It’s a Free for All . . .

Shakespeare company makes "Othello" a free for the summer fest

OTHELLO 121 1 copy photoFaran Tahir stars in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Free For All production of “Othello.” COURTESY PHOTO BY SCOTT SUCHMAN  

It’s a long-established practice for theater companies to present the plays of William Shakespeare to the public at no charge during the summer months.

Locally, the Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C. has been doing that since 1991 – presenting one production during the hot months (although indoors) in what it calls “Free For All.” Shakespeare’s comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor” was the first Free For All production. Michael Kahn, STC’s artistic director, found inspiration in the pioneering achievements of Joseph Papp. Kahn had worked with the legendary producer and director who established almost 60 years ago New York City’s famed Shakespeare in the Park.

“Michael Kahn wanted to make sure Shakespeare was accessible to as many people as possible,” said Joy Johnson, director of audience services at STC who organizes and manages Free For All. “The best way to do that is through free performances.”

Since the inception of Free For All, STC has brought free productions of Shakespeare to 689,494 audience members.

This year the company is presenting one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, “Othello,” from August 15-27.

Veteran actor Faran Tahir, currently known for his roles in the TV shows “American Crime,” “Once Upon a Time” and “12 Monkeys,” has the title role of the Moorish general. Ron Daniels directed.

Approximately 12,000 theatregoers that are expected to attend these performances also will see Montgomery County native Kevin Woods in the ensemble.

While the actor received his formal training at New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts – whose previous alumni include Spencer Tracy and Lauren Bacall – he says he “cut his teeth” on performing musicals at Robert Frost Middle School and Wootton High School.

Woods also attended performances as a youngster at venues like Round House Theatre and Olney Theatre Center.

“I remember seeing ‘Death of a Salesman’ [by Arthur Miller] at Olney when I was a freshman in high school,” Woods said. ‘It was like a light bulb went on. It was the first time I really understood how powerful theater could be … and that changed me. I was hooked.”

“Othello” is the same production shown in 2016 during STC’s regular season.

“I am incredibly excited to return to STC to play Othello again,” said Tahir. “The play is a magnificent tragedy. When Iago says, ‘I hate the Moor,’ it’s not just about the man; it’s about everything the man represents. It’s an acute relevant exploration of racial and religious hatred.” “Othello” tells the haunting story of a newly-married Moorish general manipulated by his right-hand man Iago into suspecting his loyal bride Desdemona of infidelity. Othello turns on her and on his loyal lieutenant Cassio, thus spiraling from a confident hero to a tormented villain.

Woods previously performed in two Shakespearean plays at STC, “A Winter’s Tale” and “All’s Well that Ends Well.” He loves New York, but finds it “refreshing” to get away sometimes and come home.

“I love D.C. and MoCo,” the actor said. “And I’m so excited to be back at STC. I absolutely adore this company. Doing what you love in the area [where] you grew up. It really doesn’t get much better than that.”

Nor could Woods pass up “Othello.” “The play is so epic, yet it’s intensely personal. It speaks across the ages to audiences of the destructive nature of deception.”

The regular STC 2017-2018 season will include Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and “Hamlet.” The Free For All production of “Othello” runs at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington D.C.

You can obtain tickets through an online lottery one can enter a day in advance of a performance or by waiting on line outside the theatre, where tickets are handed out two hours before each performance.

You can also join Friends of Free For All, which supports the program. “The size of the donation determined how many tickets a supporter can get,” said Johnson.

For further details, see the web site: Shakespeare company makes Merry Wives of Windsor a free for the summer fest.



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