Othello Review

Keith Kibler

Othello, performed by a great cast of people, was performed in Stratford Canada’s Festival Theater on July 28, 2019. Othello himself is played by Michael Blake who is a seasoned actor with a great lineup of acting throughout. The veteran director, Nigel Shawn Williams, shined in the visceral display that provided more to the expression of the play. The performance was done to a tee engrossing the audience with the ideas present in today’s controversial ideologies. With the great acting, storytelling, and audio cues you can without a doubt grasp the idea of how the characters clearly can be influenced by another individual within the tale. I believe listening and seeing everything in motion clearly helps people see and believe things unfolding between the actors

The directing choices are top-notch. The opening of the play had a unique tone to it that would set it off in the direction it needed to go. It was a very surreal setting in which seeing in the background, Othello and Desdemona getting married. While you get Liago surrounded by a bunch of common soldiers almost praising him in a chant-like state. All soldiers surrounding him are in anguish as Liago performs self-inflicting chokes on his own neck. This scene is by no means present at all or portrayed in the play you may read by Shakespeare. The director took it upon himself to add something more illustrative. More or less they did this to show all three characters, so you could put a face to everyone as they are introduced by word of mouth from the key characters. Also, the fact that you see Liago in his present state of hate and contentment towards his rival, Othello, who has no clue that he dislikes him. With seeing Othello, Desdemona, and Liago in their current states; you get the idea of Liago’s ill conversations are meant to hurt the couple in some ill-fitted way. The normal play setting would be the time frame the play was released. The director took a very modern approach making it easier to relate to. One thing for sure, seeing the main characters in the beginning truly shows that the director is well versed in how people may see or think about the character. With a long plot you would catch on, yet it drives the story development through the audience’s eyes at a faster pace.

Costumes, lighting, scenery, and musical scores add to the psychological effects of putting you into this other reality. Now way back when this play was first introduced. They had swords and full metal armor for soldiers’ clothing in the 1500’s. The clothing used in this play was modern military fatigue current with today’s timeline. This brings the audience closer to our current reality thus having people more invested in what is going on currently. The imaging itself was unique with the tones that elaborated in Liago’s state of being. Another element used was the musical score in the very beginning when introducing Liago. It was a dark upbeat sound that intensified his being. Seeing the screen change behind him during his soliloquy with projected animated pictures. Especially when he speaks, it looks like blood slowly oozing down the walls. The projected images really bring out every situation, even when walls are slowly drawn into the background. This established a new change in a place within an instant, as windows and doorways came into view. Making for a seamless transition from one place to another and allowing the story to unfold faster and concisely. 

The acting is this piece was literally off the chain, really appreciatingly good. Having an amazing artist portray their parts with their hearts and soul, brings the characters out more fleshed and human as they should be. Seeing everyone up on the stage brings a solid practicality, a very concrete realism that televisions can’t produce. Theater plays have you there at that moment in a world with its own ideas, plight, and life. When the actors play their role to a tee, you get their feelings put in front of you. This draws the audience into their world. The screaming, enthusiasm, affection, hate, all the feelings they have projected onto the viewer. The interaction and dynamics between all the characters are very well done. You can see how one character is influencing another with a very realistic approach. 

If the acting was horrible, you would not understand the characters. Nor would you even care about their situations. Maybe not even care about the whole play in general. The same goes for the set or stage. If things are out of place or jumbled up on the stage. People may have their eyes averted to the anomalies, taking away the attention of the audience. If the music and costumes were off-key, like KKK uniforms for all the actors, that would take you out of the element as well. Everything flowed as it should in the play that made me think, admire, and love the reason why we go out and enjoy these things.

Now for the great story that Shakespeare introduced to us. The director took this amazing story and intertwined the many different aspects I mentioned above. Incorporating the amazing actors, the great ideas of how to present the show. The interaction between everyone and everything brings the play into a complete cycle of a true work of art. Allowing me to appreciate theater for what it has to offer.

With all the great acting, storytelling, and audio cues you can without a doubt grasp the idea of how a character can be negatively influenced by another individual within the tale. Without all the influences of the director, actors, and the rest of the crew that brought this all together. You would never come to any of the conclusions portrayed throughout. Listening and seeing everything in motion clearly helps people see and believe things unfolding between the actors. Without everything working in unity, you would never see or understand just how one character is manipulated by another. The art of a story is to get you engrossed involved. To manipulate your thoughts with your own ideas. Sometimes they change your point of view other times they make you ponder and think. Everyone has their ideas and thoughts, but sometimes someone steers you with a book, play, movie, discourse, or even music. The idea remains that you know what the writer of the story wanted you to see, hear, and feel. How the characters have come to be. In the end, if everything is done correctly, you understand and take with you the story of Othello.

Ode to a Swan

By: Emily Hare

Questions for a swan I loved but whose image I never captured. Ahem:

Do you dream of swans or people?

Do you dream?

Do you have a favorite color?

Who’s your best friend?

Do swans even make friends with each other?

When you were little, what did you think you’d end up doing with your life?

How does the life you have now compare?

What’s your marital status?

Do you think it’s weird that there’s swan merchandise everywhere in this city? Does it make you feel famous?

May I have your autograph?

Do’s and Don’ts for Stratford Pedestrians

By: Emily Hare

I’ve always identified as a walking meme. Little did I know that on this trip, I would create a walking meme. I’m a proud mama :’)

It was Friday, July 26, the first full day on the trip, and Jason, Keith, Adonis, and I were walking from The Planet Café to the hotel so that Jason could drop off his backpack before the ghost tour. We were waiting patiently to cross when Adonis decided to blindly go for it. I noticed a bright red hand glowing through the post. I was attempting to get out a warning as quickly as possible, and was stuck somewhere between “DON’T” and “IT’S A DON’T WALK”, and out of my mouth came the jarbled mess: “IT’S A DON’T!!!”

And so it was that Do’s and Don’t’s became the trend of the trip. Need to cross? Press the Do button. God forbid you keep on walking without checking whether it’s a do or a don’t. Perhaps the most important piece was that, no matter what, you made sure to obnoxiously shout whatever it was before crossing and/or waiting.

I know that Do’s and Don’t’s are a part of me now, and it is my hope that other students from the trip will think of me from now on whenever they’re walking in a city.

P.S. Why the heck were the Do guy’s legs so long?

Theatre Review

By: Emily Hare

William Shakespeare’s play Othello was viewed during a performance at the Festival Theater in Stratford, Ontario, on Sunday, July 28, 2019. The production was directed by Nigel Shawn Williams of the Stratford Festival. The characters of focus for the purposes of this review were cast as follows: the character of Othello was played by Michael Blake, Laura Condlln played Emilia, and Iago was played by Gordon S. Miller. Overall, the play was a modern adaptation that brought to life both male and female characters in a way that twisted the audience’s perceptions of gender, specifically in relation to the subject of complicity of different characters both inside and outside the text of the play.

The original play, Othello, is set in the seventeenth century, when it was written. In this production of the play, the director had a different setting in mind. The characters are dressed in modern clothes; Desdemona in simple leggings and a tee shirt during most of the production, and many of the men in business casual clothing such as button down shirts and jackets. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the costuming choices for the production, however, was the decision to dress many of the characters, including major players Iago, Emilia, and Cassio, in military fatigues. Even within the clear separation of power that this choice creates, there is further dichotomy presented in the staging of the characters dressed like this. In many of the scenes where Othello’s workers are reporting news back to him, the female military members are standing below the steps to the stage, whereas the male characters approach Othello more readily and closely.

The reason that this gender dichotomy is so important to discuss in relation to complicity in a murder is that the depiction of Emilia in this particular production renders her more aware of her role in the “scheme of things” leading up to the murder of Desdemona by Othello. In the seventeenth century, much like today, women were perceived as far more simple-minded and vapid than men were. Had Emilia been depicted as a housemaid in this adaptation of the play, it falls to reason that no one would expect her to read deeply into Iago’s acquisition of the handkerchief, or Othello’s orders for her to leave the bedroom. In many discussions that I’ve had with others upon simply reading the play, I have yet to speak with one person who looked to Emilia as any sort of guilty party in the story.

The depiction of Emilia as a military woman suggests that she is strong, smart, and powerful. Societal perceptions of those in the military assume that a certain set of qualities must be possessed to make it far at all in that field. When Emilia finds the handkerchief that Desdemona left behind, she looks to present it to Iago as something he would be delighted to receive. In this production, the audience sees as Iago attempts to seduce Emilia, and reaches into her pocket to steal the handkerchief when she is most vulnerable. The actress playing Emilia showed a complex emotion somewhere between betrayal and disbelief, leading the audience to believe that she understands that Iago has a grander plan for the fate of the handkerchief. Later, when Othello asks Emilia if she knew that the handkerchief was simply left behind by Desdemona rather than given to Cassio, Emilia claims that she had not seen the handkerchief at all. These words, coming from a woman in the military, suggest two outcomes: truth (she would have remembered if she had seen it because she’s responsible) and a blatant lie (she knows that she saw it but expects that her authority will give her credibility in Othello’s eyes). Since the audience clearly knows that Emilia had knowledge of the whereabouts of the handkerchief, the deceit is clear and shocking to watch. Had the same claim come from a housemaid, there would be more of a perception of a gray area (maybe she forgot it got mixed up because she’s a ditzy housemaid).

There was another moment in the production that nodded to Emilia’s intelligence and complicity in Desdemona’s murder, which took place before the murder itself. Emilia is sitting with Desdemona, and Desdemona begins to sing a song that her mother sang the night she died. Desdemona claims that she feels she will also die that evening. A small amount of time passes, and Othello tells Emilia not to guard the bedroom door, but to leave him alone with Desdemona. The audience sees Emilia slowly inch outside of the bedroom and hesitate, turning around and appearing to ponder what the right thing is to do in that situation. Then she walks on, heeding Othello’s word. This decision shows that Emilia was apprehensive about leaving Desdemona alone with Othello, that she knew something horrible may happen, but she left anyway rather than alerting a higher authority. Once again, had Emilia been depicted as a housemaid, the audience may have looked past her as complicit because she was simply obeying orders and would not have thought to look to anyone else.

The topic of complicity is layered in this play as well, because upon watching everything unfold for the characters so painstakingly, the audience is forced to introspect and realize that they themselves knew what was happening, and chose to stay silent. Yes, they likely cringed along, their insides were likely screaming, but they stayed silent. The choice to modernize Emilia’s dress in this particular production of Othello allows the audience more opportunities to realize that the characters in this story truly had the power to prevent what happened from happening, but made conscious decisions to keep it in. Without that element, the audience may have felt just as helpless as Emilia and sympathized with her reluctance to scrutinize or ask questions of Iago and Othello.

Overall, it is clear that the Stratford Festival’s 2019 production of Shakespeare’s Othello provides the play’s audience with a very unique experience and role in the story simply by modernizing the costumes and altering some staging. By putting many of the characters in military fatigues while staying true to gender dichotomy, and by depicting the character of Emilia as someone with more awareness of the impending murder, the Stratford company managed to bring the play’s audience into a much more active and involved role than they would otherwise have been.

A Lighthearted Good Time

By: Jason Vogel

Going to a show with no expectations is sometimes the best recipe for entertainment.  The Merry Wives of Windsor was played at the Stratford Festival on August 2ndand it turned out to be one of those experiences for me.  

The show meanders to a start with no special announcement, horns blowing, or lighting effects.  Just a couple of guys raking leaves on what might be a very typical fall afternoon.  I did make some time before the show to read through the playbill to determine that this production of Merry Wives takes place in the 1950’s.  What an interesting twist, I thought.  The costumes and stage reflect the 1950’s to a “T”, and the little kids on stage even play games like jump-rope and run around with cap guns straight out of the 50’s.  

The play took us back sixty some years and then back about another three hundred and fifty years to Shakespeare’s time.  The intermixing of the two eras was a great idea for such a comedy.  The comedy, in its original form, is almost whimsical, but the production in Stratford this year makes the play quite zany.  As Falstaff chases Mrs. Ford around the room with a rose clenched in his teeth, my mind goes to the lighthearted television comedies of the 1950’s.  Think of Ernie Kovaks or I Love Lucy and slapstick humor.  As the play went from scene to scene, I felt as if Groucho Marx would appear doing a duck walk across the stage with his big cigar hanging out of his mouth.  As Mr. Ford, disguised as Master Brook, conspires with Falstaff, he is driven into a frenzy that makes him step into Falstaff’s bedpan, gets his foot lodged in it, and then marches around stage with an overdone look of disgust on his face. Speaking of overdone, Slender and Simple take it to extremes.  Simple is portrayed as quite the dunderhead as he stumbles around trying to follow orders, while Slender cannot make a move without Shallow’s direction. 

 The expressions and mannerisms, although exaggerated, bring all of Shakespeare’s characters to life creating a cheerful atmosphere in the theatre.  The Stratford Festival provides a mix of productions that can bring tears as well as laughter.  Go ye, travel to Stratford and have yourself a darn-tootin’ good time.       

Othello review

Adonis Lemke

https://flic.kr/p/2gTuaZ5

Othello was by far my favorite play by William Shakespeare, and one of my favorite plays that I had seen while being in Stratford. I love the use of technology to bring new elements to the play. My favorite element was, what I describe as a Rorschach test projected onto the backdrops. However, what I enjoyed the most about this play was the villain, Iago (played by Gordon S. Miller).

Iago is a master of deceit, something that can be seen by simply reading the play, but Miller uses his acting abilities to take the character to the next level. He has almost created two separate characters that we see within a matter of seconds from each other. Gordon is able to walk onto the stage as a friend to Othello. At times, the audience wants to believe he is on Othello’s side, that he is honest and noble. And the monster comes out. Like Dr. Jekyll himself, he is admired by those close to him, but when he is alone we see his true colors. The lights dim and black splatters across the backdrop like a Rorschach test, moving like a live plague. Miller darkens his expression and scowls out to the audience. The occasional maniacal laugh will jump out of him that can make your skin crawl.

The black background has a huge impact on each of Iago’s scenes. For some of the monologues, the black spots start very small, growing larger and larger as he continues to plot against Othello and those close to him. It moves like a cold, dark slime as if it is in place of Iago’s blood. The director does a wonderful job of showing just how much of an impact this has on the show by adding some humor to it at one point. Iago is seen talking with Othello, wide eyed and smiling. When Othello exits, the scene grows darker and the Rorschach explodes onto the backdrop. Iago begins one of his many monologues of how he will destroy Othello. Just as Othello steps back onto the stage, however, the lights come back up, the Rorschach disappears from the backdrop and Miller turns back around smiling and friendly, like a multiple personality.  Then as Othello exits once more, Iago is back to his true villainous self.

A Trail of Chocolate

Kate Jones

While poutine is one of Canada’s must try foods when you visit, my sweet tooth insisted I find the chocolate shops in Stratford. And there were a lot of them to explore. One of the best ways to do this is to go on the Chocolate Trail. The Stratford Chocolate Trail is a bit like a tour, only it’s self-guided and you can visit 27 different places where your six vouchers can be exchanged for treats, gifts, or discounts. Plus, the brochure you get gives a small explanation of all 27 shops. 

If you’re walking from shop to shop like I did most of the time, I recommend bringing a cooler if possible, especially if you buy chocolate. It would also be a good idea to to look at shop times and see if any of them will be closed one day or another. I had wanted to visit Rheo Thompson’s after seeing a play but it was closed so I had come back the next day. Some of the places I visited I’ve already talked about in my top four places to visit in Stratford post, but they were so good I wanted to mention them again. While I won’t talk about all of the places I visited, here’s three that I thought were worth a mention.

One of my favorite places was Rheo Thompson Candies. They’ve been in Stratford for 40+ years, with an assortment of handmade candies with their signature flavor: mint chocolate. They even have mint smoothies you can order right in the shop. Plus, almost all of their products are gluten free and a few are even sugar free. Even better, they ship products across North America so you can have them even in the United States. 

An unexpected place on the list of shops is the Stratford Festival Shop. It was probably the last place I would have thought to visit for chocolate, but they do sell chocolate bars with packaging that looks like a play ticket, which I absolutely loved. Plus, your voucher gives you a discount should you choose to buy it. And, if you prefer to get your chocolate somewhere else, there’s still a lot of cool souvenirs you can buy.

Another cool place on the list is Chocolate Barr’s Candies. At one point, I took a taxi to get to one of the theatres and the driver was kind enough to point out some of his favorite chocolate shops, including Chocolate Barr’s Candies. At Chocolate Barr’s, there’s handmade truffles you can get with a variety of flavors to choose from. Some of them are fairly simple like cherry liqueur and hazelnut truffle, but there’s others like lavender or honey and black pepper. 

There are so many great places to visit with a bunch of sweets, like Scoopers and Kandy Cakes, but my favorite was definitely Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Whichever place you choose to go though, there’ll definitely be something sweet enough to make you glad to walk from place to place.

How to Take a Hit

Kate Jones

One of the first plays I saw in Stratford was Othello, and while not Shakespeare’s most violent play, there was plenty of on stage fighting. I’ve always found the concept of stage fighting interesting—how it’s choreographed and how the sounds are made without anyone actually being hit. So I was looking forward to the morning of our stage combat workshop. 

We had the opportunity to learn from two of the actors that were in some of the plays we’d seen earlier: Johnathan Sousa and EB Smith. When we got there we started out by getting into pairs. Before we actually did anything, we learned there are three s’s of stage combat: safety, story, and speed. 

Safety is obviously the most important aspect, with the story of the fight coming next. The last part of stage fighting to acquire is speed, so since we were only there for about an hour none of what we practiced was very fast. 

The first thing we learned was how to “punch” someone. We had learn how to cue our partner by holding our dominant hand out to the side in a fist. Then we focused on an imaginary parrot on our partner’s shoulder, and aimed the punch at the parrot so that we didn’t accidently actually punch the other person. We also learned that whether the punch looked realistic depended on the positioning. For example, in a place where there are people surrounding the actors, it’s necessary to swing your arm past your partner’s face so that everyone in the audience feels like they saw the punch. 

However, my favorite part of this workshop was learning how actors make a punch or slap sound like someone is actually being hit. This is accomplished by a knap. Knaps are made by one of the actors hitting themselves in a way that the audience can’t see. The examples we were shown included clapping hands or slapping the chest. After a few times practicing our punches, we learned how to “slap” someone. This was very similar to punching, just with a flat hand instead of one curled into a fist. 

I had a lot of fun practicing this, even though I wasn’t particularly good at it. I have a tendency to lean backward to punch when my partner “punches” me, which makes it a little less realistic looking. But it was a lot of fun to do and see how my partner reacted to my punches/slaps. She had really good reactions and made the experience a lot of fun.

The last thing we learned was how to make it look like we were dragging someone around by their hair. At first I was really nervous about this because I wasn’t sure if it involved my partner actually touching my hair. Luckily there wasn’t anything like that needed. Instead, Person A would place their fist on top of Person B’s head so it looked like they had a fistful of hair. However, the actual power behind the movements comes from Person B, who grabs onto their partner’s hand and is the one that moves and makes the hair pulling look real. 

I had a lot of fun practicing this one, especially because of the different ways this particular situation could be played out. For example, because there my partner was significantly taller than me, she sat in a chair for this one so that it looked I was dragging her off the chair by her hair. Another pair had one of them sliding across the floor, and they played it out really well so it was a lot of fun to watch.

Shakespeare: to be, or to be Remixed?

Katie Ricks

We all know what a remix is, right? Most of the time we hear of remixing songs- the original song is done in a different style, but the lyrics and usually something else recognizable remains the same. Was Shakespeare keen on changing things? What if Hamlet was done in 80s vernacular and warm-up wind suits? Would he have approved? Could he stomach King Lear performed with traditional Chinese culture and dress? In short, does remixing work, or is the original the best?

https://flic.kr/p/2gSfFvC

In Stratford, Ontario at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, remixing is a common occurrence. During the 2019 season, Othello was set in modern dress, with a minimalist set and scene changes projected onto a geometric backdrop. The only visual thing that may have been shared with Shakespeare’s original was the thrust stage where the play was held. This recent mix of Othello included men and women with both brown and white skin in the cast-something that was unheard of in Shakespeare’s time. White men and boys were always used as cast members and would be dressed and painted too relate the appropriate character.

Another tactic used by modern directors is to adjust the script itself. Shakespeare’s Old English for some, can distance the audience from the story because of the language barrier. Not to mention some of his plays uncut are in excess of three hours long. For modern audiences, sometimes that’s just too long. Directors also make choices to cut in order to streamline the plot to make the story more palatable for the watchers.

https://flic.kr/p/2gRqdZZ

Here are two different gowns worn by Zoe Caldwell as Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra performed in 1967. (Special thanks to the team at Stratford Festival archives for the photos and tour!) The design and colors are not typical of the Renaissance period, but do have a certain groovy vibe about them.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, another Shakespeare play that has been remixed often, was this year at the Stratford Festival set in the 1950s. Poodle skirts, pompadours and rolled up blue jeans swept the stage in this comical act. The throw-back feel of the play added a certain charm the audience could identify with in their own lives. This charm would have been out of reach if the Renaissance period dominated the stage. Let’s face it, most women in North America today don’t know what it’s like to wear a corset or be involved in arranged marriages.

So would it have been important for Shakespeare to identify with his audience? I’m sure he still had to sell tickets. I wonder if he would have enjoyed the 50s, or this new millennium? What could he have done with digital projectors and real smoking cigarettes?

Allen’s Alley

Katie Ricks

Allen’s Alley from the Erie Street entrance in Stratford,
Ontario.

Nestled between ma and pa shops and restaurants along Wellington Street in downtown Stratford is a small alleyway easily ignored. But if you venture down this narrow street, you will discover portraits of musical artists, a staple of the culture of Stratford. For more on hidden gems of Stratford, see Katie Croft’s satirical 6 Reasons to Avoid this Study Abroad TripTake a short walk down Wellington Street, have a nice dinner and stroll down this alley for a short history lesson on music in this charming city.

Plaque mounted near the entrance to Allen’s Alley just off of Wellington Street in Stratford.

The art scene in Stratford is far from a hidden one. Shops boast local artists, restaurants serve meals plated to picture perfection, and the theatre in song, dance and drama is simply unavoidable. Even with all of these outlets, still one carries the culture of Stratford further: music. The alley once served as an access to stables behind the hotels that lined Wellington Street, and was later named after a fruit market held at the same location. Now it is a market of Stratford musical history.

Jack Hayter

Jack Hayter began playing at age 12 and played the sounds of big bands through the 1930s. He lived and died in Stratford and for decades serenaded locals and visitors alike. He is buried in the Avondale cemetery, just blocks from the places he made his stage.

John Boyden

John Boyden called Stratford his home before touring the world. He was discovered right here in his hometown at the Festival Theatre just three years after its opening. Boyden is one of the original voices of Stratford; his home and the place of his first and last performance.

The Otto Henderson Band

Before the Tom Patterson theatre was, there was a place called the Casino, where this band was featured regularly. This was truly the sound of Stratford through the 1930s, and was often heard on the radio (pictured in the painting). Imagine the sounds of stings, horns and piano drifting through the night sky as you and someone you love stroll through the Shakespearian gardens after a show. What a time to be alive!

Many more bands and musicians are featured on the walls of Allen’s Alley; take a stroll down Wellington or Erie and look closely or you’ll pass it by!

Information for all musicians is found on the poster within Allen’s Alley. Here is a pdf format for your convenience. Murals were painted by Tyler John, Vlada Kato and Dave McCready.