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Red Velvet’ Marks A Pivotal Moment In Theater History

Credit: Jim Cox

Above: Albert Jones appears as Ira Aldridge in Lolita Chakrabarti’s "Red Velvet," directed by Stafford Arima, running March 25 through April 30, 2017 at The Old Globe.

GUESTS:

Stafford Arima, 'Red Velvet' director

Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter

Transcript

The Old Globe Theatre's production of "Red Velvet" transports audiences to the world of London's Theatre Royal at the beginning of the 19th century to mark the historic moment when Ira Aldridge became the first African American actor to play Othello on the British stage.

Companion viewing

"Paul Robeson Broadway Othello" (1943 audio recording of Robeson as first black actor to play Othello on American stage)

"Othello" (1952 with Orson Welles as title character and not quite in black face)

"Othello" (1965 with Laurence Olivier in black face)

The Old Globe Theatre's production of "Red Velvet" transports audiences to the world of London's Theatre Royal at the beginning of the 19th century to mark the historic moment when Ira Aldridge became the first African-American actor to play Othello on the British stage.

Lolita Chakrabarti's play "Red Velvet" looks to three tumultuous days in theater history to remind us about an actor that most people have never heard of.

Video by Beth Accomando, Katie Schoolov

Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his generation, falls ill and cannot go onstage to perform Othello. Then a young African American actor named Ira Aldridge steps up to fill the role. But no black man has ever played Shakespeare's Othello on the British stage. His performance rocks the theatrical world. Audiences gave him a standing ovation, but mainstream theater critics railed against the break in theater tradition of having white actors perform in black face to play the Moor.

Director Stafford Arima said he is fascinated by stories of "the other" and was drawn to the play because he did not even know the full story of Aldridge's life.

Albert Jones plays Aldridge. He said he was impressed by "the bravery" of this man who left America for England to perform onstage and "was in awe of his courage."

"It saddened me to know that he wasn't remembered the way that he was meant to be," Jones said.

But hopefully, the play will help correct that and remind people of the pivotal role Aldridge played in theater history.

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