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Middle School Puts a Twist on Othello

Thursday, December 15, 2016
 
The students in Harlem Academy’s Shakespeare elective had a big act to follow when they set out to perform Othello last spring – their own. They had already claimed the top two places at the citywide ShakeSmack competition earlier in the year. How could they make their own mark with the performance?  

Their work together grew into a contemporary update on the classic play. Through music, dance, and costume, they set out to make Othello relevant for young people in Harlem today.

“We learned that there’s always some place in a Shakespeare play where the Elizabethan actors did a dance,” said eighth grader Ariana. “When we saw the Classic Stage Company production, they did the party scene to Beyoncé music.”  
The cast met outside of class to create dance scenes, just like the Elizabethans but adding their own spice. 

They asked for permission to choreograph a hip-hop dance for their production. The answer from director Whitney Wood was, “Learn your lines first, then go for it.” Eighth grader Misa choreographed three different dances that incorporated all of the students. “Most of the moves were inspired by different hip hop songs and videos I’ve seen,” Misa said.
 
Ariana took on costumes. “I’ve been interested in designing for years, and Shakespeare kind of became my gateway into it. We reviewed each character’s personality throughout the script, and tried to have that come through in the costumes. We did a lot of trendy military looks.”
Taneyah and Ariana as Desdemona and the Clown. The cast internalized hundreds of lines of Elizabethan English preparing for the 90-minute performance.

Seventh grader Yealie and others took on the music, smoothing out scene transitions with pop and hip hop songs. “We thought, Okay, what is the mood in this scene? and about what songs would show that.” They ended up using Taylor Swift, Drake, and Lorde.

“We all added our own spice to it and made it fun,” said Ariana. “At the end, we felt like it really represented us – our time and place.” 
 

 

 

Malik and Miles as Iago and Roderigo.
 
Misa choreographed three dances performed by the entire cast for the performance.