourself. I have certain patterns like everyone else, especially at this age. I have my toolkit. I’m basically finding a way.
There are as many takes on Othello as there are actors who have played him. How do you see him and play him?
Othello has nobility. He’s a person that’s worthy of profound respect in that he’s managed to triumph for a long time in very difficult conditions. He’s someone who’s an alien in the place that he’s set up. I resonate with that in him, a sense that he’s well-‐respected and admired in a wide range but it’s not quite clear that he has anyone that he really fits in with. I get that. That’s been an operative issue in my life. Then this woman shows up and awakens something in him that had never been touched. In that grace is the problem. He knows how to do all this stuff in the world, but he doesn’t know how to do this with her. He’s so innocent about it and foolish about it, and it ends up costing him dearly.
Othello is a Moor, but actors of all races have taken on this role. Was that a concern or even a topic of conversation between you and John?
John’s point is that [Othello] is of “the other.” I don’t think the other is, on balance, as big an issue as it was in Shakespeare’s day. But the managing class certainly promotes the idea of the others as a means of organizing societies. I think that the sense of elites in the culture employing the warrior class to further their aims stays important as we go through time. One of the challenges of doing Othello now, especially when you think of the future of this art form depending on younger people buying into it—younger people for whom the world has turned into this remarkably fluid and cohesive and small thing—is how to tell this story and keep that in focus, framing it in a way that “the other” values.
Michael Herring September 30, 2014