Martha’s Vineyard museum brings “Othello” to the screen

Martha’s Vineyard museum brings “Othello” to the screen

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A version of "Othello" made on Martha's Vineyard plays Thursday, Aug. 2, at the Union Chapel. — Photo courtesy of Brie Bingham

On Thursday, August 2, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum will screen a 1960s film of “Othello” at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs for the first time since its premier in the 80s.

This version of Shakespeare’s “Othello” began as a dramatic production by the Shearer Summer Theater group of Martha’s Vineyard, which held performances at Twin Cottage in the Oak Bluffs Campground during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. The group was founded by Liz White, whose granddaughter Deborah Toledo gave the museum access to the film.

Shearer Summer Theatre performed the works of Shakespeare and other classic and contemporary comedies and dramas annually at the Cottage. In 1962 Ms. White decided to turn the group’s rendering of “Othello” into a feature-length film, a project that took more than 20 years to complete.

“Liz White was a remarkable woman,” said Anna Carringer, assistant curator at the museum. “She was a creative, passionate force, always doing new things. Celebrating the work of this woman is especially interesting because it’s such a different view of the typical ‘Othello’ story.”

Ms. White’s interpretation of “Othello” was shot in part on Martha’s Vineyard’s beaches and at the Gay Head Cliffs, and it features an all-black cast, with Hollywood actor Yaphet Kotto as Othello. Aside from Mr. Kotto, the cast is made up entirely of Ms. White’s family and friends. “They’re not professional, they’re just really amazing,” Ms. Carringer said. “This is one of those instances that shows how everyone on the Vineyard has hidden talents.”

Before the film begins, Ms. Toledo will give a brief introduction about her grandmother and about the film’s significance in Martha’s Vineyard’s African-American history.

“Othello” is part of the M.V. Museum’s current exhibit, “Showtime: 100 Years of Theatre on Martha’s Vineyard,” which will continue until April 20, 2013.

“Othello,” 7:30 pm, Thursday, Aug. 2, Union Chapel, Oak Bluffs. $15; $10 for museum members. For tickets and more information, call 508-627-4441, visit mvmuseum.org, or email frontdesk@mvmuseum.org.

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