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New Spin on a Classic Play

Hanover College to present Japanese version of ‘Othello’

Kabuki Othello to put quite a twist
on Shakespeare’s play

HANOVER, Ind. (February 2016) – The psychological power and pathos of “Othello” comes to the stage at Hanover College in February in a unique presentation. Shakespeare’s story of love, jealousy and revenge will be told in the style and setting of medieval Japan, revealing global truths of passion and prejudice.
James Stark, associate professor of theatre, will direct “Kabuki Othello” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 11-14, at The Other Place Theatre, a remodeled theatre located in the former Donner Lecture Hall. Ticket prices are $12 for adults, $10 for people 65 and older, and $5 for youth.
In late January, Stark sat down to talk about his newest project, “Othello Kabuki.” He is one of those people who has had the good fortune to learn his art from the masters in theatre: Tom Evans, Jon Jory and Shozo Sato. “I was lucky to have teachers like that all through my life,” he said. This month, Sato, one of his mentors, returns to Jefferson County, Ind., to help Stark fine-tune “Kabuki Othello.”

Photo by Alice Jane Smith

Hanover College theatre professor Jim Stark poses outside the building that houses “The Other Place” theatre on campus.

“This is the first time we have done a full-blown Kabuki production here at Hanover College,” said Stark. The production fuses the western tragedy with eastern theatrical staging and techniques. The popular art form developed in Japan about the same time that Shakespeare was writing in England. 
The audience will see Shakespeare’s “Othello” in an English poetic version written by Karen Sunde, a New York playwright who collaborates with Sato. However, they will see the cast of 10 robed in elaborate Japanese costumes, kimonos and beautiful armor performing on a small stage with a minimal setting of shoji screens.
While working on his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Illinois, Stark studied under Sato, a visionary theatre director and internationally renowned Japanese master of Zen arts. Sato is most noted for his staging “Kabuki” theatre. He translates some of the great myths and classics of Western literature, such as Homer and Shakespearian tragedies, into the centuries-old Japanese theatrical traditions.
His former graduate student now teaches kabuki techniques to his theatre students at Hanover. The current cast is working hard to discipline themselves to this subtle, stylized approach. In a specific hand gesture, for example, Stark said, one will see “the expressive power of slight movement. Great emotional intensity can be expressed with taste and subtlety.” 
“We are striving to join the beautiful dance-like qualities (of Kabuki) with the psychological qualities one would see in the new American play,” Stark said. He added that the Japanese symbols for “kabuki” are song, dance and art.
Caleb Beidelman, 22, a senior theatre major, will play the role of Othello, and Tessa McShane, also a senior, the part of Desdemona. “I’ve read ‘Othello’ numerous times,” Beidelman said. He enjoys the Kabuki script more than the traditional Shakespeare play because it allows him to present the maddened Othello in all of his “animal desire.” Othello the Moor often is cast as an African-American, he said, but this Othello will be a “warrior king” from the white minority group in the Ainu islands of northern Japan.
Sunde’s script is “very beautiful, very powerful,” according to Stark. “The whole thing was inspired by ‘Othello,’ but you will see a white Othello here.” Portraying Othello as a member of a white minority heightens the psychological complexity of the production, as the Ainu also have experienced alienation because of racial differences.
Just ahead of the blizzard warnings in late January, Stark drove to Urbana-Champaign, Ill., to pick up a valuable vanload of elaborate costumes, armor and other items the university is lending the college for its “Kabuki Othello” production. “I saw him yesterday,” he said, referring to Sato. “He will come (to the college) in a couple of weeks to fix my mistakes. We’ll do a run-through. He will be here to give us help and give details about style.”
This will be his first visit to the college campus, Stark said, although he has visited friends in Madison often in the past.
Born near Tokyo, Japan, Sato has been based at the University of Illinois, where he is Professor Emeritus of the Art and Design Faculty. In Chicago, he is known for his series of plays in Kabuki style at the Wisdom Bridge Theater. He has dubbed himself, “Illinois Kabuki,” according to a 2005 review in the Chicago Tribune. His plays include Kabuki Macbeth and Kabuki Medea, among many others. Shozo has won many awards, including the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Emperor of Japan for his work in disseminating Japanese culture to the West and for his theatrical productions.
Sato is widely published. He also presents the tea ceremony. He is the author of “The Art of Arranging Flowers: A Complete Guide of Japanese Ikebana;” “The Art of Sumi-E; Sumi-E: The Art of Japanese Ink Painting,” and “Shodo: The Quiet Art of Japanese Zen Calligraphy.”
As an undergraduate at Hanover College, Stark studied under Thomas Evans, now professor emeritus of theatre. In 1980, he did an internship with Actors Theatre Louisville, working under former director Jon Jory. He studied with Sato while working on his Master of Fine Arts in Acting at Illinois. He also has a Master of Business Administration from Indiana Wesleyan. An associate professor of theatre, he has been on the faculty since 1997. He is well known for co-founding Madison’s Riverrun Theatre with David J. Loehr in 2003 and plays such as “A Night in November” and “The Sapphire Comb.”
In February 1991, Stark went to Japan with other Illinois graduate students to present the Trojan War play, “Achilles.” They performed in to cities and villages all over the country. One of those villages was Damine, where there has been an active Kabuki Festival for 300 years. “The Japanese audiences loved it,” Stark said. “They welcome anyone who wants to learn about their culture.”
Hanover College student, Beidelman, sprinkles his conversation with superlatives, “really, really awesome” and “really cool,” as he describes his time in theatre at Hanover. He got there as a young actor from Indianapolis. Over the years, he became more interested in technical aspects of theatre. He says he is grateful that the college gave him the opportunity to work in both areas. When he performed in “Love’s Labour Lost,” Stark was able to incorporate Beidelman’s current hair colors at the time, teal, blue and green, into the script. In the play, “A Catholic Girl Gun Club,” he was a 9/11 survivor in a video about survivors of national tragedies. It is based on a true story from the Vietnam War Era about a nun who trained women as a rifle team so they could defend themselves.

Upon graduation, he plans to do an internship and continue work in the theatre. “I am waiting to hear back from two places,” he said. His first choice is the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket, Mass., where he recently interviewed. He also had an interview in New Hampshire.

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