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That’s Shakespeare in 10

Learning empathy, expression, and synergy in a 10-minute play

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By  JOAQUIN AMICO RIVERA

OTHELLO THE KATIPUNERO A production of one of Shakespeare’s more popular tragedies, with a local flavor (Photo by Tia Avila)

OTHELLO THE KATIPUNERO A production of one of Shakespeare’s more popular tragedies, with a local flavor (Photo by Tia Avila)

 

“10-Minute Shakespeare” (10MinSh) is a tertiary level course for a group of students to develop and to stage a play that is a condensed version one of William Shakespeare’s tragedies. It’s a creative, collaborative activity crafted by Palanca awardee, Joachim Emilio Antonio.

For me, it was a true eye-opener. Prior to day-1 of our Othello production, I never thought I could act. So I thought of working behind-the-scenes because the acting was the last thing I saw myself doing. The hiya of it made me shudder! But contrary to expectations, I was assigned the main role since no one wanted it and there was no more time to be a killjoy.

“What the heck,” I told myself, “I’m just here to get a good grade, right?” But looking back, after having gone through the semester-long—or should I say semester-short?—project, I realized how oblivious I was to the value of acting in a class play.

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE Team Othello (Photo by Justine Ramos)

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE Team Othello (Photo by Justine Ramos)

It was an unexpected leap in my growth as a student, and I am grateful to Dr. Joem and to Team Othello for it. Having acted in Shakespeare’s Othello, I have three takeaways: Empathy, expression, and synergy.

Within the first few weeks of “10MinSh,” we were acquainted with the script, oh so materially condensed but substantially sustained by Cyber Cruz. Another week passed and I gradually shifted in attitude: From impatience to curiosity to empathy.

Like most people, I initially found it difficult to grasp how a competent Moor like Othello would succumb to his passions, from jealousy to unrestricted wrath. But after hours of memorizing and rehearsing, one would eventually see how any person could come to that, given the circumstances, given the motive.

Although fictional, Othello’s tragedy reveals the truth about our frail human condition: How one’s will can be battered to the point of losing one’s humanity, though just for a short cathartic burst.

Next thing you know, I felt for Othello. I thought to myself, “Though it’s just an act, why do I feel so bad for him? Why do I feel like I’m taking it out on Cassio, on Desdemona, on Iago? Why do I feel his remorse?” Feeling for Othello’s character got me reflecting on my own. The process of internalizing a character’s disposition somehow served as a didactic bridge to the self. Odd yet fascinating!

If there’s one thing that makes acting fun, it would be an expression. The stage is yours. Having my own personality, it was impossible to be completely impartial in delivering my role. In fact, the partiality of acting is necessary. As in writing and any art, there will always be a sign of the actor’s personality, no matter how restricted one may be to “sticking-to-the-character.” Certainly, not everyone cast as Othello would act in the same, exact manner, timing, tone, and countenance. But from this, there would remain an open window for unique, interpretive, and creative seeds to flourish. This personally materialized interpretation is what we call expression or the pressing-out of one’s thoughts and feelings.

My individual experiences aside, there was the fulfillment in working with Team Othello—the synergy of working in a group. Now that our project had come to a close, why did I feel happier thinking about the production process than knowing we finally attained the end we worked for? I learned that what makes the “10MinSh” experience fruitful is not the end-goal per se, but every present moment with the team: Our directors, stage managers, the cast, lights crew, marketers, props team—everyone! I was but a holon: A whole, a part of a greater whole, as Ken Wilber puts it.

As cliché as it sounds, Greg Anderson’s adage encapsulates the synergic feeling that I have been trying to articulate: “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing the activity but in doing it.” And what greater experience is there than focusing on the journey with others, co-creating something that couldn’t have been perfected alone? It’s a great feeling, knowing you went through so much—everyone had brought their unique talents to the table—to attain something together. This whole experience wouldn’t have been possible if I doubted myself, sticking with the reasons I made to justify that “I couldn’t do it.”

As a final tip for fellow doubters, through a logical stack of reasons that tell you “you can’t,” there will always be one reason, one angle that will level that structure: You won’t know unless you try. It’s all a game of gritty response. If you succeed, then great! If you fail, pick yourself back up and try again. This mentality is an eternal pat-on-the-back, trust me. As Amy Chua puts it, “there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.”

 

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