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The Oracle delves into “The Merchant of Venice” auditions

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By Elsa Chu:

The students pace around the green room, eyes looking up towards the ceiling as their lips frantically mouth the lines of Shakespeare.”

Senior stage manager Nikolaj Sorensen collects audition forms and offers cheese puffs to hopeful thespians at the beginning of auditions for the spring show, “The Merchant of Venice”. The students pace around the green room, eyes looking up towards the ceiling as their lips frantically mouth the lines of Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” tells the tale of an Italian merchant, Antonio, who strikes a deal with a Jewish moneylender, Shylock, to borrow 3,000 ducats for Antonio’s friend, Bassanio. In the play, Shylock resents Antonio for his anti-Semetic behavior and, as part of the deal, tells the two Italians that if the loan is not repaid in three months, he will take a pound of flesh from Antonio. The borrowed money will fund Bassanio’s courtship to Portia, a rich heiress whose father’s will has strange instructions for her marriage. She must marry the man who chooses correctly from three caskets: one with gold, one with silver and one with lead. If he chooses incorrectly, however, he may never marry at all. Portia is uninterested with all of her suitors, but fondly remembers Bassanio, who visited her long ago.

The story weaves between the characters’ relationships and explores the effects of friendships. Director Jim Shelby, along with Technical Director Kristen Lo, made the choice to transfer the setting to Wall Street in 2008, right before the stock market crash. However, they maintained the text’s native Shakespearean to juxtapose the economic situations of scrooges. “Our job is to make the play relevant today,” Shelby said. “It’s a challenging play that deals with anti-Semitism and hypocrisy and the hubris of wealthy people. The things that happen to Shylock, an angry bitter Jew in a Christian society that reviles him, would shock people. It has comedy, it has romance, but in our hands, it’s a drama.”

While working with Lo, Shelby thought about how to make the story resonate in a modern setting. To make his students understand anti-Semitism in today’s world, Rabbi David Booth, from Congregation Kol Emeth, a conservative synagogue in Los Altos, will come to talk with the cast and crew once rehearsals start. “It’s to get our noses rubbed in [the play],” Shelby said, “so we can understand that fear makes us do horrible things, and that human beings do terrible things when they’re afraid.”

The struggle with moral righteousness in the play makes the audition process trying for most. “Auditions are stressful because no matter what, you could always get up there and forget what you were planning on doing,” sophomore Tatiana Boyle said. When it comes to Shakespeare, lines can be especially confusing and it can take a lot of practice before getting the hang of the language. To address this complication, Shelby gave the scripts to the potential cast members one week ahead of time. “The lines the characters have are like puzzles,” Shelby said. “The journey is in solving the puzzles. Shakespeare is hard and some people hate it, but people aren’t going to audition if they hate it, so there’s lots of energy and potential.” Though Shelby doesn’t require them to memorize the script, some choose to do so to focus their complete attention on the audition itself, their word inflection, body language and facial expressions.

However, when the actors stepped on the stage, their traces of anxiety disappeared. For senior Blake Vesey, although this was his tenth audition, but he was still anx- ious. “I feel a little bit nervous, but it’s a normal part of the auditioning process,” Vesey said. “Going through the motions again, you always feel a little nervous. Are they going to like my choices? Do I have all my lines down? Intheend,yougoupon stage and you perform and it is what it is. The most important thing about auditions is to keep composure, have confidence and keep going through the motions.” However, freshman Austin Traver thinks differ- ently. “This is my first play, and I’m going to give it my all,” Traver said. “If I’m the best for the part, I’ll be cast. I don’t expect anything more than that.” Shelby himself doesn’t enjoy auditions, despite the necessity for them. “It’s a very special time when people are putting themselves on the line. I am an actor and I know what it feels like. You do your very best but it’s out of your control,” Shelby said. “You don’t know if you’ll get what you want, but if you go for it, you get a chance. If you don’t take a risk there’s no way you can ever get it.”

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The Oracle delves into “The Merchant of Venice” auditions