Wirtz student theater project “Desdemona” eliminates sexual stigma
Most interpretations of Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello” center the perspectives of men like Iago or Othello himself, but a Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts Student Theater and Performance Project seeks to empower the characters. female.
“Desdemona: a play on a handkerchief” aims to uplift the titular character by positively portraying female sexuality. The play, written in 1994 by Paula Vogel, will be presented in digital premiere from May 28 to 30.
The crew films and edits the play’s thirty scenes for viewers to broadcast for free on Broadway On Demand.
Principal and second-year communications student Sydney Tennill said she wanted to use art to break the stigma surrounding sex. “Desdemona” presents characters who engage in sex work without shying away.
“There is a lot of sexual negativity in our culture, and shame, especially when it comes to women and their sexuality,” said Tennill, who is also a member of Northwestern’s sexual health and assault peer educators. “The show is about sex a lot, and it is about women with diverse experiences.”
The play follows three women – Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca. Desdemona, an upper class woman, embarks on sex work while going through martial issues. His right-thinking maid, Emilia, is right-thinking and looks negatively at Desdemona’s behavior. Bianca, another prostitute, befriends Desdemona.
Tennill reflects on the depth of these three characters.
“The play does such a good job of making these women really complex and really showing how these women are fighting for their survival and fighting to exist in this world (which) doesn’t give them a lot of options to exist,” said Tennill.
First year communication student Veronica Szafoni plays Bianca. Working on the play, she said, has been empowering, as Bianca has no shame in sex work and still dreams of getting married, Szafoni said.
Szafoni added that she also found Desdemona and Emilia inspiring. Desdemona doesn’t want to “tie up,” Szafoni said, adding that Emilia’s strength in her beliefs is remarkable.
“All of these characters are champions of their own whims and their own values that they want to adhere to,” Szafoni said. “What makes him so cool is (that) he’s feminist, but he’s definitely an advocate for the different things all of these women find themselves attached to.”
The characters’ values are reflected in their costumes, said Courtney Sullivan Wu, the play’s costume designer, Communication and McCormick.
Emilia wears bright colors to signify innocence, while Desdemona’s pastel dress reflects her high-class background and value for purity, Sullivan Wu said.
“Each character has a very specific vision of their sexuality, of how they should present themselves and their role in society,” she added. “I tried to reflect that through what they wear with the different colors of their costumes.”
Sullivan Wu pointed out scenes from the show when Desdemona dons a red lace dress and explained that the outfit represented the character’s desire. Bianca’s costume is black and red throughout the series because she doesn’t need to project innocence or virtue, Sullivan Wu said.
After watching the play, Tennill said she hopes audiences will consider the action of women throughout their lives.
“Hopefully this will spark a lot of conversations about the relationship between women, sex and sexuality,” Tennill said, “(Conversations about) how society is teaching women that this shouldn’t be a big part of ( their) life, how women, even stripped of all their freedom of action… fight for one end of the world.
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