Shakespeare’s “Othello” offers violence, murder, adultery and racial tension set in an Elizabethan-era England, but Alex Monsell also wants to perform it for the children at St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
Monsell, a sophomore theater major, has created a unique opportunity to transform one of his favorite plays into something philanthropic. He’s directing and producing his interpretation of the Shakespearean classic and creating a charitable event to be shown on the main stage at Tomlinson Theatre April 11 at 7 p.m. They will also perform April 12 and 13 at 2 and 7 p.m.
By donating all the proceeds of the pay-as-you-wish performance, he hopes to stay true to the artistic integrity of “Othello” while giving something back to society.
“I knew I wanted to do it for charity because I’m a firm believer in art for the community,” Monsell said. “If this was a professional production I would say, ‘Great. We are getting the ‘Othello’ message out to everybody,’ and be fine with that. But we’re not a professional production. We are a college production. I wanted to do something more to impact the community.”
St. Jude Children’s Hospital has a system in place to provide resources at Monsell’s disposal, including official posters and an Internet guide for broadcasting to the kids. The play has scaled down its budget wherever possible, removing aspects that felt unnecessary to Monsell. He said he is covering the last bit of the budget and called it an “investment to the bigger.” Eliminating these excessive funds helps ensure that all proceeds are sent directly to the hospital without getting caught by a middle man, Monsell said.
“I knew I didn’t want to do big and flashy,” Monsell said. “It’s going to be relatively cost-effective so that there will be more to give to the charity.”
Along with the packet, Monsell and his 14-person cast were given a DVD with a personal story about a young girl named Jordan who was diagnosed with leukemia. The video explains how many times she was given only months to live by doctors. Today, Jordan has overcome these odds, ending an eight-year struggle for her health. Her battle and recovery has been an inspiration to Monsell and the rest of the cast, he said, to stay focused and put the production together with a much larger effort.
Giovanni Ripa, a junior theater major, will play the role of Iago during the play. He said he shares the inspiration of performing for charity and said dedicating funds to the medical care of children has been a major inspiration for the entire cast.
“It’s obviously such an important cause,” Ripa said. “We are always keeping in mind that this is for their professional care. When we initially brought up the idea, everyone became really excited to do this. I see some really inspired souls every night at rehearsal.”
For a normal college production, the cast will rehearse a few nights a week until they feel comfortable and prepared to perform. However, Monsell made it clear that accepting a part in the play meant committing to it wholeheartedly.
“The entire cast has been really gung-ho about the mindset that this is going to take about as much time as a main stage show,” Monsell said. “We rehearse every day from 6 to 10 and we are doing seven hours on Saturday. It is so great for them to give me this time. I mean, we are all college students and we all have lives [outside] of this.”
Jelli Vezzosi, a freshman theatre major and the production’s stage manager, said she knows firsthand the effort that goes into producing any act, especially Shakespeare. However, with the added incentive of charity, she said she was immediately inspired to endure the long hours required to be involved.
“There have been a lot of times in the process when we get very frustrated,” Vezzosi said. “Then [Monsell] or someone else will just say something like ‘Remember we’re doing this for the kids.’ That has had a lot of effect on the process and perseverance to finish this.”
Patrick McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.