The Untitled Othello Project Residency at Sacred Heart University

Fall Semester 2022

A collaborative supportive effort of The College of Arts and Sciences, The Department of Languages and Letters, The Department of Media and Performing Arts,  The Theatre Arts Program, The School of Communication, Media and the Arts, The Department of Catholic Studies, and the Multicultural Center…

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The Untitled Othello Project at Sacred Heart University has begun a semester-long residency extending into the January inter-session.  During this semester, we have the good fortune of being able to liaise around the conference table with several classes.  Most exciting is the curriculum built around the project specifically, a class called Untitled Shakespeare, a semester-long study of Shakespeare’s Othello. During the winter inter-session, we will be focusing on the three visible women of Othello, as well as the less visible mother of Desdemona, but also the two INvisible, and most likely non-white women of Shakespeare’s play, Othello’s mother, and Barbary, the servant from whom Desdemona learned the Willow Song.  During that session, we will have the engagement of another group of students, an elective called Shakespeare’s Women.

Jessica Burr working with Sacred Heart students from the Untitled Shakespeare class

Jessica Burr working with the Untitled Othello Ensemble

Looking for Iago…

We began this semester’s work in September without a core ensemble member to take the role of Iago.  There have been several collaborators to pass through in the role since we began this work back in August of 2021.  It is worth noting that the white male actor somewhere between the ages of 25 and 45 is the most working actor in the American entertainment industry.  Iago is a heavy lift by any standards, and this process that we are evolving is unorthodox by every metric as well.

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It is open-ended, mentally and emotionally arduous, and requires an entirely different sort of commitment than the actor most likely to be constantly hired elsewhere might want to make.  While it has always been the intention of The Project to maintain an unchanging ensemble from beginning to whatever the end, thus evolving a formidable brain trust throughout the process, the vicissitudes of life and the indoctrinations and impositions of the American Theater Industrial Complex make our goals somewhat quixotic to say the least.  However, such impediments sometimes also offer unexpected advantages.  Working for the first week of our residency without a Iago in the room was like talking about the character and the actor behind their backs.  We discovered a freedom to do what we wanted with him; ignore him, criticize him mercilessly without resistance, analyze his mental state, his intellectual capacity.  With no deference being owed him because no deference was owed to an actor undertaking to portray him, awareness about who he might actual be in the world of the play began to emerge.  Stripped of his evil genius status that has more or less held sway since white actors stopped feeling free to act the role of Othello unchallenged, Iago seems suddenly human again, which is to say petty and pathetic, frightened, egoistic, shaped to grasp advantage shamelessly wherever it is extended, and aided in his triumphs simply by a playwright—and an endless succession of theater-makers—who have allowed him access to an audience preconditioned and predisposed to believe that the world of the play is about him; ultimately his fans.  Perhaps he is aided as well by the needs of other animals—within the world of the play AND within the world that produces the play—with whom he has established various symbioses, irrespective of his general repugnance…