Shakespeare festival in Detroit? Outdoor performance of ‘Othello’ a first step

Othello in Detroit
L to R Othello played by Hugh Duneghy II and Iago played by Dennis Kleinsmith in Shakespeare in Detroit’s Othello (Courtesy photo)
Dustin Block | By Dustin Block |
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on August 08, 2013 at 8:00 AM, updated August 08, 2013 at 8:49 AM

“Tis within ourselves that we are thus or thus.”
-William Shakespeare, Othello

DETROIT, MI – When Samantha White was 14, she saw Laurence Fishburne star in the movie version of Othello.

The Detroit actor and producer remembers being “shocked and pleased” by seeing a Shakespearean protagonist who looked like her.

“I had never seen a Shakespeare movie, play or performance where there was a black protagonist,” White shared with MLive. “I had been a fan of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet as a kid, but I had never paid attention to or even had the interest in reading Othello until that moment.”

White hopes to give that same experience to aspiring Detroit actors on Aug. 14 with a production of “Othello” in Grand Circus Park. The free, one-night show is the start of White’s larger plan to add a full-fledged Shakespeare festival to the city’s cultural offerings.

The idea formed last year after White watched actor friends move out of Detroit to find roles in other cities.

“I’ve seen so many of my actor friends move to Los Angeles, New York, Chicago,” she said.

A long-time actor, White decided to switch to a producer role and try to create local theater jobs. She took a business start-up classes at Wayne State University’s TechTown last year and drafted a business plan for a free Shakespeare festival in Detroit.

“Chicago, LA, New York, even Miami, they all have some sort of festival as it relates to the bard,” White reasoned. “We don’t.”

She acknowledges there are Shakespearean offerings in the area. Royal Oak hosts an outdoor performance every year – this year it’s the “Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Much Ado About Nothing” through Aug. 11 – Jackson hosts the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, and the Stratford Festival in Ontario is nearby.

Her goal, however, is to bring the famed playwright into the heart of Detroit. She found support from the Detroit 300 Conservancy, which is sponsoring the one-night performance.

“It’s the only Shakespeare in the Park you can get in Detroit,” White said. “Within the city boundaries, there’s no where to go, until now.”

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