Ron Sossi’s statement on Othello

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.

 

From Venice to Cyprus: A Shakespearean Journey Blog #3

ADs

Happy #COthello!

We finally had our first full run-thru! Clocking in at a couple hours too long – yes you read that correctly, a couple hours– it still felt good to run the whole show without stopping. It was tremendous to see the full trajectory of the story flow uninterruptedly and to watch the tumbling action spiral out of control. It helps the actors cement transitions, both technically in understanding things like where and when they enter the stage, and creatively, in feeling the linear development of their characters’ arc, or in most cases, their imminent downfall. And we absolutely have to boast just how nearly flawless our actors are at memorizing their lines – and we are three weeks from opening!

We’ve also been focusing on solidifying all the fight calls. They each demands incredible precision and timing for the safety of the actors and for the intensity of each scene. The fights are extremely intricate, particularly the bar fight between the Cyprian and Venetian soldiers: there are two or three separate beatings going on simultaneously, and as audience members, you won’t know where to look because they’re all absolutely gripping! These tableaus, masterfully orchestrated by our violence designer, Ned Mochel, will make you want to come back to see the show again so you can relive the excitement in a whole new way. Plus, there is something absolutely hilarious about watching Roderigo, played by Marc Jablon, get absolutely crushed by Cassio, played by Robb Derringer.

Lastly, we are transitioning to using our actual set! The actors are really starting to take charge of the stage and the space. Having the real props and the real set pieces is crucial to helping them stay present and in the moment, without worrying about a fake gun or a table that’s too small. A table here, a bed there, a few moving steps, and we will soon be entering tech week with all the design elements coming together.

-Amy & Ilana

 PS: Don’t worry, the show won’t actually run that long.

From Venice to Cyprus: A Shakespearean Journey Blog #2

ADsIf Iago is military trained, then why is it that his attack against Cassio doesn’t kill him? Why doesn’t Desdemona escape once she realizes that her husband wants to kill her? How can we turn a Middle English drinking song into a contemporary drinking game? These are only some of the challenging production questions we have been working through in this past week of rehearsal. While perhaps many of these questions have more than one answer, they do address not only the logistics of putting on a show but also the nitty-gritty questions that make the characters seep under your skin.

It has been particularly fun talking about how to make drinking games work onstage, and how old rhymes about letting the “canakin clink clink!” can be turned into a rowdy chant reminiscent of both military break rooms and college fraternities. The musty, old image of men sitting around a table clinking their pints in a dimly-lit pub was quickly replaced by the cast’s stories of college parties which, due to its wild content, we will respectfully keep private.

From these stories, and the laughter, the answers started to become clearer: the energy for the scene needed to be rougher, louder, and of course, all about getting absolutely smashed. The scene would be fun, but, we realized, would also show how drinking and drinking games are used to show who is top dog. In the setting in Othello, we have soldiers from different cultures and ranks coming together and having to report to Othello as their leader. The tensions between Venice and Cyprus when Othello is not around are extremely heated, and the break room scene shows just what happens when that heated energy is mixed with alcohol and these competitive drinking games. For some characters, it’s the beginning of their tragedy.

On the less nostalgic and enthusiastic end of the spectrum, Othello and Desdemona’s tragic relationship has been difficult to talk through, but pain has also been the key to finding answers. Othello and Desdemona have found that much of the dialogue in the climax is frighteningly similar to domestic violence. Using this idea to unlock intense vulnerability, both actors have made the goal of acting out their tragedy also about portraying the tragedy of domestic violence: common, complex, and utterly heartbreaking.

And of course, many blame the tragedy of Desdemona on her little handkerchief, but the question for us has been: what does this handkerchief look like? We are told that it is white with strawberries on it, and possibly Desdemona’s name, but what kind of material? Is it big enough to fit around Othello’s forehead? Could Othello possibly strangle her with the very same handkerchief? We have had many sample handkerchiefs throughout production, from a very small napkin with strawberries on it, to a yard of sheer fabric, to a mustard yellow bandanna. We’ll keep experimenting and questioning until we find the one that Desdemona loves to “keep about her to kiss and talk to.”

– Amy

From Venice to Cyprus: A Shakespearean Journey Blog #1

ADsWelcome to the Othello blog!

Amy Borsuk and Ilana Rozin here – we’re the Assistant Directors for this upcoming hit! We’ll be using this blog and social media to chronicle the journey from Venice to Cyprus, and from rehearsal room to opening night, so be sure to check in every week!

This show is a co-production between The Odyssey and The New American Theatre, directed by John Flynn, Artistic Director of Rogue Machine Theatre. These artists and companies from very diverse backgrounds have come together to build a unique take on a familiar classic.

The past three weeks of rehearsal alone have been captivating! Complete with steel-toed boots, Godfather references, and the search for the ultimate handkerchief, we AD’s have been a part of production meetings and rehearsals in which director John Flynn, the design team, and the actors have pieced together a world not too unlike our own. Things are already well underway, but we have no doubt that blocking the final act 1 scene this week will unlock a whole new level of interpretation as we move forward with the rehearsal process.

Without revealing too much, envision one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies in a metallized, military milieu where rank, uniforms, and machine guns  are in command of Othello and Desdemona’s love story. Brimming with the Bard’s brilliant dramatic irony, our extraordinary ensemble will make you want to jump on stage and warn our protagonists of the schemes threatening their happiness! (We ask that you refrain from doing so.)

With intricate – and very realistic – violence designed by Ned Mochel, we promise you’ll be on the edge of your seat the whole time.

Shakespeare turned thriller-tragedy is certainly an experience you won’t want to miss…and neither is our journey! So stay tuned for more updates from the Othello rehearsal room – from Amy & Ilana!