Queen’s theatre group, Queen’s Vagabond, have announced the suspension of their imminent production of Shakespeare’s Othello due to backlash from the Queen’s community.
At the start of their seventh season in September, Queen’s Vagabond announced their next production, set for November, would be Othello, following a stream of well-received Shakespeare adaptations.
On Oct. 3, the production and acting cast were posted on their Facebook page. The list included a white female student as Othello, a traditionally black, male character.
On Wednesday, a month after the casting announcement, the group again posted on their Facebook page announcing that the production would be suspended, citing safety concerns as the main reason for suspension.
“We anticipated backlash, and we were open to conversation, however, we are greatly upset in the passive aggressive and extreme manner in which it has occurred,” the post, signed by co-artistic directors Maggie Purdon and Jessica Rossiter, stated.
“Recently this production has become unsafe for the members involved, as many have been personally approached and have felt attacked. For the safety and mental health of our entire team we unfortunately feel the need to suspend our production of Othello.”
After hearing about the play and casting decision, Evelyna Ekoko-Kay, ArtSci ’17, was one of the students who reached out to Vagabond explaining her concerns. According to their Facebook post, many students had also reached out to the group.
“They’re claiming to do a ton of research, and they’re claiming that their artistic choices were not made lightly, and then they say that expected backlash. But, then they go on to essentially complain that they feel unsafe and threatened, because people have called them out, people have spoke about how this is racist and how this is anti-black,” Ekoko-Kay told The Journal in an interview.
“It’s not too much to ask, but when people have told you, ‘hey, what you’re doing is racist’ that you say `I’m sorry for the racism’, instead of saying, ‘we’re taking this down because you made us feel unsafe by your aggressive response’,” she said.
In their original post on Wednesday, the co-artistic directors stated that their casting decisions were intentional artistic choices, “made with reason and informed intention. We feel that theatre is all about making choices, and everything is done for a reason.”
Early Thursday afternoon, the co-artistic directors posted a public apology on their Facebook page.
“It was never our intention to have people of colour feel as though their identities were being invalidated,” they wrote on Thursday. “We acknowledge that it was not okay.”
In a Facebook message with The Journal after the apology was posted, Purdon discussed her original artistic choice, stating, “I was posing the question that Othello is not actually a play about race.”
When casting the role of Othello, she explained that she was thinking of attempting to bring to light some of the less popular themes in the play.
However, Purdon stated, “There is absolutely no excuse for making a casting decision that was oppressive and caused people of colour to feel as though they were invalid.”
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