Shakespeare Stirred, Not Shaken

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Photo By: Alex Rozbicki

Ms. Lori Pristera reading Elie Wiesel's "Night" to her students. Pristera took English 2 honors students to a version of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice in L.A.

Ms. Lori Pristera’s English 2 honors class experienced emotions ranging from laughter to shocked disbelief as they watched a unique rendition of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

The play was performed by the City Shakespeare Company at a small warehouse located in Los Angeles. The director, Brooke Bishop, chose not to focus on the oppressive nature of the relationships that the play usually exposes.

The Merchant of Venice is often thought to have been written from a place of hate – we invite you to watch our production from a place of love, and see what you discover,” said Bishop in the Director’s Note.

The sophomores of Pristera’s class were reading The Merchant of Venice at the time and received a student discount on their tickets and even received the opportunity to have a ‘Question and Answer’ session with the cast afterwards.

About 35 students went to watch either the April 4 or the April 5 showing. Although a significant group of students attended, Pristera said, “I wish more could have come, but I was happy that many went.”

Ms. Pristera planned it for her students because she thought it would be a great learning experience for her class. “I wanted students to learn that Shakespeare’s words, themes and emotions are relevant to all times, including their own,” said Pristera. “Also, Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be watched, not just read.”

Pristera did not offer extra credit to the students who went, so people went purely on their own accord. “I thought it would be a good experience for me. I am more of a visual learner and it gave me more perspective now that I’m reading it,” said Olivia Aleman, sophomore.

While some watched it as a learning aid, others watched it as a way to further their cultural understanding. “I thought it would be an intriguing experience to revel in the sights and sounds of an experienced troupe of actors among cultured people,” said Ethan Chen, sophomore.

Among others, Omeed Tavasoli, sophomore, thought the play was worth going to. “The play was absolutely amazing and forced me to reevaluate my views on Shakespeare as I had previously shined a negative light on theatre plays,” said Tavasoli. “It was fun and absolutely worth going to.”

After the performance was finished, some students stayed for the “Question and Answer” section so they could get a deeper understanding of the play. “The setting of the stage and actors were not what I expected, but the Q&A at the end gave insight to the production,” said Chen.

“I think the students learned so much from watching the play. They learned that almost 500 years later, the themes of the plays are still relevant today,” said Pristera. “Hatred, prejudice, justice, and redemption are just as sensitive issues now as they were then.”