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ECT takes The Merchant of Venice out of doors

For its sixth year of Shakespeare in the Park, the Elora Community Theatre is going with The Merchant of Venice. [Submitted – Tom Legrady]

Shakespeare is a classic of summertime theatre, often taken out of doors to delight audiences at this time of year. The Elora Community Theatre has been aboard that line of thinking for six years, this summer staging The Merchant of Venice.

A dark comedy with a decidedly bawdy romantic storyline, the play tells the story of a young man, Bassanio, who has squandered his fortune and must borrow money to woo the wealthy lady he loves. It’s set against the more disturbing story of the Jewish moneylender Shylock and his demand for the “pound of flesh” owed him by the Venetian merchant, Antonio.

The ECT adaptation, directed by Deb Stanson and David Turner, opens tomorrow (Friday) at Bissell Park in Elora.

“It’s a really fun experience,” said Stanson. “We’re right on the Grand River in Elora. If you want to come for the day, you can go and have lunch or dinner before; we’re doing a matinee. It’s a really lovely experience to be sitting outside experiencing Shakespeare through the trees, with the water behind you.”

Though abridged, the ECT staging touches on all the main components of the Shakespearean classic, with Bassanio needing money to impress the wealthy woman he loves, Portia. Out of options, he turns to his wealthy friend, Antonio, to bail him out.

Antonio agrees but requests that Bassanio find a lender. Bassanio approaches moneylender Shylock, who is reluctant to give the loan at first. Eventually, he decides to do so, without interest, under dark terms. He demands “a pound of flesh” if the debt is not paid off in time. Here, pathos and farce combine with romantic entanglement to display the extraordinary power and range of Shakespeare at his best.

In staging the production, the community theatre groups has assembled a cast drawn from all over the area, from Centre Wellington and Guelph to and Kitchener and Waterloo.

“It’s a bit of everything. We have some wonderfully experienced actors in the show that have done several plays, to newcomers that are quite excited about doing Shakespeare,” said Stanson.

The performance generally runs just under 90 minutes in a version that tightens things up without losing a sense of the original.

Along with logistics, the abridged offering also recognizes the vagaries of doing theatre out of doors, where rain, wind or the heat of the sun can all be a factor for the audience.

“We do have a canopy tent,” noted Stanson in a nod to the weather. “We were fortunate enough to get a grant through the Centre Wellington Community Foundation to put up a canopy for our patrons, so they don’t have to sit under the hot sun, because it is sunny.”

The show goes on, rain or shine. Rather than sell tickets ahead of time, ECT simply passed the hat at the end of each performance.

“It’s been well-received over six years. We always look forward to it every summer,” said Stanson of the Shakespeare in the Park offering. “We started it six years ago as a fundraiser because we thought ‘why not do what we love doing?,’ which is performing to raise money. It’s a unique way – we feel that we add to the fabric of the community here.”

Performances of The Merchant of Venice take place July 5-7 and July 12-14. Show times are 7 p.m. on Fridays, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturdays, and Sundays at 3 p.m. Audience members are advised to bring a lawn chair or a blanket. ECT can be found online at eloracommunitytheatre.com.

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