Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 117. Wednesday, 24 Apr 1991.
Date: Wed, 24 Apr 1991 14:05:23 -0400
From: Steve <SURCC@CUNYVM>
Subject: 2.0110 New York *Othello*
Comment: Re: SHK 2.0110 New York *Othello*
Casting OTHELLO: Dionysus does funny things to and for productions.
Our basic principle for casting was talent. Dianne Ramirez happens to
be a very dark-skinned Hispanic-surnamed lady. The ONLY person who ever
raised a question about her color was our Othello, who said once that he
was disappointed that we didn't have a white actress in the role.
The demographics of City College's acting pool presents us with lots of fish,
many colors, unpredictable skills. We weren't trying for any special color.
And had we found a "whiter-skin-than-snow" maiden we still would have cast
our same Brabantio, a walk-in Electrical Engineering student who had never
been in a play but has immense natural talent and a startling resemblance
to Malcolm X stepped off a Black Pride poster. But we have a great luxury
at City College; the peoples of the world happen into our classes:
Palestinians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, East and West and South Africans,
up and down Americans. Last term I asked how many were from "somewhere
else," and couldn't count the waving hands, so I asked how many were from
"here, New York City?" I and three others out of the thirty-five in the
class were native and to the manor born.
"Non-traditional" casting, like any idea, can work wonderfully as art and
again stumble nightmarishly when pursued as dogma. We had on campus two
magnificent productions of Shakespeare determined by the make-up of the
BFA acting classes those years. So there was a black woman Hal, another
black woman Falstaff, a Basque woman King Henry and a Hispanic woman
Worcester; a year before we had in a dense rotation five different women
playing Lear and rotating into Goneril and Regan. As with so many invented
conventions, once introduced sensibly the game was played and accepted by
the audience. Renaissance self-fashioning and the flexible delights of play.
Dionysus guides, but he whips nastily if his potentialities are suborned
to easy political gestures. Cast a rigid female Latvian over a flexible
Dane as the Prince to prove a point, to make a statement, then you've got
an essay, not a play.