Nebraska Shakespeare of Omaha will hold a production of “Othello” and workshops over the playwright this Tuesday at Midland University.
The 75-minute performance will take place at Kimmel Theater at 6:30 p.m. and is free to the public. There will be hourlong workshops available for students before and after the performance.
Nebraska Shakespeare is on its 14th season, and since the 1980s, has provided the state with performances from the works of William Shakespeare. Its Shakespeare on Tour program will bring the production to 30 schools and 10 public performances.
“They came and did a workshop with us last year, and we decided we wanted to bring them on because it’s great to have people who do Shakespeare professionally,” Midland University Director of Theater Dan Hays said.
This year’s gender-switched production of “Othello” is directed by Ezra Colón. The 17th century play tells the story of the general Othello, played by Roshni Desai, whose marriage with Desdemonan, played by Henry Ragan, is ruined by the villainous Iago, played by Katie Becker Colón.
“Every performance is followed by a post-show discussion, which we feel like is really important with Shakespeare, but particularly with ‘Othello,’ because it brings up a lot of big societal issues like race, gender and identity, but also a lot of human behavior like betrayal, jealousy, loyalty and trust,” Becker Colón said.
Colón, who is also director of education for Shakespeare Nebraska, has been involved with the organization since 2016.
She said her first show in college and her first professional role were both Shakespeare productions.
Colón said what drew her to Shakespeare was his heightened language paired with characters in extraordinary circumstances of change.
“’Othello’ is a great example,” Colón said. “Othello is a person of color in power in a time of war and battle. And he also just got married and decided to take his wife with him to the military basically to the battlefront. And that’s all unprecedented.”
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When she first took the role of director of education last January, Colón said she reached out to universities and colleges in and around Omaha to offer workshops. After holding a workshop at Midland, Shakespeare Nebraska received grants from the Fremont Area Community Foundation and Nebraska Arts Council.
“That enabled us to come to Midland University and a couple of other schools in their granting area at a really discounted price so that the venue, the school, the community was able to afford it and we were also able to bring it,” Colón said.
One of the workshops held before the production, “Words. Worlds Words,” will focus on analyzing Shakespeare’s tricks and how to decode his language.
“It’s a little bit like treating Shakespeare like a treasure map and looking for clues,” Colón said. “In Shakespeare’s day, there wasn’t a director, and so he left a lot of those staging clues in the text, which is incredible.”
“I Am What I Am” will challenge students to discuss villains and how to play them. After the production, “The Mechanical Workshop” will be held and will go over the technical aspects of the production including the set, costumes and lights.
“It’s hands-on, so they help us break down the set and load it into our 20-foot box truck, because we will have a performance back in Omaha Wednesday afternoon,” Colón said.
Especially with some students from Fremont High School attending the workshops and performance, Hays said it’s important for them to see a professional production to fully understand the characters.
“It’s hard to do at the high school level, it’s even very difficult to do it at a college level,” he said. “So when you have access to professionals who can do it, I just think it’s imperative that you get a chance to really see it because it will open up their eyes to whole new possibilities.”
With these students, Colón said learning comprehension and communication is vital. She said she’s seen high school students turn Shakespearean text from gibberish to something that they truly understand.
“That is a really powerful tool because it then expands to our entire lives, which is that when we come to something that we don’t understand or that we think is inaccessible to us, if we can find the right tools, then we can unlock it for ourselves,” Colón said. “And that’s, for me, a universal truth.”