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The Folger Spotlight

Questions, Answers, and "Yoda"

Well, hello there, dear blogfriends. It’s your pal Louis, Roderigo in Folger Theatre’s Othello, coming at you with another blog post.

One of the things the Folger Theatre does in association with its productions is conduct post-show discussions with students and members of the audience. Yesterday, we performed a student matinee in the afternoon and an evening show. We held a Q & A session after each of these performances.

I should tell you right off the bat that many actors, myself included, absolutely love participating in these sessions. We don’t really get to interact much with audiences – certainly we get a sense of how you’re processing the show by the way you react during the show, but we don’t really know what you make of it. When we all sit down for a chat afterwards, quite a lot of that mystery is revealed.

It’s hard to put a finger on why, exactly, face time with an audience is so gratifying. There’s something in it about the ephemeral, nearly fictional nature of the audience/performer relationship. There’s also something of the great human quest for validation and recognition to it. I’m not articulating this very well; my go-to anecdote on the subject may come closer:

My first gig as a union member was a touring production of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, in which I played the delicately nuanced dual role of Farmer MacGregor and Mamma Rabbit. Yes, I did wear “bunny drag,” complete with cotton tail and large bunny bosoms. Yes, I am aware of the proto-Freudian implications of one’s mother and one’s mortal enemy being one in the same person. No, I will not talk about the trauma I may have inflicted on any child who happened to glimpse Mamma Rabbit standing outside the stage door with coffee, a cigarette, and five o’clock shadow.

What I will say is that, following each of these performances, which were typically in the morning, and typically attracted an audience of up to 1,000 children between the ages of 3 and 7, we did a Q & A session. By default, I was the moderator for these sessions. One particularly rowdy morning, I noticed a small, blonde boy, probably about 4 years old, sitting in the front row. With eyes like saucers, and jaw agape, he stared and stared at me as I ran the Q & A. Slowly, as the questions came and went, his little hand started to quake, and then rise. By the time the session was winding down, his hand was waving urgently in the air. I took the bait, as, how could I not?

“Yes, my friend. Do you have a question?”

He locked eyes with me and said, with enormous gravitas, “Yoda.”

I paused, and I thought. “Well,” I said to him, “that’s really more of a statement than a question…but let’s give it up for Yoda, everybody!”

A thousand children screamed and cheered for Yoda. The boy put his hands to his face and quivered with delight.

My point in this is not to suggest that, for instance, people don’t care about the answers to the questions they ask. I think they do. Nor is it to suggest that any old non sequitur will do. It won’t. I think what I’m trying to get at is to suggest that these exchanges, intellect aside, and reduced to their essence, really go something like this:

All: HOORAY!!!

Or, even more simply:

A: YODA???
B: YODA!!!
A & B: YODAAA!!!!

Anyway, having got all of that unwieldy nonsense off of my chest…

My initial plan for this post was to write out the questions we were asked at each session to see if you could spot the difference between questions asked by students and questions asked by the general public. In looking back at my notes now, though, the questions are indistinguishable from each other.

While one might expect the dreaded “how much money do you make?” and “how do you learn all of those lines?” to be likelier questions from students, experience has shown me that they are equally likely to come from “grownups.” This time around, while we didn’t get the money question, we did get the line-learning question. From both demographics.

So, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’ll write out a kind of “greatest hits” of yesterday’s Q & A sessions. I did take notes but, I’m not a journalist, so please understand that things will be a bit paraphrasey. Apologies in advance.

Q: You brought a great depth and complexity to the character of Desdemona. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Janie Brookshire as Desdemona. ©2011 Carol Pratt

A: Janie Brookshire, the actor who plays the role, answers that she started with a notion of Desdemona as a woman with strength and bravery. Consider the fact that, soon after we meet her, Desdemona decides that, rather than stay at home as her new husband goes off to fight the Turks, she will join him on the campaign. Janie went on to say that if there is a “girlishness,” or a vulnerability to the character, it is in the idea that Desdemona seems to have an innate trust in the goodness of other people. She herself is basically good, so why should anyone else be otherwise? She simply can’t conceive of duplicity of the variety that Iago delivers. Janie feels that Desdemona’s complexity comes from the fact that she is bold and brave but suffers from a singularity of vision as regards other people.

Q: Everyone in the play is sucked in by Iago, except for his wife Emilia, who seems to be onto him. Why, if she knows the type of man he is, does Emilia give Iago the handkerchief, which leads to the tragic end?

Karen Peakes as Emilia. ©2011 Carol Pratt

A: Karen Peakes, the actor who plays the role, began her answer by disagreeing with the thesis of the question – Karen feels that Emilia is sucked in by Iago. Iago is charismatic and well-respected; he is a man of position and ambition. The two are married and, if the marriage is complex, well, what marriage isn’t? In any event, Karen’s take on handing over the handkerchief is that all Emilia ever intended to do was show it to Iago before taking it away, have a copy made, and return it to Desdemona. In the moment, though, Iago already has possession of the handkerchief and, by then, it has become too complicated to take it back. Karen doesn’t believe that Emilia has any notion of just how wrong things will go in that moment. Emilia, quite late in the game, says to Iago, “I know thou art not such a villain.” Unfortunately, he is – and the pile of bodies at the play’s end attests to the fact.

Q: Does Othello kill Desdemona because, initially, she made him feel less like an outsider and then, at least according to his perception, she “takes it back,” as it were?

A: Owiso Odera, the actor who plays the role, said that the root for Othello’s change of mind – a subject that comes up quite often – starts for him with the notion of personal insecurities. Owiso feels that Othello is a person who has been a career military man; he’s been a professional soldier ever since he was a boy. As Owiso put it, Othello probably knew more Biancas than he knew Desdemonas – a polite way of saying he’d had “one night stands,” but no relationships. This leads to a degree of naivety in Othello when it comes to women and marriage. The masterstroke in Iago’s plot to bring Othello down is that Iago knows this about Othello. Iago himself is also a married man and, to Othello, something of an expert on the subject. By capitalizing on the naivety with women, combined with the insecurities that come of being an outsider – not to mention Othello’s complete trust in Iago – create a psychological “perfect storm” that ultimately bring him down.

Q: Can you explain why Roderigo is in the show as a comic character?

A: Rrrrrrr! Louis Butelli, the actor who plays the role, could probably go on and on (and on) about that, but it would eat up far too much space. I’d suggest that you read Comment #2 in previous post, “Previews,” or that you read previous post, “Ah, Relationships!” There’s plenty of juicy stuff there.

This is fun, but is getting long. I think I’ll wrap it up here, and include more of these Questions and Answers in a subsequent post. Do you have any questions? Leave them as a Comment!

Finally, to sum up, “Yoda!”