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A Day with Brooklyn Technical High School Students

[Return to Introduction]

We started with a roundtable interview in Tuckman’s classroom with Pamela Ozga (she plays Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Justin Song (set designer for As You Like It), Shakela Mitchell (Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Shauntai Quinlon (Othella), Sumyia Razzak (Desdemona in Othello), and Tiffany Nguyen (Emilia in Othello). This interview took place before I had seen their productions.

Have any of you done Shakespeare before?

PAMELA: Not as a production, just in class. Like, in freshman year we read it and did little shows and in-class skits, but nothing like an actual production.

What is your experience with Shakespeare?

TIFFANY: Well, you kind of always know about it because he’s like such a classic. But I first started studying him in fifth grade. We started studying Romeo and Juliet.

SUMYIA: It was actually really hard for me because I didn’t have that much experience with Shakespeare. But as I learned what the lines meant, it was a lot easier to act them out. It was a lot of fun.

SHAUNTAI: Well, like Tiffany said, I always knew about it, but it was actually not until high school leading up to this year that I got in depth. We never really acted it out. We read it but just to read it for the class. We never put ourselves in the characters’ shoes.

SHAKELA: The same thing for me. I’ve only like analyzed the text; I’ve never acted it in performance before.

JUSTIN: Same as everybody else.

PAMELA: Yeah, we’ve all read like Macbeth and we did little skits in classes, but never did a production.

So the only plays you guys have ever read have been Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth. And you have read Hamlet.

PAMELA: We read Othello this year.

So, do you have an impression of Shakespeare? Did you like him or was it something you just had to get through?

SUMYIA: I feel like this class was when I first liked Shakespeare because before, it took a lot of time to really understand it. Once I got here, I was like, “Oh, so this is supposed to be acted this way,” and that makes a lot more sense.

Did anybody like Shakespeare?

TIFFANY: I did.

Why did you like Shakespeare?

TIFFANY: I guess because I’m interested in theater and he influenced theater so much, and you don’t really know theater until you actually immerse yourself in Shakespeare. I think it’s still a challenge even if you like it. But that’s half the fun of it because you push yourself to understand it. And it can be interpreted in so many ways. So I feel like this text is, I don’t know, it’s like it never gets old because the text can always be interpreted differently.

PAMELA: I definitely agree. I think it’s challenging because it’s old, it’s not modern and how we do things now on Broadway and stuff. It’s classical, but it’s like Shakespeare will never die. We’ll be doing Shakespeare a hundred years from now. And Shakespeare created words. It’s something that can be interpreted as you want to do it. I think it’s something you need to learn to appreciate theater, because even though theater is different now, a lot of theater today originated from Shakespeare.

SHAKELA: I’ve never read a Shakespeare comedy, so I’m really glad we’re doing a comedy because I never knew it could be funny. I’ve only read sad stories where people die. So it’s nice to see the reverse side of things.

PAMELA: I agree with that. I like that we’re doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We always associated him with tragedy. They kill each for love kind of thing.

SHAKELA: It’s never been funny before, so…

And you find him funny now.

SHAKELA: Yeah, and I really love it.

SHAUNTAI: Like with me before, when I was reading Shakespeare, a lot of it was, like, I don’t understand what he’s saying, I don’t understand what he’s saying. But then when you put yourself in the character’s shoes and get inside the person, you understand what he’s saying. And we can say the same thing twice, but he says it in a million different ways, and each fits, it’s perfect.

I’ve heard from all the actors; how does the set designer feel about that? You haven’t put yourself in anybody’s shoes, or have you?

JUSTIN: No, I haven’t. I’m not really a big fan of Shakespeare. I’ve never seen his plays and I’m not sure I really ever will. I don’t know, that’s just me.

Why not?

JUSTIN: He’s kind of like booringish.

Have you learned anything through doing set design? Have you gotten any more insights into what he’s doing through set design?

JUSTIN: I mean, I’m doing a hippy set. It’s kind of difficult to know what he wrote that has to do with that. I have no idea what’s going on. They just said, “We want it like this, all these colors” and so I’m like OK.

[Turning to Shauntai] You talked about getting in the character’s shoes, and you’re playing Othello as a woman, as a gay woman. That’s not what he wrote, so what are you gleaning from what he wrote that’s in your character?

SHAUNTAI: I feel like no matter if you’re a man or a woman, how well you love a person is the same. The love is going to be the same no matter what gender you are and who you’re loving. So, I feel like I’m just as much in love as Othello because I feel a love for Desdemona the way Othello did, though I’m a woman.

TIFFANY: Just to add to that, I feel like that’s one of the things that makes Shakespeare’s texts so versatile, because the underlying themes of all his work are still—like, yes, Othello has to do with the color of his skin, and that’s the struggle. But that’s not the focus. The point is that Desdamona and Othello are different, and it doesn’t have to be the color of their skin, it could be their sexual orientation. It’s just that there’s a difference between them, and that’s the real struggle in Othello.

And the difference between Othello and Iago, too.

TIFFANY: Yeah.

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