While in Calgary performing in HEAVEN, I was approached about playing OTHELLO there next Summer for SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK.
This evening, I received the following news from SHAKEPEARE IN THE ROUGH (of which I am a charter member) here in Toronto:
"We are very pleased to announce that the SITR production for the Summer
2002 will be Othello, directed by Michael Waller. Of course all
interested SITR members will be notified for an interview/audition. We
will keep you posted."
Fortunately, I had obeyed my intuition, and begun (re-)memorising OTHELLO once HEAVEN opened in Calgary, so I shall be in good stead regardless of whatever decision I make or am compelled to make about the coming year's theatrical commitments.
However, my history of disappointment around this play is lengthy & notorious.
On one occasion, I was called upon to "workshop" THE OTHELLO PROJECT after every other actor of my complexion backed out of the commitment (for undisclosed reasons), then found myself the unwitting pawn of a man who gave bad line readings, calling it "direction".
He needed me more than I needed him, so when we met for the interview/audition, he offered to waive the fee being levied of the other participants, in order to secure my commitment. (I had initially demurred, due to the fact that I had been evicted recently for the crime of expecting my landlord to uphold his end of what was then called The Landlord/Tenant Act, but is now known as The Tenant Protection Act, due to the fact that landlords are being protected from upholding their own their ends of contracts with tenants, while continuing to extort exorbitant rent therefrom)
Apparently, the "workshop" had been a scheme by which the director had managed to persuade people to pay him for the "privilege" of being used to experiment with his ideas for a future production that a select chosen few in that "workshop" already knew that they would be engaged to work upon.
The director then contacted me to audition(!) for the roles of OTHELLO & IAGO against virtually every other black/brown(ish) actor in town, detaining me for no less than 4H, while I read opposite numerous people, most of whose levels of skill varied from none to not enough, but who were "stars".
A few blokes were deemed to be "the right kind of Negro", so I knew that my own admirable efforts were all in vain by the time I left the audition hall to shoot a film that enabled me to work with MR. JEFF WINCOTT, a TAEKWONDO idol of mine.
When the woman cast as DESDEMONA (who had also participated in the "workshop") later backed out of the commitment - again, due to undisclosed reasons(!) - she & her husband the producer took their financing with them. One of the blokes from the audition had been chosen, then backed out once he learned of this development.
Apparently, the "workshop" had been a scheme by which the director had managed to persuade people to pay him for the "privilege" of being used to further his ulterior motives in a future production that a select chosen few in that "workshop" already knew that they would be engaged to work upon.
Subsequently, the director contacted me to meet him at a pub for a "discussion", for which he was more than half an hour late. Naturally, I was unimpressed.
He then offered me the role of OTHELLO, provisional upon my drafting a letter to C.A.E.A. & sitting before a star chamber board of inquisition to petition for permission to produce the show as an Approved EQUITY Co-operative.
That permission was denied - as I knew it would be - for the reason that it had not been originally conceived as a co-op, and that the cast was comprised of less than the requisite number of C.A.E.A. members.
To add insult to injury, the letter which I had written was published - without my consent! - in the EQUITY NEWSLETTER, and edited in such a way that it read like an anti-Stratford diatribe, which led to my being blacklisted thereat.
A different occasion saw me reading an audition notice for a local company whose mandate was/is to present SHAKESPEARE exclusively, and whose work I have supported as an audient for several years.
The notice said that people of my complexion need not apply, as they wanted someone of Arabic extraction for the role, instead. Consequently, I became involved in a play for young audiences, instead.
I was then approached during Tech Week by a friend of mine who worked at the theatre, who demanded to know why I had not auditioned for the part, and who told me that he had seen the play with an actor who was not only "blacker" than I, but whom he felt to be vastly inferior to myself, particularly where Classical acting was concerned.
When I confronted the company about this, they said that they had been unable to find anyone who fit their posted parameters, and that they had been "forced to settle" for the bloke in their show, as I had already been contracted elsewhere.
Gratifying on one level, but teeth-grinding on so many others, as nobody had even attempted contact with me directly to find out whether I would be interested or not, regardless of the money or lack thereof, even to understudy the role.
Another time, I was summoned to audition for a co-production between a local university's Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama & a professional company. Apparently, there was a dearth of darkly complected actors auditioning for the role, and those who had were substandard & inexperienced.
Again, I auditioned brilliantly, & was then told that I would be contacted "by Wednesday" (audition on Monday) with the final decision of the Artistic Director (to play IAGO) & director.
I told them that I had no wish to apply undue pressure, but that I had auditioned for a production of JULIUS CAESAR that was to be mounted in conflict with OTHELLO at that same university, so I needed to know for certain whether I was in or out.
Friday came, and still I had heard nothing. Naturally, I was unimpressed.
Finally, I gave them a bell & was told that the Artistic Director (Caucasian) was to play OTHELLO, and that a man who had been instrumental in the EQUITY star chamber was to play IAGO!
That actor then became a facilitator in Classical Theatre Lab, at which time he approached me about playing OTHELLO under his direction - provided that I produce the show myself!
I had presented a speech from the play that was a controversial interpretation, but well-received by those who had seen & heard it, one of whom was the facilitator, MR. KENNETH WELSH, a leading Stratford (Ontario) Thespian in his own right, as well as a successful screen actor.
Next, I was contacted to play the DUKE OF VENICE(!) in a staged reading of OTHELLO, with the man who had been PROSPERO to my CALIBAN/GONZALO.
Largely because I like & respect him & because I was intellectually curious as to how another black character would be addressed by the director & the audience, I accepted, but because the role is so small, I had difficulty remaining awake during the final execution.
The audients who approached me afterward were unanimous in their belief that I ought to have been cast as OTHELLO instead, so my discomfort was only compounded thereby.
Thus, after all this, I shall not this time rush in boldly "where angels fear to tread", despite the fact that I have had a bee in my bonnet about the role since my JAN. 31/1990.
The late RICHARD BURTON, C.B.E. essayed the role, along with others whose works I have admired, so by my own subjective reckoning, I shan't be a truly grown-up actor until I have had a go at it myself.