Episode 4 - Defend Your Choices
In this episode with Keith Hamilton Cobb, we peel back the racial layers in Shakespeare’s Othello; breathe life into a cartoon; decide which plays to cut from the canon; excavate the Bard’s eternal gifts; and travel back in time to rewrite history.
Keith Hamilton Cobb
Keith Hamilton Cobb is an actor and a playwright 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. His award-winning play, American Moor (published by Methuen Drama), which explores the perspective of the African American male through the metaphor of Shakespeare’s Othello, ran off-Broadway at Cherry Lane Theatre in the fall of 2019. It is the winner of an Elliot Norton Award, an AUDELCO Award, two IRNE Awards, and is part of the permanent collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Keith has written a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello that he hopes to begin to workshop by the fall of 2021.
Lamar Legend (00:00):
You are listening to Under This Light, A Revelation of Shakespeare and Self brought to you by Seattle Shakespeare Company. I’m your host Lamar Legend. And today we have an astounding guest and amazing actor. Keith Hamilton Cobb, he’s an actor and a playwright he’s performed and appeared in classical and contemporary roles all over the country. And as well as in television he has a BFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and we’re going to talk very, very in-depth about his amazing 2019 play. Award-Winning play American Moor based on Othello. It ran off Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theater in the fall of 2019. It is the winner of an Elliot Norton award an Audelco award two I R N E awards. And is part of the permanent collection of the Folger Shakespeare library. Oh my gosh, Keith, it is so good to have you with us today.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (01:05):
I’m thrilled to be here. Thank you. I’ve been looking forward to this
Lamar Legend (01:08):
Absolutely. So just to kick things off, let’s go way, way back first. Tell us how your relationship to theater began…
Keith Hamilton Cobb (01:20):
You know, Lamar, that there’s there’s. I mean, I, if I asked you the same question, you would say you’ve always been an actor. You would be a place where all of a sudden you knew that …I may be wrong, but most colleagues of mine that I know who are, who have always been actors who have always, you know, stayed actors, irrespective of the vicissitudes of, you know, trying to navigate life,uhaving, having such a profession,ujust say, there’s nothing else that I can do. There’s nothing that I’ve ever done, nothing that I’ve ever done from money that I enjoy, you know, for a living,uthat I enjoy. So it, it, it, it is, it is one’s persona. It is one psyche. I, you know, I was, I was in college,ustudying Shakespeare and realized that I, I would rather perform it.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (02:24):
And so there was a moment there, but I think I was, you know, I was, I was an actor you know, long before then. I mean, it was a, you know, I, I guess, I guess there’s a point where you come, come into your full awareness of it and full awareness that, well, this is it. I’m going to pursue this no matter what, but then there are an awful lot of people who say, yeah, I pursued it for a couple of years. And then I went and became a stockbroker. They’re not like me.
Lamar Legend (02:59):
That’s very true. But you, you, I, it, you skipped a couple of steps here. I mean, like, how were you specifically introduced and we’ll get to Shakespeare. I mean, we will get to Shakespeare, but I mean, was it watching television in, did you look cause for some actors, it was like, oh, I was, I saw myself represented or I was watching the show and I was like, dad, I want to do that. That’s what I want to do. You know, or, or did someone take you to the theater and you saw a performance, you know, what was that first blush?
Keith Hamilton Cobb (03:32):
I mean, I, now that you, now that you mentioned it, you know, if you really want to get, get in the weeds with all this, I mean, I think there was there was some of, all of that, you know, it, it is, it’s funny when I was th th there was a period where I was just a spectator, right? Like we all start watching TV and movies and the guys that were having their success when I came along were Brando and Kirk Douglas and you know, I mean, they, they, they, they, they, they, they probably, they were beginning. They were having success before I came along, when we were still seeing their work. Right. We were seeing, we were seeing their movies who else a little bit later came Paccino and, and James Kahn and you’d watch this work and be transported by the stories that these, these, these actors were telling what their, their work, and it looked like fun.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (04:46):
Right? You wanted to do that. And when you went out in, in, in the yard and play, you were, you were doing what they were doing. You were embodying characters, you were embodying them, which you were embodying characters and being, you know, what they got to do for a living. You are what you did, where you out and played. And I guess a little a little while later, you know, after that generation, it was kind of supposed to be my time. Right. And I showed up to the extent that I could and did whatever anybody, you know what was, what was, what was available for me to do. And sometime in that period, you know, the next generation came along, who I was, I look at it. And I, at that point, I was, I was no longer, you know, when, when, when, when, when, when Eric Bana showed up, I was like, I was sort of done. I was like, who’s he watching his movies? Right. I, I’m not, I’m not… Ryan Philippi. Who the hell is he? I don’t want to say, I don’t want to go see her, show me another James Kahn movie I don’t want,
Lamar Legend (06:04):
And you know, how the industry is like, at this point there, it’s all, it’s, it’s the last thing you’ve done. And so, you know, to them, Eric Bana is, is already passe, they’ve moved on to the next kid.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (06:18):
Yeah. And I’m, I, you know, so, so if we, if we go back to watching Steve McQueen or, or, or you know Ooh
Lamar Legend (06:42):
Well, it sounds like and correct me if I’m wrong, like the, the, the couple of the conf one, the caliber of actors who’ve, you’ve already listed Papillon is one of my favorite films. But the the names you listed earlier, like, it sounds like the Godfather series was influential to you.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (07:06):
It wasn’t, it wasn’t influential to everybody?
Lamar Legend (07:08):
Oh, yeah. It was a part of the zeitgeist.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (07:10):
And I keep, I tell people every year, you know, th th the academy awards come right over a year and people get psyched and they go, and they sit and they watch this. And I haven’t, I haven’t watched the academy awards in years. One, because I’m not involved. Right. It’s not, I don’t need to really, I don’t really need to sit and watch, but I tell people, you know, they should have, like, you know, when it comes to best picture, it should be, you know, okay. The academy award goes to this picture because it was better than the Godfather. If it wasn’t better than Godfather, they shouldn’t, we shouldn’t have the award. You know, there’s nothing to come out in your, in your, in your formal, formal clothes for, you know that was, those were the, those were the young guns, right. Of the Pacino and, and, and, and Kahn, and, and Brando, at that point, he wasn’t, he wasn’t all that young, but they were a caliber of actor. You looked at a caliber of directing and caliber of filmmaking that has, you can still watch it. And it’s still compelling. No matter how many times you see the movie, right. It withstands that test of time. And they were, they were examples to aspire to
Keith Hamilton Cobb (08:44):
And I guess, I guess, I mean, I guess I still do, I guess all, you know, all I want to do, all I came to do was, was be an actor, you know, all this other stuff that is built up around it has come, you know, as a matter of course, you have to be your own producer on some level, you have to be your own writer, you have to make your own work. Right. And you understand that, especially in this day and age, I see a young people doing it, and I encourage it. And I guess all its various forms, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to show up and, and, and, and, and, and, and be the guy and acting a character just like going out in the yard to play,
Lamar Legend (09:22):
Keith Hamilton Cobb (09:24):
Lamar Legend (09:26):
So in that, I mean, you mentioned earlier about coming to Shakespeare or Shakespeare coming to you two meeting in the middle during your college years, you also go into that in depth that relationship and that experience within American Moor is there, what, other than the language speaking to you was there a specific play, I mean, you talk about in an American Moor Titania’s speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream becoming incredibly attached to it. And could you talk or elaborate even more about what was it about that speech, if not that role, if not that play, or if not that Shakespeare that made you go, oh my God, this is something unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before
Keith Hamilton Cobb (10:31):
I had seen, I had seen an an English company do Henry Henry Four and Henry Five parts was it Henry Four, Henry Four parts one and two and Henry Five in an afternoon, right? It was, it wasn’t the RSC. It was a more obscure company.
Lamar Legend (10:55):
That’s a long day.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (10:58):
It’s a long day, but it was, I had been up until then. I had been reading Shakespeare. I had been, I had been handed Shakespeare as literature. And when I got to college, I was, I was studying literature to the extent that I was studying anything. I was studying literature and writing. And so Shakespeare was still being given to me to read and synthesize and then comment on, and I wasn’t good at that. I was, I was never good at reading anything on my best day I’m, I’m, I’m slightly dyslexic. So that was always a bit difficult. And then I, you know, I saw this particular production and I’m, I, I’m not usually enamored of the way Brits do their Shakespeare, but this company was, I thought talented and they put it together in such a way that I was fully engrossed by the story and, and how they had staged it.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (11:56):
There was a level of humanity in the characters that didn’t exist on the page. So whatever acting work they were doing, they were imbuing the characters with depth. That was compelling to me very much like the characters in the Kirk Douglas movie, the Al Pacino movie. Right. all of a sudden they were real. And I said, oh, you know, it can be, it can be this, it should be this right. We’ve seen celebrated Shakespeare actors of bygone days who you watch and listen to, and you might as well just be listening. You might as well just have the, the, the, the CD, because, you know, th th th th they’re lovely to hear, but there’s not much of the human they’re they’re, depending upon the poetry and the poetry will carry us, you know, through the play, you know, it will, it will, it’s, it is that sublime.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (12:55):
It will tell the story. But it w it, it won’t tell the story that is that that takes flight is most alive full,
Lamar Legend (13:09):
What you’re getting as a recital…
Keith Hamilton Cobb (13:11):
What you’re getting is a recital. That’s, that’s absolutely true, that’s it? All right. And and if it’s recited well, that can be wonderful in its own, right. But it’s not it’s, but it’s not people it’s not human beings. And that was, that work was the revelation to me, I think at the time and still American theater makers they sort of fall back on the comedies when doing their Shakespeare and more often than not, you’ll hear me say that, that, that we, we recycle Shakespeare. We very often break any new ground to find any new depth or dimension in, in the work, because we are used to, to, to our theater, as product is not art, it is product. It is another thing that companies sell, right? Theater makers, you know, regional theater companies. They are companies, they are, they are, they are corporations that are selling a product. And when selling a product, you look for efficiency, how quickly can I package this product and sell it? How can I get people to buy it? And if you start there, you’re not going to make much art. You’re not going to get very deep because you don’t have the, the, that, that just doesn’t provide you with the tools
Speaker 1 (14:40):
Keith Hamilton Cobb (15:01):
Comedies are rife with antiquated language that, that, that, that, that doesn’t really exist anymore. You know criminal criminals on, on, on, on, on, on words that are no longer part of the English lexicon. And so we fill it, we fill it with clowning, we fill it with, you know, fart, jokes and sex jokes, you know, and it’s often not about what anybody’s saying. I don’t, you know, I don’t know when I understood production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. I read a couple and I sit there wondering what anybody’s talking about. Wondering if they know, you know,
Lamar Legend (15:55):
That’s a fair point. I mean, in Love’s Labour’s Lost is, I mean, there are even more archaic. I mean, the Merry wives of Windsor is just filled with medieval jokes of the day to an audience who only understood it. It was the pop culture, Russell Simmons jam of its day. And there is no contemporary equivalent to some of those jokes. And yet the Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park is opening. You know, finally this summer with that, with an adaptation of that set in Harlem and with an all black cast. What are your thoughts on, on, on companies today? You know, like OSF, you know, reinvigorating, antiquated comedies like that?
Keith Hamilton Cobb (16:51):
Oh, Lamar. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t, I don’t know what I should commit to, to digital audio.
Lamar Legend (17:04):
It’s a safe space, but I mean, I’m not going to urge you to say anything. You’re not willing to be heard.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (17:12):
Look, man, I, you know, there are a couple of schools of thought on this the example, a good place to start as example I often use, I say, you know, if you can remember Abbott and Costello routine who’s on first. Oh yeah. You know, that was a very funny thing. And to this day, if you see them do it, it’s a very funny thing. But if we went 400 years into the future, when baseball wasn’t even a game that anybody played anymore, I had to do it. Who would have any idea what you were trying? So, you know, so I would then have to grab their crotch and fart and thrust their hips and do things that had nothing to do with this, nothing to do with this skit. But people, you know, find the things that people identify with and, and, and, and, and, and can commune over.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (18:00):
And it will be funny. And I find no reason to do that. Combine that now combine that now with the, this is the social justice zeitgeist, that American theater has been forced in some nominal way to pick up and run with. It’s more often than not in bad faith. Right. And it’s more often than not still something that’s about product squeezed into that three to five week first rehearsal to stage production period. Right? So you’re still, you’re still hamstrung by the same rules. You’re still making product. You’re just, you know, sticking things in the soup that the current culture says, you’ll look better if you, if you, if you stick in the soup, right. It doesn’t make better Shakespeare. No, you still, you, you, you, you’re still starting in the wrong faith at a wrong wrong place. I’m sorry. You’re still starting in the wrong place. And, and, and to me, bad faith is obvious to me. Just because you set something in Harlem, doesn’t make you a good guy. Doesn’t make, you doesn’t make you woke. Right. You ain’t, you ain’t, you ain’t, you ain’t woke just because you hired a bunch of black people to do this in Harlem. You still not, you’re still not doing good Shakespeare. Right. And if you’re not doing good Shakespeare, what favors are you doing to anybody? You know, that’s my thought. So
Lamar Legend (19:46):
Well, thank you for that. Thank you for sharing. So are you saying, are you suggesting that we put down these antiquated plays? I mean, do we put them down and use some of the canon and not others because they’re more relatable and, or universe?
Keith Hamilton Cobb (20:02):
Well, I’m certainly suggesting that we put down some of them. I mean, I don’t need to see Love’s Labour’s Lost again. I don’t need to see most of the comedies, but that’s me, you know, I don’t think they translate, well, I don’t need to see The Tempest ever again. Right. It doesn’t, I don’t, I don’t enjoy it. Somebody else might. And I shouldn’t, I should not be the one to dictate, you know, which of these plays you can pick up and, and, and work on. But I will say that if, if you are not taking the time to truly interrogate this work, if you are stuck within that three to five week window, and if you are still paying actors, you know, whatever equity will allow you while you’re paying your stars to, to, to, to do this thing and the same director, right. If you reaching out to the same guy to do your theater in the park, right.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (21:01):
White guy. Yeah. Yes, yes. You know, and, and they’re, you know, there have not, there have lately of late been some black ones, but again, we’re in, we’re in this discussion of, is this in good faith? Are we doing, are we, are these productions better? Or just because there are black people in them and around them, if we’re, if, if we’re making them adhere to the same production schedule, let’s recycle some Shakespeare only make it black. Hm. You know, I don’t, I don’t see the value in that. And any of the plays we pick up. And as I say, it’s, it’s anybody’s choice. No one should be, should be limited in, in, in, in what they can work on and interrogate, but interrogation is I think the operative term, are we going to dig deep? Are we going to give ourselves the time, the wherewithal to, to, to, to dig deep and find stuff that, oh, geez, all kinds of stuff.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (22:02):
You know, what, what truly, how much time does it take to really make people human, to find, you know, to, to, to imbue this language. There’s a scholar Harold, Harold bloom. He wrote up a big tone before he died, called Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human. And, you know, Harold bloom is a white sort of to the manner of born died in the wool, bardalator. I mean, you know, Shakespeare before God. Right. And you know, his, his, his premise is that Shakespeare created who we are almost literally. I mean, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a a bit of a you know, and an exaggeration that he’s making for, for to, to, to make a point. But what, but he’s not far from literal. He, he, he, he believes that it is all in Shakespeare’s words. So he’ll take whatever the play and say this is the human being. This is the Hamlet that Shakespeare is true. This is the human being Hamlet that Shakespeare is creating. And I look at Hamlet, and I see a bunch of words, I see a bunch of poetry. And I say that if that were the case, then all, all of the players of that role would be the same. But the thing is they bring themselves to it. Or at least they try to. And what, what, what for shortens their effort is the amount of time that they have to imbue that character with who and what they are, the realities that they are, they live and understand and have lived all their lives, the things that make them human, right. They have a limited amount of time to find those in the frame that Shakespeare has given them in the vessel that Shakespeare has given them. And when we begin to take that time, I think all kinds of things show up things in terms of how we relate to one another the energetic dynamics between people in, in love situations situations of stress and jealousy and all, all all, all of them, the things that that, that Shakespeare’s plays are about.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (24:24):
So my, my, my advocacy is, is for taking the time for doing less, right. You don’t need to do let’s, let’s not do three shows this season. Let’s do one and make it amazing change lives with this, with this work.
Lamar Legend (25:07):
So you’re, well, one Keith, you’re not alone. There are, there are female actors, you know, who I’ve spoken with, who are all for and are trying to champion putting down The Taming of the Shrew for good. They see no reason why that play needs to be brought up or produced ever again. So you’re not, you’re not alone there in those thoughts.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (25:32):
That’s an interesting, that’s an interesting case, you know some and it’s similar to Othello that’s, that is another one that people say, well, maybe there’s nothing redeeming in this. Let’s just not, not, not do it. And of course, of course, Lamar in keeping with, as what I called before, the social justice zeitgeist, you know, people have get, get up their own butts in terms of political correctness and are almost afraid to mention it. People, people, people come to me timidly and say, so, should we even, should we even be doing, should we even be talking about Othello? I said, of course, we should be talking about it. Shakespeare. We can talk about it and you can pick it up and do it, but know that the culture that is watching you, that is watching the work that is expecting you to give them something for that huge amounts of money you’re taking from them to sit and hear a play are, are going to want you to defend your choices.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (26:35):
You can’t just hand it to them anymore and expect them to, to, to, to walk away saying now that, that that was great, right? They’re going to want to, well, what is, what, what is this about? And you’re going to have to, you’re going to need to take responsibility for what you, what, what you have have done. So if you pick up Shrew, it’s a perfectly good play, but it’s full of problems. Can you find a way to interrogate this play that is worth another look, what’s your what’s your colleagues are saying is if nothing’s going to change, let’s not do it. And I’m all for that, right? If nothing’s gonna, if we, if you, if you if you don’t have anything other than what we’ve seen to show me, well, that doesn’t cut it. So let’s just stop. And I feel the same way about Othello. [inaudible], let’s just stop.
Lamar Legend (27:23):
I mean, the, I mean, and I think that, that, that conversation between audience and producer, you know, that you’re talking about right now should be thrilling. It should be exciting. If I was a producer, I’d be like, all right, I have something to say, I’d love to defend this to the public. Rather whether it be in print or on radio or on television, or even in the streets, on the sidewalk, out in front of the theater, like they should want to, but of course, when there’s thousands and in some cases, millions of dollars involved, and they have constituents and donors and boards and things like that to answer to what it ties their hands. So they say,
Keith Hamilton Cobb (28:05):
That’s all it is. It is, it is. And Lamar, there, there is nothing truer. It, it is all money, right? It is all American finance. It is American capitalism. And as we, as we delve any more deeply into that, we immediately see how that is a structure that cannot not be racist.
Speaker 1 (28:28):
Lamar Legend (28:40):
So let’s dig in to American Moor which goes into, in depth about this very, very, you know, very topic of T walk us through the genesis of American Moor and creating this play. Ooh,
Keith Hamilton Cobb (28:53):
The genesis 2012 I met, I met an audition in Manhattan for a a show at Syracuse Stage. Somebody is doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and they’re auditioning for the roles, the combined roles of Oberon and Theseus as is often done these days, because it’s cheaper to pay one actor right now. There it is, again, right there. It is again, that money thing. Right. And so I I’m, I’m grown, right. I’m 50 something at that, at that, at, at, at that point, I guess, or just, just turning 50 something foot 50 some somewhere in there.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (29:40):
Yeah. It gets fuzzy. And I think I, I played these, both these roles twice already. And, you know, I went to, I went to this audition and I, I, the material they gave me had been severely redacted because they don’t want long auditions. Right. If you take a lot of stuff out and I go in the room and there’s a a young white men on the other side of the table with the casting director and a couple of other people but you know, the audition monitor and he’s about half my age, you know, maybe a little older and I didn’t know him. And he said, you know, I need to see this sexual chemistry and I need to see this. And then you see this, and then you see this in the audition. And it was all the stuff that he’d redacted out of it.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (30:45):
And as I said, okay, I wanted to say something else. But I said, okay. And they were all scenes with Hippolyta and Titania. And they had one reader and he was probably a man who was 60, if he was a day. And, you know, I searched and their looking around the room and said, you know, it’s, it’s I’m thinking to myself, somebody in here is an idiot, and I’m not allowed to say that. Why would you engage this process this way? Why would you hamstring me from the minute I walked in the room? Why have you not given me any kind of conversation about what I think about the role or what I wanted? You know, anything, I mean, I’m grown, I’ve done this before. You don’t want to know it. You just want to give me some direction and, and run it this, and then you’re going to judge what that is in this highly stilted, draconian audition situation.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (31:46):
And I did the audition and yeah, he looked at me for a minute and he said, you know, would you, you know, would you go outside? And, you know, we might ask you to come back in. And I said, sure. And I went out and sat out there for awhile. And eventually the, the monitor came out and said, where we’ve, we, we we’ve seen what we need. See, you can go. And I was, I was incensed by that process that day. And I was old enough to have, I had been through this a million times, both, both in the theater and, you know, in throughout Hollywood, you know, I was, I had, God knows, used to rejection and you know, was able to, to, you know, just leave it right, leave it, go, eat, go, you know, do whatever you do. Go, go, you know, hanging out, go to the gym, go do whatever, whatever.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (32:37):
And I couldn’t this day I was, I was inconsolable. I was, I was just so incensed by that particular process. And didn’t really know why. And somebody said, you should write this. And I was like, nah, man, I’m not, I don’t, I don’t, I look, I’m not interested. I don’t want to write anything. I just want to act, right. I just want to do my work. And it’s always a struggle. Right. And the only people it’s not a struggle for are the very lucky, you know, and people, I can say it. And, you know, people speak that that’s basically a case for everybody and everything, you know, life is a matter of, of, of, of good fortune, you know, success in life as a matter of good fortune, people could say, oh, I did it all myself. Yes. You have to be ready as Hamlet says, but that’s about it.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (33:19):
Right? The rest is, is, is his circumstance. And I said, I just want, you know, I just want, I just want the circumstance to be able to do the thing that as we started at the beginning of the, of the this conversation, I was saying, all I really want to do is, is be an actor. So here, here’s a point where I was like, no, screw that. I’m not, I’m not, I’m not writing anything. That’s not to say I wasn’t a writer. I mean, I wrote when I wanted to write, but I wasn’t in any mood at this point. And you know, I went home and I started to scribble on it anyway. And it sort of ended up being this sort of vomited 30 pages of emotion that was sort of all over the place that spoke to this idea of a young upstart sort of not dictating to an older thespian, an older actor, not giving him the, the, the, the, the room or the respect to even consider his opinion.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (34:27):
You know, his thought about, you know, what, let’s, let’s collaborate, let’s create together. Let’s, let’s, you know and I took this to a colleague and he said, you know, the energies in this are really extraordinary. They’re really sort of leaping off the page. You need to, you need to hone this. And I did,
Lamar Legend (34:47):
At that point, was it, was it about Othello already?
Keith Hamilton Cobb (34:51):
It was, it was, it, it w it was about Othelo, but it was also Lamar about a guy who, who wanted love, right? Who, who came into the room and said, I have all these wonderful facets. Let me tell you this anecdote about this piece of my life. Let me tell you this anecdote, which is much different than the last one, about this piece of my life. Let me tell you this anecdote, which is about might as much different than the other two, and the, the piece was full of those.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (35:26):
So, so that this character was saying, I am all these facets, I’m all of these wonderful things that I’m bringing into this room. Why don’t you love me? And, and, and, you know, I ran with it that way, you know, the, the thing ballooned into, into like, you know, 90 pages, it was, you know, two hour play and then sorta started to shave some of this stuff off. And it was never right, but, but we were always working on it from the first reading onward. And it was in, it was in that form that the first public reading happened and people were very much connected to the humanity of that character. I mean, people across all sorts of social and life spectrums, whether it be, you know, age, race, sexual, sexual orientation, you know the responses were from across the board, which was really exciting to me. And they all identified with this, this human being, just wanting to be seen.
Speaker 1 (36:35):
Lamar Legend (36:48):
I want to quote your play. I want to quote a few things leading up to a question of a larger question that really, really struck me as I was watching it and then reading it. So first at, towards the end of the play, the actor says you don’t want a man. You want a cartoon and going and talking about that indictment of that young white director. And before that says, you know, there’s nothing more infuriating than white folks acting like they know your story well enough to tell it without your help, which I love. And even before that you speak to the audience directly describing the situation they find you and saying, you know, a little white man is asking me if I have any questions about being a large black man in a famous Shakespeare play about a large black man, which for the last 50 or 60 years or so has been more or less wholy the province of large black men. The question I’m I’m leading up to is, you know, you point out the indictment of this little man in this room the white man in this room. And, but also in this room is Shakespeare another white man with maybe not so little, you know, he has got a big reputation who wrote this play that you just broke down about a large black man. And so my question is, is he absolved of indictment? Did, has Shakespeare written a cartoon in Othello
Keith Hamilton Cobb (38:34):
As, as written yes. As written, he has written a cartoon in Othello. And while I would say, yes, he is absolved of indictment. He is not absolved of interrogation. And what I mean by that is that someone living 400 years ago in social circumstances that were not mine and, and, and, and writing work that he was marketing, you know, and [inaudible] creating as an artist, right? Is he, he, he, he, he was the artist. I have, no, I have, I have no, I, no matter how much I study, I can not know what was in his mind or in his heart. What I do know is that over generations and 400 years, this play gets handed down to us. And that, that, that here comes Keith and nobody says, would you do our Hamlet right here comes Keith, who, who, who begins to take find great affinity with the playwright, right. And what he is making, which is, you know, when you’re studying, when you study literature and you, and you’re studying, studying this period of, of, of, of, of theater, you’re looking at Thomas Kidd, you’re looking at John Fletcher, you’re looking at Marlowe, Marlowe, Johnson, you know, and then there’s Shakespeare who is light years beyond all of his contemporaries. They suck, dude.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (40:23):
They have this petametric structure that they’re trying, like all hell to shove these, these, these, these characters into, and these plots into, and it’s clunky and it boring, and it sucks. And then you have Shakespeare and it, and it’s like power steering. And as a student, my looking at that was, was, was filled me with admiration.
Lamar Legend (40:50):
And now to excite your curiosity and in the spirit of infusing the world, the more joy I present to you, some magic questions, this has been a fantastic conversation. I I have here a few magic questions for you. And we’re going to, as we wrap things up the first, are you ready for them? The first is if you could master one skill that you don’t already have, what would it be?
Keith Hamilton Cobb (41:21):
So this is like a, a real skill, or is this like a superpower? Oh,
Lamar Legend (41:26):
Wow. However you interpret that.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (41:32):
Oh yeah. I would like to heal. I w I w I would like to, to, to, to, to quickly heal people. I, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t mean be a doctor. I was never smart enough to be a doctor. I mean, you know, laying on of hands healing, you know and, and, and, and, and take away the hurt that I think is at the root of all that, that hurt and fear that, that, that causes us such strife as, as a culture that has caused all that continues to call all cause all these racial racial issues that we navigate in, in our, in our, our, our culture and in the country. Yeah, I would like to, I would like to heal
Lamar Legend (42:21):
That’s a great one. My gosh. Ah all right. This one’s a little SciFi so picture it. If you will, time travel is real and accessible to most. You happen to be afforded the privilege to be able to time travel back into Shakespeare’s day and to be Shakespeare’s muse without him knowing. So you’re able to influence his thoughts as he’s writing Othello. And so you get the opportunity to change anything in this play though the words will still be Shakespeare. So you don’t have to worry about it being in imabic pentameter or anything like that. You just need to give him, you can give him anything you want to change. What would you change and or what would you influence?
Keith Hamilton Cobb (43:21):
That’s a great question. I would change. I would, I would, I would say I would influence. I would suggest that
Keith Hamilton Cobb (43:42):
How’s the best way to say this. You are writing a character who is expressing things from your point of view, who is nothing like you, you are, you are another way to say this is Othello speaks as if he has accepted the perception of himself that others have of him, which is absolutely is, is, is unrealistic. No, if, if, if I go, if, if, if I go to, to France, right? I, you know, I go and I say, I’m an American. Now the French are looking at me like a you’re… You’re, you’re an ugly pig. You, Donald Trump, we, you thinking about all kinds of things. I don’t see myself through that lens. Right. I see myself as as an American and it’s an arrogance, but we all have it. Right. And Othello, if you read it often, most of the time is looking at himself through the lens of, of others, as opposed to taking any stock in his differences, you know, and, and value in his, in, in, in who and what he is, which is a lot of what needs to be worked on an interrogated in this, in this rewrite and production of mine.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (45:20):
But that’s, but that is the thing. I mean, I’m sorry for the long answer. No, no, no. You ask you give us complex questions. Yes. I would. I would suggest that he spend some time figuring out how to allow that the eponymous hero of that play to speak with his own point of view, born of his own experience and not yours.
Lamar Legend (45:46):
That’s a great answer. It might stop his pen. And lastly, Keith, when you die, cause we all will. If people forget everything about you, what’s the one thing you want them to remember.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (46:16):
He was embarrassed by his humanity.
Lamar Legend (46:20):
Hmm. My goodness. You are a writer. That word choice is so carefully crafted. Thank you so much, Keith. If people want to find you, where can you be found?
Keith Hamilton Cobb (46:43):
Yeah. I mean, I have, I have, you know, if you want it to, to actually, you know, know stuff about me, there’s a website, keithhamiltoncobb.com. There’s also a website, americanmoor.com that is specifically American Moor stuff. So people can get really in depth material about the show that we’ve been discussing. I @Keithhamcobb is the Twitter handle. And Keith Hamilton Cobb is the Facebook handle, but I’m almost never on them because that’s of another age, I tell people y’all are 21st century intelligent. I’m only 20th century intelligent. I don’t get it. You know, Thank you so much. And I look forward to meeting you someday. And are you, are you? This is great. Thank you.
Keith Hamilton Cobb (47:40):
[Scene From American Moor] A little white man is asking me if I have any questions about being a large black man and acting the role of a large black men in a famous Shakespeare play about a large black men, which for the past 50, 60 years or so has been more or less wholy the province of large black men. No, I ain’t got no questions, but you should. You ought to have nothing but questions.
Lamar Legend (48:23):
Thank you for listening to Under This Light, A Revelation of Shakespeare and Self, the series is a project of Seattle Shakespeare Company. If you enjoyed this discussion and would like to learn more about Seattle Shakespeare Company’s productions and programs, please visit seattleshakespeare.org. We’d love to hear from you. Seattle Shakespeare is located on lands, taken from the Duwamish, Stillaguamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, and all coast Salish people. We pay respect to them as this region’s original storytellers. The music you hear in this episode is provided and composed by Stephon Dorsey artwork for our series was created by Marla Bonner, I’m host and producer Lamar Legend. And we’ll be back in two weeks with another episode. So subscribe wherever you listen to your podcasts, give us your hands. If we be friends and Lamar shall restore ammends.