Phoenix Theatre: BackstagePASS
|November 2019 • Act 13 Scene 3|
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It's easy to view our world in black and white. We want to believe that good and bad, love and hate are separate. But as Shakespeare shows us, life – and complex characters – live in the grey. Othello is a love story gone wrong – not only because of another man's betrayal and malicious lies ... but also because of where Othello places his trust and his own failure to truly hear the woman that loves him.
Although it was written 400 years ago, some of the themes of Othello's story are mirrored in the life and career of Ira Aldridge, the first black man to perform the iconic Shakespearean role in Britain. Read more about his story below.
Listen: Lecture of Othello at the Globe
Lecture with Dr. Tosh, Shakespeare’s Globe
Dr. Will Tosh is a Research Fellow from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. His lecture takes us back to 1600s London to discuss how Shakespeare’s diverse first audiences might have responded to Othello. Dr. Tosh led the Indoor Performance Practice Project at the Globe Theatre which examined how performances inside the candle-lit, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse were effected by its intimate architecture.
Get a sneak peek of the play and
This 1826 painting by British artist James Northcote is a beautifully rendered portrait of the 19-year-old actor Ira Frederick Aldridge (1807–1867). It was painted only one year after he had generated an incredible stir across London stages.
Entitled not as a portrait but only called “A Moor,” the painting was judged the ‘best executed’ work in the first exhibition of the Royal Manchester Institution (now on view at the Manchester Art Gallery), however Aldridge was only identified as its subject in 1983.
For our production of Othello, we wanted to share his story with you, from his humble beginnings to a celebrated performer who transcended barriers.
Born a free man in America, Aldridge was educated in New York’s African Free School where he displayed a talent for oration. His father, a preacher, had hoped he would follow in his footsteps, but Ira was drawn to theatre. He worked backstage at the Chatham Theatre in New York where he received some acting experience however his ambitions to perform on stage were impeded by racial prejudices in America. In 1807, the British Parliament had passed an act prohibiting the slave trade in England. Aldridge perceived that these changes might increase his prospects of performing professionally, and in 1824, he emigrated to the UK, moving first to Liverpool, then performing smaller roles at theatres in Dublin and Edinburgh, before heading to London.
He was only 17 when he made his London debut – almost by accident – in the title role of Othello at the Royalty Theatre in London’s East End in May 1825. As a young understudy for a wildly popular London actor, the deck was already stacked against Aldridge; unfortunately, his race and youth further spawned national backlash against his performance. Since the time of Shakespeare, only white men in blackface performed the role of Othello. Aldridge's surprising appearance made him the first black man to play “the Moor”, and the first black actor to perform a Shakespearean role in Britain.
Many critics spewed racial vitriol at his performance condemning not only his performance but the scandal of kissing the white actress in the role of Desdemona. However, Aldridge also had defenders in the press who praised his performance as Othello and called detractors guilty of the “unworthy prejudice” that “still lingers in the minds of weak persons.” Other papers, like the Public Ledger, praised the young actor’s death scene as "one of the finest physical representations of bodily anguish we ever witnessed". Another critic wrote, "In Othello (Aldridge) delivers the most difficult passages with a degree of correctness that surprises the beholder." Unfortunately, this production of Othello was cancelled after only two performances.
Despite the challenges he faced, Aldridge continued to hone his craft and expand his repertoire. He followed his performance of Othello with a stint in various plays at the Coburg Theatre, but reviews were mixed and he found himself boycotted by the West End theatres. He chose to avoid the political hotbed of London and instead toured provincial theatres, where he played roles such as Othello, Hamlet, King Lear, Richard III, Shylock, Aaron (from Titus Andronicus, Playbill seen right) and Macbeth to crowded houses and much acclaim.
In 1833, when Parliament was debating a bill to abolish slavery across the British Empire, one of the city's most prestigious theatres petitioned Aldridge to return to London to perform. His appearance again created a great deal of controversy.
Later, offers poured in from abroad and Aldridge toured Europe, receiving top billet on posters from Switzerland to Russia. He was lauded with numerous awards, including a knighthood in Germany. By the latter half of his career, Aldridge was the highest-paid and most decorated actor of his time and had captured the hearts of audiences across England and Europe. He remains the only actor of African-American descent among those honoured with plaques at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Othello Media Reviews & Round Up:
Rewards are there
Othello’s topics still relevant, expert says
Check the Programme
Shakespearean tragedy shines at the Phoenix
Othello: A passionate lesson in how not to love
CTV Vancouver Island
There is so much happening in Victoria and around the region this fall, we know it's hard to get out and support it all – but please try! Your local theatre companies need your support.
The Belfry Theatre’s production of Kat Sandler’s play Bang Bang continues on the 400-year-old themes in Othello, but updated and complicated for our true-story, contemporary movie-making era. Alumna Jennifer Swan is the stage manager for this production which ends on November 24.
Be Still is a new fictional play by alumna Janet Munsil inspired by the multiple-exposure work of Victorian photographer Hannah Maynard. Produced by hapax theatre, and running November 15-16 and 22-23, it features alumnae Rachel Myers and Melissa Taylor.
VOS Musical Theatre is presenting the smash hit musical Mamma Mia (November 22- December 1) filled with ABBA’s timeless songs. Phoenixers included are set designer Barbara Clerihue, choreographer Alison Roberts, and cast members Hailey Fowler and Ashley Richter.
Professor Emeritus and theatre historian Jen Wise is participating in Suddenly Dance Theatre’s visual art exhibition and fundraiser Body Language, which features 22 artists from the region. The exhibition at Fortune Gallery (November 19 – December 1) explores how artists interpret the body and its expression through movement, gesture, form, or spirit.
Alumna Kaitlin William is directing the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street at the Chemainus Theatre Festival this holiday season. In a recent interview, Kaitlin talks about why this enduring story is still matters: “I believe its power is summed up in Fred’s encouragement to Doris: ‘faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.’ At its core, the play encourages us all to let our hearts take the lead, rather than our heads. We are asked to risk a bit more, to allow the child in all of us to believe in something irrational and to dream bigger than we thought possible. Stories like this are precious in a world that feels increasingly cynical and perilous.” Featured as Doris Walker (the mom) is alumna Michelle Morris. The play also includes Theatre professor Jan Wood and stage manager, alumna Claire Friedrich.
Alumna Alina Cerminara has started a non-theatre venture that speaks to her west coast upbringing. Folklife is a new bi-annual print magazine inspired by the slow, sustainable and artistic living on BC's Gulf Islands. Check out some online stories as they prepare for their first print edition.
We were sorry to have missed Peek Fest 2019 (November 4 – 10) hosted by Impulse Theatre that included workshops, performances and a visual arts showcase. Alumni involved include Tiffany Tjosvold of Embrace Arts, a company that supports mixed ability performance, Ingrid Hansen and Kathleen Greenfield of SNAFU Dance Theatre, Anna Marie Anderson of Collectivus Theatre, Victoria Simpson, Devon Sereda Goldie (also current candidate for an MA in Applied Theatre), Andrew Barrett of Impulse Theatre, and current student Lindsey Schneider.
Want more alumni updates? Check out the Alumni Profiles area of our website. Email your updates to us to be posted here in future eNews.
Follow the most recent department and alumni stories by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter. Use #phoenixalumni to stream on our alumni website or tag @UVicPhoenix for us to retweet your event!
Thank you to the Phoenix Theatre's many individual donors and corporate sponsors for their support of our programs and talented students! A special thank you to this season's Production Resource Partner, Production Canada whose support helps realize our designer's visions on stage.
Find out how your company can reach our 10,000 audience members and UVic community of over 25,000. Contact us to discuss a customized sponsorship package to meet your goals.
Phoenix eNews is a regular email magazine for those interested in the Phoenix Theatre, the not-for-profit productions at the University of Victoria's Department of Theatre, PO Box 1700, STN CSC, Victoria, BC, V8W 2Y2 Canada. The University of Victoria is a Registered Charity. Charitable Registration No. 10816 2470 RR0001
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|© University of Victoria 2019|