OTHELLO

Members of the group Theatre in the X pose at Malcolm X Memorial Park in West Philadelphia prior to performance of Othello last Saturday. — Tribune Photo by Nathaniel Lee

The local community was treated to an all-Black production of Shakespeare’s “Othello” at Malcolm X Memorial Park, 52nd and Pine streets in West Philadelphia on Saturday.

The play was performed by the group Theatre in the X, which consists of local thespians whose mission is to bring quality theatrical productions to the community.

The park was filled with people who either went to the park specifically to see the play or who happened to pass by, saw it and stayed.

LaNeshe Miller-White, one of the group’s founders and who played the role Emilia, commented on the unique production directed by Ozzie Jones.

“Ozzie has been doing other reverse-race classic theater,” she said. “He did ‘Twelve Angry Men’ and ‘Death of a Salesman.’ So we kind of wanted to bring Ozzie in to do this reverse-race version of ‘Othello.’”

For the production, the park was turned into a theater, to which some attendees brought their own chairs and snacks to enjoy for the performance that lasted more than 2 hours.

Performing a Shakespeare play is no easy task under any circumstance, but doing so in an open community where children play, traffic passes, and lots of other activities occur at the same time, ups the ante.

“It is so amazing. I mean, it is really everything that I could have dreamed,” Miller-White said. “For both shows, people have been so engrossed in the story, so interested in what was happening.

“People were getting it, and I haven’t anticipated people clapping in between scenes. People are really into it. It’s amazing,” she added.

Miller-White credits much of the success to Jones.

“Since the very beginning of the rehearsal process, he has been very specific about wanting us to, even though we are speaking this sort of old English, it’s just English,” she said, sharing Jones’ instructions to, “‘Speak the words to each other like you talk to each other,’ and that has been like a mainstay of the whole rehearsal process.”

This was one of the reasons she believed the audience was able to follow the actors. They might not have understood all of the words, but were able to understand the intentions.

“There’s this reputation that the Black community and poor community are only able to watch performances that have singing and dancing in them, that are funny and that only lasts about an hour,” Jones said. “That’s just not true.”

He noted schools are pulling classic literature from their libraries because of this false belief.

“There is this sort of general, anti-intellectual presentation of our community that our kids aren’t capable of sitting and watching it, and they aren’t capable of understanding it,” Jones said. “That’s foolishness.”

Jones says those who complain about an inability to attract Black audiences to such productions often have their productions in Center City or other places outside of Black communities.

Theatre in the X performs the plays in neighborhoods where the people themselves reside.

The results? The community not only came out but stayed the duration of the play. Despite the length, even children sat attentively as the actors performed the tragedy.

Theatre in the X was founded in 2013 by Carlo Campbell, Walter DeShields and LaNeshe Miller-White and is supported by a grant from the Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant, the City of Philadelphia’s Performances in Public Spaces.

For more information visit Theatre in the X at: www.theatreinthex.com.

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