SPECIAL EVENT! An expert's eye into the world of Othello THIS THURSDAY!

In case you were undecided about which of the last four Othello performances to attend....

A very special presentation and discussion with Queens College Professor of English, Dr. Miles Parks Grier, will be following Thursday's performance.

And he very well may be the perfect scholar to discuss Titan's take on Othello!

Miles Parker Grier
Miles Parker Grier

Uniquely qualified to lead a fascinating discussion on race and gender in Shakespeare --

Dr. Miles Parker Grier teaches classes at Queens College within and across: Shakespeare Studies, Early American Studies, African-American Studies.

His is also currently working on a book manuscript entitled “Reading Black Characters: Atlantic Encounters with Othello 1604-1855.

Of his manuscript, Reading Black Characters, Parker Grier states: " I follow Shakespeare’s blackamoor across two and a half centuries of print and stage iterations, showing the play’s implication in a British-American project of producing legible gendered and racialized characters out of the strangers in a far-flung Atlantic economy."

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Delving further into Reading Black Characters: Atlantic Encounters with Othello 1604-1855, Parker Grier explores the influence of professional writers such as Aphra Behn and Herman Melville who rewrite Shakespeare’s plot–and the relationship between white writers and enslaved bodies–in attempts to overcome disadvantages of gender and postcolonial positioning.

Also according to the Queens Faculty page, he has begun work on:

"a second project that uses Joni Mitchell’s insistence that she is a black man trapped in a white woman’s body to consider the (changed and unchanged) relationship to authority and prestige white artists achieved in the wake of the black protests of the 1960s."

All in all, pretty much the perfect person to end an evening of Titan's All-Female Othello with!

THIS THURDAY, MAY 30th

Additional Publications by Dr. Miles Parker Grier

“Inkface: Britons and the Slave Stigma in Antiquity and the Renaissance,” forthcoming.

“’The Base Indian’ Attends Othello: The Theatre of Racial Value in Late Colonial Virginia.” Forthcoming.

“Said the Hooker to the Thief: ‘Some Kind of Way Out’ of Rockism,” in The Journal of Popular Music Studies, March 2013

“The Only Black Man at the Party: Joni Mitchell Enters the Rock Canon,” in Genders, Fall 2012

“Having Their Cake… and Outlawing It, Too: How the War on Terror Expands Racial Profiling by Pretending to Erase It,” in Politics and Culture, February 2006

YOU FIGHT LIKE A GIRL

Women are often spoken of as the “weaker sex.” Titan’s production of Othello would beg to differ.

Othello’s Fight Director and Resident Company Member, Johnathan Hicks, weighs in about what it’s like to stage violence for a cast of fighting females in one of Shakespeare’s most physically brutal tragedies.

“Who wants to see a bunch of chicks fight?" Fight Director, Johnathan Hicks, asks.

"EVERYBODY." he answers himself.  "I don’t need to get on a soapbox to let people know that women can get a negative rap for being the “weaker sex” – both in the world of stage combat and the world in general.  But by now, this idea should be obvious bull honky.  One of the best Fight Directors I know is a woman.” 

Bull honky, indeed.

Jonathan Hicks (Right) in rehearsal with Kate Gunter (Left).  

Jonathan Hicks (Right) in rehearsal with Kate Gunter (Left).  

In fact, in Titan's production of Othello, when given the choice between a simulated slap and an actual slap that would make contact with her face– Cassio (Abbey Siegworth) and Othello (Leah Dutchin) immediately decided that, due to the proximity of the Queen's Studio Theater space and the importance of the moment in the two character's relationship, Siegworth would simply take Dutchin’s slap to the face.  

Maybe not too terrible, if you have to do it just once but, unlike film, in the world of theatre repetition is key.   A stage combat move like this requires much repetition and precision to get the physical contact to a “safe" and repeatable place in the adrenalin of performance.  So Dutchin and Siegworth have to deliver and receive the slap over and over again in rehearsal and fight calls (fight calls are similar to a dance warm up, and they happen each time before the show is run), to ensure the actors are consistently making eye contact at the same moment (this is the unspoken, split-second, go-ahead to proceed with the violence), that Dutchin is striking Siegworth's cheek in the right spot (too high you make contact with cheek bone or eye socket- too low, the jaw takes the impact - both are potentially dangerous and more painful for both actors), making sure Dutchin's hand at the optimal level of tension and Siegworth's face is at the optimal angle and, lastly, that neither actor flinches or anticipates the strike - which, I needn't tell you, takes a greatly developed control of one's innate reflexes.

Yup. We're dealing with some pretty resilient and  bad ass ladies here.  So much so that, when Siegworth wasn’t present at rehearsal one day and Maggie Wetzel, Cassio’s understudy stepped in, she was given the option to “mark” the combat as the understudy.  Instead, Wetzel took it on the cheek as well, without batting an eye.

If you really want to talk strong characters in Shakespeare and Othello, look no further than Emelia and Desdemona. However, the wonderful and rare thing about this particular production is that we get to see the strong male characters embodied by women as well.
— Jonathan Hicks

When asked if he changed any of the combat choreography when he learned he would be working with all women, Hicks said No.  “There really hasn’t been much thought about what I need to change in order for women to be able to combat instead of men.

Hicks approaches the combat from the point of view of story - not gender.

This goes hand in hand with what Lenny Banovez, the Director of Othello and Titan's founder and Artistic Director said when asked about the "concept" of an All-Female Othello.

"We aren't doing an All-Female Othello.  We're doing Othello.  With a female cast." - 

When it comes to physical fighting in real life, there are some things that work in women's advantage as fighters:

  • The male center of gravity is in the shoulders. The female center of gravity is in their hips - which is closer to the ground.  Making them harder to knock over.
  • Women have a higher pain tolerance
  • Females, on average, have a larger Limbic system than males. This area of the brain is referred to as “the reptilian brain” because it houses instincts.  This area, which is home to the mothering instinct and innate primitive fighting instincts, is larger in women than men.  It has been observed that, when threatened, women actually display a primitive killer instinct far greater than the male. 

Just think Momma Bear.

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combat2

These things also aid them as stage fighters.  Because of these reasons, as well as artistic choices, Hicks and Banovez have decided to stick to a specific “fight vocabulary” for this Othello

“Our Othello is contemporary world.  What is cool about this is that it allows for more options as far as styles of violence.   This modern setting gives us a broader choice from any fighting style and any weapon - past or present.

So everyone should just have guns then right?  Ha!

We have used guns in Titan productions in the past and they immediately take the violence into the present [which is cool].  But guns are a tricky business for the theater. They are expensive. They must either be functional or be accompanied with some other technical element. They lead to questions: Does everyone have a gun? If not, who has one and why? 

For Othello, we have decided to use a combination of daggers and unarmed combat. Since the idea of the human as a martial instrument has been around since Cain met Abel, and since here at Titan we like to keep it simple and raw, it works for us. There is an inherent brutality to the play. Therefore, the up close and personal quality of these weapons help to highlight the gruesome, intimate nature of the violence in the world of Othello”

A world you are invited into at The Queen's Theatre this month.

OTHELLO

Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.

Good Madam, you shall more command with years

Than with your weapons. - Act 1, Scene ii

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First Rehearsal

The first day of TITAN Theatre Company's Othello is here!  

Everyone is eager to get into rehearsals and sink our collective teeth into this delicious, heartbreaking, mind-bending tragedy.  But, don't be fooled, the work has long since begun.  The cast and creative team have been preparing for this day for quite awhile.  And everyone readies themselves a little differently.  So we thought we'd get this blog rolling by asking some members of this fiercely female cast: How in the ot-hell-o do you get ready to tackle a play like Othello?

or - in other words

"How do you memorize all those lines!?!" - asked someone at every talkback ever.

Check out what the Bard's broads have to say in response.

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"If I have to memorize quickly, I record the lines and listen while strolling or jogging.  In this instance...

...I wound up across from Shakespeare's Globe."

Deanna Gibson - Emilia

"I like to memorize lines by recording my cues into my phone with little pauses where my lines are and then play the tape back and say my lines to it. I also like to do an activity, like cleaning the dishes or folding the laundry, because if you move while you memorize something you work both the left and right sides of your brain and the material sticks better."  

Erica Knight - Lodovico

"I memorize the lines in many different ways, but my one top method is to write the lines over and over again. I have notebooks filled with lines from every show I have been in."

Laura Frye - Iago  

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"In the warmth of sunny Austin, Texas, I've been reading the text, re-reading the text, looking up the roots of words, reading the text again, and scanning. Lots of focus on departures from the iambic pentameter and going into imagination-land for the potential reasoning for it. I've also been eating a lot of tacos while doing this, as seen in the picture. Ah my two loves: Shakespeare and breakfast tacos. :)"   Sierra Thothero - Desdemona u/s

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"When I memorize a script, I start at the beginning. I memorize and say out loud little chunks of text at a time, adding another line, paragraph, scene until I know it all. I like to spend this time in quieter places (talking to oneself in public can be a bit distracting to others I've found) like my home or a patch of grass at a park."

Leah Dutchin - Othello

"In terms of preparation for three characters, 'No Fear Shakespeare' and multicolor post-its are definitely my friends."  Molly Densmore - Montano

Osmosis. - Alyssa VanGorder- Gratiano 

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"Snow day! I've got Thai food on the way, I've got my complete works and my Othello script in hand, I've got coffee and the OED!"  - Kate Gunther – Bianca

OthelloTrask
OthelloTrask

"A good Folio.  A good Rye.  And a good study partner."

- Emily Trask - Desdemona

"I'm a huge nerd. I gather every book, read every article, look up every word. With our current cutting, I'm looking for information about what version of Cassio will most help propel my fellow actors, and therefore  the play, forward. They have harder journeys than mine; I'm seeking ways to make their jobs (as characters) harder, and their jobs (as actors) easier."

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Abbey Siegworth – Cassio

"