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The Folger Spotlight

Q&A with Dr. John "Ray" Proctor III

The Reading Room Festival

The Reading Room Festival (Jan 25-28) features new work and conversations inspired by, in response to, or in dialogue with the plays of William Shakespeare. Leading up to the festival, we’re doing a Q&A series with the creators involved.

One of the unique offerings this year at The Reading Room Festival is an open rehearsal of Six Othellos with Dr. John “Ray” Proctor, an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Tulane University, Department of Theatre. Below, he shares more about Six Othellos and what audiences can expect. Join us during the festival at Folger Theatre on Saturday, Jan 27, at 2pm.


FOLGER: What’s the story behind the creation of your play and its early life? What was your process?

It would be a mistake to think of (or even refer to) “Six Othellos” as a play. It’s not. It is an interactive interrogation of Shakespeare’s Othello, Act III, scene iii, in which we will consider how an audience learns to read the semiotics of race, gender, and orientation through casting. We will ask the audience how the play changes — and how “meaning” is constructed — when we change the race and gender of the characters Othello and Iago. We will ask the audience what they see, what they would like to see, and how what happens on stage reflects and illuminates the world in which they live.

FOLGER: Were there any particular problems or knots in Shakespeare’s works that you wanted to interrogate in your play? Any particular opportunities that arose in spring boarding off Shakespeare? What are you hoping that audiences will take away from this play?

“Six Othellos” is a collaborative interrogation — between the audience, the academic, and the actors. It exists somewhere between a laboratory and rehearsal. Our intention is to examine/explore how audiences construct (are given) notions of “traditional” and “classical,” and how those systems hide structural notions of whiteness and white supremacy — and how those same systems exclude anything other than, outside of, of resistance to hierarchies of whiteness. We want to know what happens if an audience sees women as capable of being the general of an army, or of betrayal and deceit, or of making a sacred vow. This project should explore how an audience learns to read — makes sense of — gender, power dynamics, and race. Maybe it will also make audiences consider how the play reflects and critiques how they think about the world in which they currently live.

FOLGER: What is your favorite Shakespeare adaptation, and how did it make you think differently about Shakespeare’s works?

I really loved the 1991 retelling of Macbeth, Men of Respect, and the 1995 Richard III which featured Ian McKellen in the title role. I think both of those adaptations/interpretations said something about the world in which I lived and, at the same time, remained somehow “true” to the story Shakespeare intended to tell.

FOLGER: What are you hoping to learn from The Reading Room Festival?

I am most interested in having a conversation with an audience who is engaged and willing to engage in a discussion about how we/they “read” Shakespeare.

FOLGER: Anything else that you’d like readers and audience members to know about you and/or your play?

I think many people — critics and theorists — make a lot of claims about who and what an audience thought about a performance, and I’m never sure of the accuracy of such postulations. I think an audience is a singular noun, made up of a collective of individuals who all have different thoughts, opinions, and experiences. I think a play or performance is most alive in the way in which every moment of the play can and might mean different things to each individual spectator — and we grow, as a society, by discussing the different things we’ve seen and experienced.