Q&A: Actor Marlon Burnley | "Othello"

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Marlon Burnley is a third-year MFA Actor in the Department of Theatre & Film Studies. He is playing the title character of Othello in UGA Theatre's upcoming production of Shakespeare's Othello, opening April 6. 

Who is Othello to you? 
Othello, to me, is a good example of what happens when we allow false information to infect our lives without question. Almost everything in this play could have been avoided if Othello would have just taken a moment to question  individuals rather than take things at face value. But then, of course, we would not have a play. That being said, Othello is also someone who leads passionately with his heart. He is a trusting individual. The relationships that he has with other individuals in the play are all built around honesty and trust. He puts his entire self into the bonds he creates and when he feels that those bonds have been betrayed, he feels that to the extreme. All in all; Othello is someone that feels.

What are your favorite things about Othello? What are you least favorite things about him?
I both love and hate Othello’s overall arch in the play. As an actor it is exciting. There are so many obstacles, and it has been really fun discovering all the different ways to tackle those issues. However as an individual, outside of the character work, it is hard for me to grasp why Othello does some of the things he does. I love how he is so trusting, but the way in which he allows that trust to blind him is heartbreaking.

Othello obviously has a history that follows the production. What makes this production unique? What is its focus? 
In this production we are really focusing on what it means to be a discerning and active listener. I know there are a lot of racial issues brought up in the play but we are choosing not to focus only on that. In fact, our production is highly diverse so Othello doesn’t really stick out as much as he would in other productions -- especially when you have other characters of color addressing him with racist terms. Which really creates an awesome dynamic because it almost imitates how slurs and sayings have become staples in our modern language today.

What is it like to rehearse in an arena setting? Is it harder, challenging, or more fun than a proscenium style show?
The great thing about working in an arena setting is that, for me, it seems easier than performing in a proscenium. In a proscenium setting you have to be very mindful of the audience and work your blocking while keeping the sightline of audience members in mind. In some ways this is stifling when it comes to physical freedom. Not to say we are not mindful of sight lines in an arena setting, but we also rehearse with the fact in mind that not all of the audience members will see everything, everyone’s view of the show will be different. So with the pressure of playing a proscenium gone, in my opinion, our movement and blocking has become a little more natural. We have had more of an opportunity to communicate physically while working in this setting.

Why do you think this play is important today? What makes it relevant?
This show is relevant for several reasons. For me, the most important aspect has been the idea of false information and the acceptance of that information. Today it is so easy for us to get lost in the information that we see in the media. We sometimes forget that literally anyone can get on the internet, post something as truth, and get people to believe it just because it shows up in a google search. We put so much trust in the internet that we don’t even question it anymore. Iago, in my mind, is Othello’s internet. He and Othello have been through so much. He has been by Othello’s side this whole time and has not, to his knowledge, steered him wrong. He, at this point, has no reason to distrust him and the information he holds. Hopefully after seeing this show the audience will question the information that they allow into their own personal lives.