At Classic Stage Company’s East 13th Street Theatre we performed a Readers Theater version of The Merchant of Venice
. The idea of Readers Theater is that the audience becomes the character who is being spoken to, every line is said directly to the audience. It creates a different kind of community than a traditionally staged production and focused the listener on the language - what you hear is more important than what you see.
One of our panelists, the OBIE award-winning actor John Douglas Thompson describing the performance: “I got a lot out of it, I heard things I hadn’t heard before in the
context of the language. And so I found the presentation really wonderful because it opened up new vistas for me.”
In the panel that followed one question came up that provoked quite a bit of discussion: What is more powerful or impactful - hate or love?
A very challenging and meaningful conversation has followed this question with many advocates for love being the most impactful, but Rabbi Hirschfield added a bit of a challenge to the discussion:
“I’m very interested in evidence-based approaches to life. Show me the evidence of a hate-based approach to life. What kind of world does it create for the hater and hated, and for the legacies of both? Show me the evidence of the world created by the lover and loved and the legacy it creates for them?”
Looking at The Merchant of Venice
and the legacies of the characters, it is hard to imagine it becoming a legacy full of meaningful relationships, but what about us? What can we do to create a legacy of love?
The discussion continued with a heated discussion of whether or not the play was
anti-Semetic, with many arguments for and against and Fr. Matt Malone offered this in his final parting thoughts: “The real genius of the play is that it reminds us it is better to discuss something without resolving it, than to resolve it without discussing it.”
Truly this was also the case for the characters in the play, how much better would it have been to allow the characters to discuss their differences rather than forcing Shylock’s conversion and therefore “resolving” the problem.
Thank you to all who joined us last night. It truly was a wonderful evening.
At the panel discussion at the Library for the Performing Arts last week, Jeff Robbins asked which is more powerful, love or hate? Which fuels us more?
“That’s a hard one to answer. . .” said Sr. Danielle Dwyer, “when you were talking about hate being addictive, I think about that as far as how it is empowering. On the other hand, to live in love, I find is much more sacrificial. I find it much easier to be irritated than to try to understand what might be happening in that situation. Love requires much more of the individual.”
Fr. Matt Malone, President of America Media, responded: “As a person of faith, I have to say that [the more powerful] is love. We are created in love by a God who is love, and ultimately I believe that we will live a life of love forever. But I think that is a very big metaphysical answer to the question.
Hate is more practical in some ways. It is easier to destroy than to create, it is easier to take than to give, because of the nature of human desire. That ultimately cannot win, because it ends in nihilism.”
In so many ways, for Antonio and Shylock, the destruction in both of their lives throughout the play is rooted in their hatred for each other, and the willingness to destroy themselves in the process of trying to destroy the other. For both of them, hatred was the more powerful force in their lives. Perhaps that self-destructive hatred is one reason why we regard The Merchant of Venice
as a cautionary tale, rather than a “comedy” as it is classified in Shakespeare’s canon.
I don't know how to describe the moment when something on stage is transformative. You cannot make it happen. You work, so that all the doors are open for this moment of magic to rush in. When we rehearse we talk of being "available" so much so that I think it has now lost its real meaning. Being in the moment is another equivalent, but what I realize again, the moment of magic is not about you, the performer, it is about the life of the story set free again for another group of people. Its like we pay the ransom for this kidnapped, contained life by doing all we can getting out of the way, learning our parts, researching the story etc. to invite this moment of magic to live and in that mystery words are fleshed, people transformed and a new truth whispered into the audience's ears. Best not to know how it happens, and an invaluable experience of which I am always deeply grateful to have been a part.
And a fantastic play is like Chocolate to me, I can't get enough!
I just saw the new video about Elements Theatre Company and I love it! It is challenging to portray a drama group to the fullest extent that this group will stretch . With dedication to the truest form of honesty, in their costumes, rehearsal, and stage sets they have agreed to work together, and the outcome is amazing.
Take a look and let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.
Here's the link:Elements Theatre Company
While you are here- check out where they are touring with Shakespeare's Twelfth Night on the tours page.Elements tours 2012