Bringing Merchant home

This week Elements begins preparations to hit the boards again with Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.

To come back to this play is like meeting a dear friend again after a long absence. We have shared history. We know each other’s stories to some extent. But there is that element of the unknown, the as-yet-undiscovered gem, the still hidden secret, that draws us deeper.

Our first encounter with Merchant has left us unsatisfied. In no way did we shy away from Shakespeare’s demands that we face squarely the issues raised in Merchant: our response to “the other” in ourselves and those around us, the pain of unrequited relationship, the question of true faith and conversion, the power of money, racism, bigotry, the overwhelming desire to label people and things as good or bad, hero or villain, and the blurred lines that result instead. But the questions still press us to take up the story and these characters again here at home, and to delve further.

What will it be like to perform Merchant – by and large one of Shakespeare’s more controversial and blatantly offensive plays—here, on the grounds of a monastic, Christian community? No one comes off very well at the end of the story after all—least of all the so-called Christians. Our experiences on tour however taught us that shying away from the baser natures of Shakespeare’s characters would only rob us and our audiences of what is perhaps his most precious gift to humanity: his ability to show us ourselves in the most unexpected places. In that regard, what better place to take up Shylock and Antonio, Portia and Bassanio, and all the rest, to plumb the depths to their foulest demons, and open up to their greatest vulnerabilities, and find all of them echoed in us, than in this place, dedicated to the life-long conversion of souls.

For all our efforts, we don’t expect to close the curtain on Merchant this time either, even after the final performance is over. There is a reason, after all, that Shakespeare’s plays and characters still speak so soundly to us hundreds of years after his passing. But we hope that we will learn a bit more of what they have to teach us, and to pass that on to our audiences. We hope you will join us for the conversation.