New FIU Play Tells Story of First Black Man to Lead a Shakespearean Play

FIU Fine Arts seniors Jash Sanghavi (left), who plays Terrence, and Nick Menendez (right), who plays Henry Forester, are both part of the FIU Theatre cast for "Red Velvet." Christopher Ramirez/PantherNOW

Christopher Ramirez/Contributing Writer

FIU Theatre’s new play, “Red Velvet,” tells the true story of Ira Aldridge, the first black man to have the lead role in William Shakespeare’s play “Othello,” which was predominantly played by white men.

“Red Velvet” stars FIU fine arts undergraduate students, is directed by associate professor Phillip M. Church and was written by Lolita Chakrabotti in 2017.

“‘Red Velvet’ is meant to reference the red velvet curtains of the theatre,” said Church.

Church explained that Aldridge introduced a new and shocking approach to acting, called the natural and real approach.

“When people left the theatre in 1833, they were convinced this was his behavior from how real his acting seemed,” he said.

Aldridge was one of the pioneers to the concept of realism acting. Before realism, many actors relied on the dramatization of their roles with flamboyant movements and reactions.

In addition to Aldridge receiving criticism in the 1800s for his new approach to acting, he also had to deal with racist remarks. The abolishment of slavery in England in 1833 occurred within Aldridge’s acting career.

Church said that he wants the audience to think of this history parallel to relate it to current times.

“‘Red Velvet’ is about change, freedom of speech, and equal rights,” he said.

Warren Welds, a junior who plays Aldridge as his first leading role, said “there’s aspects of Ira’s story in everyone. This play draws attention to those issues that people try to avoid.”

Warren Welds rehearsing his role of Ira Aldridge, the main character in “Red Velvet.” Christopher Ramirez/PantherNOW

Cristina Fatima, a senior that plays Ira Aldridge’s wife, Margaret Aldridge, took a critical approach to some aspects of Aldridge’s character.

“Method acting can sometimes seep into an actor’s personal life. In the play, one can see Ira Aldridge seem to lose his sense of self-control in his personal life,” said Fatima.

Nick Menendez, a senior playing Henry Forester, also commented on this concept and the cast’s hard work in the play.

“The play draws attention to problems that still exist today. We rehearse Monday through Friday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. as necessary for such a big play,” said Menendez.

The students of the FIU Theatre that are included in the play had to train with vocal coach Rebecca Covey to learn European dialects.

“There are dialects in the play such as German, Polish, French, American and British. We practice the Cockney British accent, the RP accent and the Standard British accent. There’s even an actor that has to speak only in German. I’ve had to practice perfect posture and displaying conviction without yelling,” said Jash Sanghavi, a senior who plays Terrence in the play.

RP or Received Pronunciation, is often described as ‘typically British’ accents that is also known as “the Queen’s English.”

To Sanghavi, “Red Velvet” holds a significant role in bringing attention to historic and contemporary problems,

“The play has hard-hitting moments, which we hope will leave audiences with some shock value to remember the important themes of the play,” he said.

The show will run from Nov. 15 to Nov. 24. from 8 to 10 p.m., except for Sundays, which will run from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center at FIU’s Modesto Maidique Campus.

The cost of admission is $15 for general admission, $12 for seniors, faculty and staff, and $10 for FIU students with a valid ID.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit

Photo courtesy of FIU Theatre.

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