Showbill.ca’s Max D’Ambrosio recently sat down with the two male leads in the Bard on the Beach production of Othello. The conversation revealed the inner workings of the highly collaborative nature in the development of the production. The Shakespeare tragedy is known for its strong male roles. But, as Kayla Deorksen tells D’Ambrosio, she is determined to show that Desdemona is no wilting flower.
Max D’Ambrosio: From talking to Luc Roderique (Othello) and Kayvon Kelly (Iago), I got a strong sense of good teamwork going on. How exactly do professional actors support each other through this kind of project?
Kayla Deorksen: Well, it was definitely their project, their brainchild that they worked on, for the past four years they’d been developing it. They started, early on, by having readings and bringing in friends, and I was a part of three readings over the years, just sitting around and getting it all off the page, and listening to the words and sharing the story. So, they encouraged actors, their friends, to be a part of developing the project early on.
Then, as soon as Bob Frazer was onboard as the director, he also did a massive reading where he brought in an actor to read every single different role, which is about twenty different characters, I think. Just to really feel the full book, and the full expansiveness of the play in a room, which was really interesting. He asked everyone to give him feedback on parts that he felt could be cut, aspects of it that were no longer necessary to the story or the throughline, or relevant. Because they had a massive project ahead of them that required a lot of streamlining, for it to be able to be staged for Bard on the Beach audiences.
As soon as the play was cast, we also held a reading in February, I believe, before we started rehearsals in May, of the actual cast that was going to be working on it. We got to hear each other’s voices and meet each other’s characters in a reading, which was an amazing thing that Bard was able to offer this year, for us.
Very early on, it was a collaborative project. Bob asked us all to share our opinions, do a lot of extensive research on our own, and give our input, even for costume ideas or images that we’d found about the Civil War, information we’d found that inspired us about our characters. To feel free to bounce those ideas around and share them… So, from the beginning, to make a long story short, I’d say they really fostered a collaborative, collective environment.
MD: Outside of that preparation for this project, what kinds of experiences – professional or personal – helped to prepare you for this role? Had you ever played Desdemona?
KD: No, I’d never played Desdemona before. And four years ago, when we did our first read, they were going to ask me to read Emilia, and then they asked me to read Desdemona.
It’s interesting; I think that she surprised me, in how much she feels like my own personal voice, and how close to my heart she is. At a first pass, I would have perhaps aligned myself more with Emilia, and thought of her being more a character that I could play, but really… Luisa Jojic is perfect in it.
I think that really, when I look at what is easeful about playing Desdemona, it’s that I align with her morals. I really enjoy that she is the moral compass in the play. Even though she has her heart broken every night, and she goes through violence, and experiences all of this anger and misogyny, and gets killed… it’s still easeful to play her, because I agree with where she stands on issues in the world. So that’s not the challenging part.
MD: And what would you like to see audiences take away from your portrayal?
Well, I’m really proud that the women in this show… something that Kayvon and Luc and Bob were really keen to do, but also a credit to Luisa Jojic and Sereana Malani (Bianca), for how they developed Bianca and Emilia… all three of the women, I believe, are quite strong, and full of depth, and many colours, and three-dimensional.
I think, in the past… in the reading I’ve done and the productions I’ve seen, sometimes the women can get glazed over, and there’s a tendency, traditionally, to play Desdemona as if she’s quite timid and delicate. Taking her father Brabantio’s description of her a bit too much to heart, I think. Here’s a man that doesn’t actually know her very well, and doesn’t know her true spirit, and so his perception of his daughter isn’t necessarily what we should take as the be-all-and-end-all.
Really, her actions speak a lot stronger than some man’s words about her when she’s offstage. Really, she’s hundreds of years ahead of her time in terms of racial relations and feminism, and she acts from the heart. She sees Othello’s visage in his mind, as she says, she doesn’t see race and colour. She steps out into the new world on her own, as a powerful, steadfast woman. And so I hope that audiences get to see a different interpretation of Desdemona that I believe is well supported by the text, and is more interesting, perhaps, than she could potentially be played.
Bard on the Beach, Vanier Park
To September 20
in repertory with PericlesPurchase tickets
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