Artist’s Date: Othello

Othello, Bell Shakespeare, Heath Theatre Ledger, Shakespeare, play, theatre, artist's data, solo date

A little while ago I spoke about my artist’s date at the Art Gallery of WA. Well, the other day I went on yet another artist’s date and this time it was to a performance of Shakespeare’s Othello at the theatre.

Alone.

I’ve a big theatre bug and I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to go see this opera performance or that ballet performance or play or ballet, only to hold back because, well, I have no one to see it with. Most of the friends I used to go to these performances with have moved away from town – and they were few enough to begin with; not many people I know are interested in going to the theatre or ballet or a classical music concert. A couple of friends might, just for the experience of something new, but they’re the kind who would get bored or restless midway through or start to talk or make jokes or something… and I kind of don’t want that. I’d rather just go with someone who would appreciate the performance the way I do.

But lately I’ve been thinking that I should go and on my own. Make an artist’s date of it! Again, I held back because I didn’t like the idea of going on my own and, well, feeling a bit of a wallflower amongst all the other folks who have got dates or friends or move in packs. But then I thought again, why not? Why not go see a performance if I want to? Why not go on my own if I want to?

I’ve seen ads around town for the performance of Othello at the local theatre by Bell Shakespeare, but it wasn’t till I saw a review of the production in the paper that I realised the show would only run for two more nights. Impulsively, I turned to my computer and checked to see if there were any more tickets left available. The final night was sold out but there were still seats available for tonight’s show. I hesitated there, caught between my longing to go see Othello performed and my fear of going out on my own. On my own! I went back and forth between purchasing the tickets on the website a few times. Then, again on impulse, I hit the Purchase button and bought myself a ticket for one to Othello. It was done. I was committed now.

A couple of other things helped me make up my mind about going out to the theatre alone. One was this article I read by Emma Love about going to the theatre on her own – and loving it. What really opened me up to the idea that it was okay to go to the theatre alone, though, were the comments below the article from a number of people, all of whom have apparently been going to the theatre alone for years and loving it too. (Although a lot of those comments were also quite snarky towards poor Emma Love, demanding to know how dare she act as if she alone had discovered the solitary pursuit of attending the theatre alone. Perhaps they were merely pricked into defensiveness, bristling at the suggestion that going to the theatre alone was ‘something wrong’, as one person put it, but I thought they were actually kind of unnecessarily mean, especially as Love wasn’t trying to put anyone down, merely trying to share what she was learning from her own experience and thus allowing others like myself to benefit from it.)

Another was an article in a copy of Elle by Olivia Laing, which I was reading coincidentally just the afternoon before I went to see Othello. In the article, Laing was talking about how subletting in New York allowed her, in a way, to find herself, but the one line that caught my eye was a sentence where she describes seeing an elegant elderly woman dining alone in a restaurant. “She was reading a copy of The New Yorker,” Laing wrote, “drinking a glass of red and looking absolutely content.” The sight of the woman inspired Laing herself to begin venturing out more often on her own, to bars and restaurants and the like. And I too grew inspired and excited about my night out alone.

Inspired by Love, Laing and my inner Isabel Dalhousie, I set off in high spirits for Othello. On the drive in, a friend rang, asking what I was up to. “I’m off to see Othello,” I told her. “A play of Shakespeare’s.”

“Nice!” she enthused. “Who are you going with?”

“No one,” I said. “I’m going on my own.”

There was a momentary surprised silence on her part, which she quickly recovered from. I then had to explain to her why I had decided to go see Othello on my own. “Oh, babes!” she said. “You should have asked me. I could have gone with you.” I truly appreciated her offer of company and explained that, as it was a last minute decision to go see Othello that night, I didn’t bother asking anyone, thinking they would already a) have plans or b) would not be interested in seeing the play. She insisted I ask her to accompany me next time I decide to take in a performance and I promise to do so. We chatted a little bit more and she wished me a good night and an enjoyable play before I turned the car into the parking lot (and, yes, I was chatting via hands-free while driving – safety first!).

I got to the play as the bells were ringing and only just had enough time to snag a program before heading to my seat. I had the idea I might be a solitary figure surrounded by chattering sociable groups but actually, I found myself sitting next to another woman on her own! There she was, as composed as Laing’s elegant elderly woman, reading a book she had brought with her – she had obviously done this many times before. I took my seat beside her and opened my program, feeling happy and comfortable as we waited for the show to begin.

Later on, during the interval, I wandered out and bought a glass of wine. I took a seat on one of the couches next to another girl who was drinking a beer and scrolling through Facebook on her phone, and sipped my wine while I eavesdropped on a couple of men behind me who were discussing the play. The girl, I eventually deduced, was also on her own as were quite a few other people on the couches. Eventually, the bells sounded and we returned to our seats.

So at the end of it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed going to the theatre on my own. I didn’t feel awkward or lonely at all, and in fact I rather enjoyed the whole night – as well, of course, as the performance of the play itself. I found it enriching and empowering, and I’m already looking forward to my next night out alone.

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