An interactive discussion of American Moor and its themes with playwright/performer Keith Hamilton Cobb, actor Josh Tyson, director Kim Weild, and scholar Erika T. Lin recorded Thursday, October 15, 2020.
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ABOUT THE PANEL
KEITH HAMILTON COBB is an actor who has been drawn mostly to the stage in his working life, but is also recognized for several unique character portrayals he has created for television. He has appeared in classical and contemporary roles on regional stages country-wide. He is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in acting. You can learn more about any and all of his work at AmericanMoor.com or at keithhamiltoncobb.com, on Facebook @KeithHamiltonCobb, and on Twitter and Instagram @KeithHamCobb
ERIKA T. LIN is an Associate Professor in the Ph.D. Program in Theatre and Performance at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author of Shakespeare and the Materiality of Performance, which received the 2013 David Bevington Award for Best New Book in Early Drama Studies. Her prize-winning articles have appeared in many scholarly journals and edited collections, and she is currently writing a book on seasonal festivities and early modern commercial theatre. She has served on the Board of Trustees of the Shakespeare Association of America and engages regularly with artists, directors, writers, and public audiences about Shakespeare, theatre, and performance.
JOSH TYSON is pleased to be continuing this journey with the American Moor team having been involved in the play’s development since 2015. OFF BROADWAY: Modotti (The Acorn @ Theatre Row), Three Sisters (Classical Theatre of Harlem). OFF OFF: Wolves (59E59 Theatre), An Octopus Love Story (Center Stage), The Blue Martini (The Lion @ Theatre Row) Conference Room A (The Red Room). He is also a long time player with New York’s Phoenix Theatre Ensemble where favorite roles include Judas in Judas, Tartuffe in Tartuffe, Adolph in Creditors, Orestes in Electra, Achilles in Iphigenia at Aulis, Napoleon in The Man of Destiny and Haemon in Jean Anouilh’s Antigone. FILM/TV: No Retreat (Nominated Best Feature Austin Film Fest and available on Amazon Prime), Laura Gets A Cat (Available on Amazon Prime), The First Day (Available on Amazon Prime), Stoop Sale, Whales, Alabaster, and Law & Order.
KIM WEILD is a Drama Desk Award nominee and recipient of the 2018 NYIT Award for Outstanding Performance Art Production for the world premiere of NY Times Critic’s Pick Soot and Spit. Fiercely dedicated to new play development, is a close collaborator of Keith Hamilton Cobb’s having worked with him developing and refining American Moor. Weild’s work has been seen at: Shakespeare’s Globe Theater London, Lincoln Center Theater, Carnegie Hall, Teatro alla Scala, The New York Theater Workshop, Cherry Lane Theatre, Samuel Beckett Theater, Goodspeed Musicals, ArtsEmerson, Primary Stages, New York Live Arts, The Mark Taper Forum, Williamstown Theater Festival, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Pittsburgh Public Theater, Theatre and Boston Center for the Arts among others. In 2019 she directed Molly Smith Metzler’s Cry It Out at City Theatre Co., and Charles Mee’s First Love at Cherry Lane Theatre starring Academy Award nominee, Michael O’Keefe and Angelina Fiordellisi. Associate Director Broadway: Deuce, Is He Dead, Blithe Spirit. Writer: Dusty - London’s West End and the children’s book: How the I Becomes The We. Fellowships/residencies include: Park Avenue Armory, Williamstown Foeller Fellow, Kennedy Center, , Shubert Fellowship, Archive Residency Two commissions for The High Line. WP Theater alumna. Founding Artistic Director, Our Voices. Head of Directing, John Wells Directing Program at Carnegie Mellon University. Member SDC. www.kimweild.com
ABOUT THE PLAY
Shakespeare’s Othello is often imagined as the tragedy of an interracial couple destroyed by jealousy, set against the background of Venetian geopolitics. Why should audiences today want to see such a story staged? What can we learn from such a tale? It is tempting to say that the play teaches us about our common humanity, our sad mistakes and fallibility. But such a reading belies the implicit bias built into not only the play but also the institution of theatre itself: the racial singularity of the protagonist and, in many productions, the resulting isolation of the actor playing that role; the presumed whiteness of the theatre audience that the play is supposed to reach; the fact that the very name Shakespeare conveys authority and thus, under the guise of classical theatre, reproduces existing hierarchies that position racialized peoples’ life experiences as “unique” against the supposed universality of white humanity.
Keith Hamilton Cobb’s American Moor interrogates these assumptions by bringing his own story to bear on Shakespeare’s tragedy. This is the tale of a talented Black actor eager to exercise his craft. Yet time and again, he is asked to play Othello. He may not play Hamlet, he may not play Romeo, he may not play many of Shakespeare’s plum parts (including Titania, for gender and sexuality matter, too.) Yet when he gamely agrees to act the Venetian, he is repeatedly challenged by white directors. They tell him to sit; they tell him to stand; they say over and again that he is too angry—or not angry enough. Their comments are often offered with a smile, for they believe they are on the side of justice. But their suggestions consign the Black actor to represent neither the admiration Othello garners as a general nor the degradation he suffers as a Moor, neither his eloquence and strength of character nor his frustration and pain. The result is a caricature, a cardboard cutout of a character, one that remains palatable for a white audience.
What can we learn from American Moor? It is tempting to believe we are above the fray, that we sympathize with Othello, with the Black actor playing that role, and with Cobb as the performer playing the actor playing that part. But the white director in the tale sits in the auditorium, the only other speaking character in the play—and a stand-in for the audience. Black and other BIPOC playgoers may well identify with the actor onstage, but white spectators, the play insists, must ask how they can undo their own racialized gaze. Keith Hamilton Cobb shares his own story, a universal tale about what it means to never fit the roles we are assigned. The play skillfully asks us to see ourselves in that story, to call up our own memories of being marginalized or misunderstood. At the same time, it asks for our engaged introspection, to consider how we participate against our own wills and explicit intentions in a system of racialized violence whose effects are all the more pressing and evident at this crucial juncture in time.
–Erika T. Lin | Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance | The Graduate Center, CUNY
Keith Hamilton Cobb’s play AMERICAN MOOR has been published by Bloomsbury/Methuen Drama.
This edition features an introduction by Professor Kim F. Hall, Barnard College.