Othello & The Hobart Shakespearans - Eva Varga

August 2, 20082

Last week, DH and I attended a Shakespeare play in Ashland as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It has become an annual tradition, this being our 3rd year. In past years, we’ve seen A Winter’s Tale and Romeo & Juliet (the best production thus far). This year, I selected Othello.

As we had won a silent auction package at a Chamber function earlier in the year, our seats were good (Section A Row S). However, we were in the balcony and it was difficult to hear the actors. I don’t know if this was solely due to our seats or if the actors were not as audible as they have been in the past.

Othello is performed on the Elizabethan stage open to the air, my favorite. Last year, we attended the preface to learn more about the story, themes and characters of Romeo & Juliet. This year, we didn’t have the luxury of time. I wish we had, however, as I was less familiar with the story of Othello than I was of Romeo & Juliet.

In the playbill, the director writes, “The thing that makes Othello so very modern – and so frightening – is the way it takes us on a journey into madness. It is deeply psychological before the invention of psychology. Iago is a mesmerizing guide on this journey…” Dan Donohue, who plays Iago, is great! He is my favorite actor in the company.

Preforming in the courtyard, prior to seating, were The Hobart Shakespeareans, a group of students from Los Angeles. Inspired by their performance, I bought the book Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith. It is a fast read and is certainly inspiring!

After reading the reviews on Amazon, however, I agree that Rafe has a rather large ego. One of the biggest advantages he has over the typical public school is that he teaches in a year-round school and though it is an inner-city school, many of his students have previously been identified as ‘gifted’. Additionally, there is a big difference between the children of new immigrants seeking to make a new life for themselves and the children of impoverished families who have lived in American housing projects for generations, have little faith left in the system and are often unmotivated as students and parents.

The book is a fast read and provides several suggestions for fun games and challenging educational activities in all subject areas. Though I had hoped for more practical information on how to teach Shakespeare and integrate baseball into the curriculum, I was intrigued by the diversity of the projects he undertakes in Room 56. I would recommend this book to teachers both in the classroom and in the home.

Barb inquired about the production in a comment she left earlier; “I would love to hear about Othello. We were actually thinking about going to the Festival this year but couldn’t decide on which play to see. We thought Othello might be too dark for the kids.”

To answer her question, I think that older children would do well with the psychology of Othello. Many of the Hobart Shakespeareans were in the theater also enjoying Othello. If your children have been exposed to Shakespeare and are familiar with the stories – they’ll enjoy Othello.


  • Barb-Harmony Art Mom

    August 5, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Thanks Makita, I would love to go now…..

    Bonus that you got to see the Hobart Shakespeareans. I saw the documentary on Rafe Esquith, fascinating and inspiring. I love the book too. Last year we got to see some very awesome dancers in the courtyard before the performance. It is such a fun experience, more families should go.

    Anyway, we have done oodles of Shakespeare and my youngest is a Shakespearean English nut. I am still on the fence about Othello but I think if we go to the pre-production explanation, it might be good thing.

    I love Ashland and we have thought more than once about moving there. It is about 6 hour’s drive from us so we have to figure in the price of gas right now. 🙂

    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

  • School for Us

    August 5, 2008 at 2:19 am

    What a neat experience! And, I have read Rafe’s book 3 times… this year! I find him very inspiring. But, I like how you put some reality “spin” about who his students really are – they are immigrants… and poor… but also very highly motivated. Anyway, I think it’d be neat to see the kids in person. I’ve watched his documentary, too.

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