Othello: Digging Deep
By Ben Cunis, Assistant Director/Fight Choreographer
The process of creating Othello is well underway, and throughout the process I’ve been continually reminded of the deeply psychological nature of our work. Othello is vastly different from working on Antony and Cleopatra — while both plays involved a great effort to bring the interior lives of the characters to life onstage physically, Othello is a story that travels more intimately into the interior of human consciousness. When we started on the adaptation, we talked a lot on how the approach would be more similar to Hamlet in the ensemble realization of the inner psyche of the characters. I was imagining a grueling rehearsal process with actors playing everything from crowds to the inner moods of Iago to the torches in the hands of a mob. Crazy stuff.
It’s all that and more. I’m always reminded, the hard way, that every one of these processes is unique, and they are similar only in the manner that they depend on the grind and determination of the artists. The diamonds don’t grow up from the ground, they have to be dug up with manual labor. Salma and Roger have to run that lovers dialogue a thousand times before they discover the key to it, we have to drill the fight between Roderigo and Cassio (Vato Tsikurishvili and Scott Brown) a thousand times before they look like who they are: men who were raised in a violent society, to whom violence weighs equally with whatever morality they may carry.
I think that’s one of the secrets of good art — inspiration never just strikes. You don’t just sit around drinking coffee until all of a sudden you know the answer to the narrative conundrum you’ve woven. You sweat on the floor, stay up late at a computer with images and music, run a scene a thousand times only to throw it away, and you somehow get up in the morning to do it again. Well, not “somehow” — as much as you complain about the work, you revel in it as well.
This is my second time being both regularly present in the room yet separate from the process. I’m choreographing the fights and assistant directing, which means I’m not always on the floor, but I’m almost always watching what’s going on. It’s a struggle to watch, because I am aware of the equally physical and mental struggle that the actors are going through trying to find the right movements, attitudes, and moods to tell the story and bring across the emotional journey.
But that struggle is the secret. I get the feeling that if you’re making art and there is no struggle, then your product won’t be as good. Maybe good, but you won’t have pushed any limits.
Speaking of secrets, there are a number of secrets about Othello that we intend to spill out on Until Something Moves over the next couple of weeks…so stay tuned. I’ll get back to you when we come up for air.