The Challenge —
Day 2 of table work and things are getting juicy. I mentioned yesterday that the cut of the Othello text was lean and forward leaning. Well, such an editing job does not come without costs and trade-offs.
Another very important aspect of table work on a Shakespeare play is that it is the actors first opportunity to challenge the cut, request restoration of certain lines and even negotiate for restoration, offering to cut other lines in a one to one exchange. In that way it is an introduction, an exploration, AND a rehearsal.
Just a word to all you civilians out there that may be reading this. Modern productions of Shakespeare in America all involve cutting the text for speed, sense and in recognition of the ever diminishing attention span of the US audience. It makes for a better experience believe me. Shakespeare’s audience was from a culture that was fascinated with language, they loved to hear the wordplay, the puns and double entendres, the new words and the linguistic acrobatics that Shakespeare and his contemporaries delivered in the form of plays that took an entire afternoon to play.
The modern American audience is more concerned with story, images and gestures that with language and they like those stories told in 2 hours or less. Fortunately Shakespeare told great stories and with so much language that a good portion of the words can be jettisoned without harming the narrative. That is what we call “cutting Shakespeare” and it’s a challenge to do it well. That is what table sessions are all about. (**NOTE – with the advent of long form television and the binge watching that comes with it, we may see more long form Theatre to appease audiences who hunger for more depth and detail in the stories they follow)
In the best of all worlds, the table sessions are an opportunity to validate the cut and put on the final polish. In this production of Othello we are seeing a full-on devotion to the idea of everyone having a voice as we grapple with this amazing text.
Most of this afternoon was spent in debate over a particularly risky and attention getting edit to the text that our Director wanted from the outset. There is no doubt in my mind that this edit will be written about in the national press, discussed, second guessed, hailed and vilified from the moment we begin previews. I likes it and believe in it from the outset and now even more so because the actors most affected by it challenged our director and our Shakespeare scholar on the merits of the edit and one player even went as far as to present a suggested rewrite that would smooth out some of the disruption that this very gutsy edit would cause.
It’s a credit to Ruben Santiago Hudson, our director and James Shapiro, our Shakespeare Scholar that they welcomed the suggestion and even took some time for a reading of the potential new pages. We then discussed the player’s suggestion and we all really weighed in on the pros and cons of this kind of amendation. It is such a thrill to be a part of a process that is truly inclusive and collaborative. I won’t discuss the nature of the edits I’ve mentioned. If you want to know for sure, come to the Delacorte this summer and find out for yourself.
Tomorrow is our last day at the table. When it is over our company will have a deep understanding of the story we are telling and some deep emotional and intellectual buy-in on the text we are using to tell this timeless story of love, war and race.
More to come.