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By Cynthia Haggitt
To fully appreciate Shakespeare, it’s best to see his plays live on stage. It’s a sad fact that today we typically study Shakespeare’s plays out of books and forego the live experience, however the community members of Brussels had a chance to see the live production of the play “Othello” at the Brussel’s Park on Thursday Aug 26. The play was at 6 p.m. The company who performed the free production is from the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s Tour.
There were many theatre goers who came to the Brussels Heritage Park and settled down for a night of entertainment. People were asked to bring their lawn chairs and blankets to watch the play. The play was directed by Adam Flores.
“We were excited to bring “Othello” to Brussels’ Park on Aug 26. The play was a shortened version of the original production,” Adam Flores said. “Performances were free and open to the public. The performance lasted 90 minutes long.”
Flores is an actor, director, producer and educator based in St. Louis for over a decade. He holds an MFA in directing from Baylor University, and a BFA and teaching certification from Fontbonne University. As an actor, he has performed with over a dozen local professional companies including the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis as part of the Shakespeare in the Streets program in both New World and Blow, Winds. As a founding resident artist of Mustard Seed Theatre he worked in many capacities including helping produce and direct “Bosnian American: The Dance for Life,” a community-engaged project with the Bosnian community of St. Louis. In 2015, Flores acted as a local line producer for the “Every 28 Hour Plays” a collaboration with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the One-Minute Play Festival, and the St. Louis community in response to the Ferguson movement. He began as a theatre educator teaching in the Parkway School district. Later he was Assistant Professor of Theatre at Fontbonne University. He recently also was lead Teaching Artist for the Festival’s Shake 101 teaching residency for the past two years.
According to the press release, on Tuesday Aug. 3, the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival kicked off a brand new regional touring production, “TourCo,” that brought the magic of Shakespeare in the Park to public spaces across the bi-state area. As the first public tour production from this initiative, Othello traveled to 24 public parks. Adam Flores (St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s Manager of Community Engagement and Education) directed the 90-minute adaptation starring a company of six actors.
“Shakespeare’s plays should be as free and available to all as our region’s great libraries and stunning public parks,” Tom Ridgely, producing artistic director, said in a statement. “This summer especially, we knew we had to do everything we could to share the magic of the Glen with as many communities as possible. And Othello in particular strikes straight at the heart of so many of the challenges facing our region.”
The Festival began the tour in East St. Louis at Malcolm W. Memorial Park on Aug. 3, with sweeping views of the riverfront and downtown skyline. It continued on to Tower Grove Park, one of the more well known parks on the list, for night two. The Tour visited each of the past nine neighborhoods featured in it’s Shakespeare in the Streets program as well as many smaller parks in North St. Louis. Farther stops in Illinois included Belleville, Collinsville and Edwardsville. Also included were trips to rural parts of Missouri with a stop in Hermann (Hermann Farms) and in Sullivan, Mo. (Harney Mansion Grounds). The production was developed to be performed on lawns, in amphitheaters, and pavilions making it adaptable to the location.
Othello is considered by many to be one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. An epic tale of political and personal intrigue, it depicts a great leader exploited by his own lieutenant, to disastrous effect. The best villains can always find the chink in a hero’s armor, and when they do, it leads to some of the best scenes in any drama. By turns shocking and profound, Othello depicts the pitfalls of jealousy and self-doubt, and how these faults can tear apart the best of us from within. Jason J. Little, most recently seen onstage with the Festival in King Lear, lead the all local cast as Othello. Courtney Bailey (2021 Confluence Regional Playwright) appeared as Desdemona, Charlie Barron as Iago, Ricki Franklin as Emilia, and previous educational touring casting members Hannah Geisz (featured in 2020 production of Cymbeline) as Roderigo and Jesse Muñoz (2018 Romeo and Juliet) as Cassio round out the company of six. The creative team for Othello included designers Laura Skroska (Production Designer), Vanessa Tabourne (Costume Design), Rusty Wandall (Sound Design), Erik Kuhn (Fight Choreography) and the Festival’s tour manager since 2011, Emily Clinger.
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival strives to foster community and joy across the St. Louis region through the Shakespearean tradition of art for all. Since 2001, the Festival has grown from producing a single production of Shakespeare in the Park to a year-round season of impactful programming in exciting and accessible venues throughout the bi-state area. Artistic and education programs reach over 50,000 patrons and students each season and have served over one million since 2001. In 2020, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News featured the Festival’s stand-out virtual and in-person programs. Othello was funded by Bayer Fund, Arts Midwest, and the Saigh Foundation. Specific stops on the Tour were supported by Commerce Bank, Dr. Debbie A. Depew, Michael and JiaMin Dierberg, Eric and Mary Koestner, LinkStL, Ed and Tedi Macias, Mary Nigh at RedKey Realty Leaders, Straub’s, Thompson Coburn LLP and UMB Bank.