Introducing The Othello Project created by actors in the current RSC company. This new writing endeavour seeks to highlight the life and work of five incredible Black and Asian forgotten figures from history. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello, as a study of the outsider, they are using art to challenge racism by creating a platform to champion the life and work of their ancestors, whose voices have been largely erased from history.
What makes a good story? Who warrants having their story told to the world? You might boil it down to structure, or plot, or what the individual has done. Maybe they have achieved greatness and are a hero, or maybe they did something terrible and are a brilliant villain. I think everyone has a story to tell, but we don’t always listen. What makes someone’s story a story you need to listen to?
This question has been on my mind as we have been developing The Othello Project. All of the individuals have stories to tell, but not all of them have been remembered. Why?
A couple of years ago, I had directed a show, and invited my friend who had never seen any of my work before. I was so excited to share that part of my life with them. After the show they seemed painfully quiet. After a drink we had an honest conversation about the play and their expectations. They had expected my work to reflect more of my life, and celebrate the many minorities I am part of, but it didn’t. I was making work that erased my point of view. That didn’t speak to my lived experience. It made me think about the stories I loved. I realised that the stories I was drawn to were stories that had no place for people like me. If there were people like me, they were never really in the foreground. Unless their “otherness” was being discussed, or their experiences were being reduced to very specific, often tragic, narratives.
It made me think about who was telling those stories, and why I felt I couldn’t tell mine. I realised I had grown up believing that my story wasn’t a good story, because like so many who are so often “othered” by the world I was unable to see examples of others like me in stories being happy. The worlds these characters existed in were places where “otherness” isn’t always welcome. Where it is often marginalised, oppressed and feared.
For me The Othello Project is challenging those ideas. Each writer is giving a voice to those silenced, erased, or pushed into binary stories that don’t reflect their individuality and complexity. I feel very lucky to be working with each writer to develop the work, and capture these unique points of view. I cannot wait for the moment where these stories will be shared with you.
I hope by giving these individuals, forgotten by time, a voice, we will be honouring them. I hope their words give hope to those so often ”othered”, and create a discourse around the tired tragic narratives often presented, and find truer forms of storytelling to share.