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By William Shakespeare

A fragile house of cards is built as Bassanio borrows money from his friend, Antonio, the Merchant of Venice, to (of course) woo a wealthy and beautiful young woman. Antonio’s own money is tied up in business ventures that depend on the safe return of his ships from sea, so he borrows the money from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender Antonio has previously offended, who lends the money against a bond. Failure to repay the loan on the agreed date will entitle Shylock to a pound of Antonio’s flesh. What could go wrong? Everything, of course!

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The Merchant of Venice

Auld Lang Syne

Justly or not, 2016 has garnered a reputation as a rough year. But for Sweet Tea Shakespeare, it was a year of excitement, challenges, and magic. Here are some of our company members’ favorite memories and moments of the shows of 2016:

“Shut Up and Dance,” the Tinder messages, Mercutio’s Burger King crown (and the fact that Lofton Riser had to go to four different Burger Kings to find it), Catherine Kelly twerking in a nun’s habit and killing that violin solo on “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” (Romeo and JuliLIT)  –Hanna Lafko, Stage Wright

Watching Gertrude’s wine glass get bigger each time she walked on stage. Singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” while rolling a dead body up in a carpet. (HamLIT)  –Katie White, Goods Wright

Marie Lowe leading the ensemble singing “This Love Won’t Break Your Heart” to open Twelfth Night. I was missing friends and family something fierce around that time, and it was super appropriate and made me cry.  –Rachel Brune, Audience Wright

“Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and that one time that I wiped out during the invited rehearsal and had to improvise a recovery.  (Romeo and JuliLIT)  –Gabe Terry, Costume Wright

Michael Thrash pouring water on people was a particular delight. (Twelfth Night)  –Jeremy Fiebig, Artistic Director

Justin Garland singing “Kiss.” (Merchant of Venice)
Jacob French and Tyler Pow wrestling in As You Like It.
Taj Allen eating things In AYLI and Sense and Sensibility.
Greg Griffin and Paul Woolverton bobbing their heads to Ruth Nelson singing “What is Love.” (Twelfth Night)
Seeing the backyard of the Poe House in full bloom for S&S. Lofton’s bluster (and pug) in same.
Thrash in his AYLI turban.
The first time I saw Tohry Petty and Jennifer Czechowski in their Mario and Luigi mustaches. Also, when Tohry didn’t die despite the best efforts of said mustache. (Merchant)
Walking in to the church to fill in for Orlando and getting suddenly, silently hugged by Jeremy. (AYLI)
Seeing Jessica Osnoe play Elinor Dashwood in a play she adapted brilliantly. (S&S)
Joyce Borum’s coffee grounds beard. (As You Like It)
The Mayor of Fuquay-Varina chugging a beer during R&JLit.
The countless times I walked into a space Medina Demeter decorated and went, “Wow.”
Justin Toyer playing Willoughby and getting so frustrated when people didn’t like him. (S&S)
Leisa Greathouse and her husband dressing up for S&S.
The look on Mary Lynn Bain and Tyler Graeper’s faces when I told them to teach everyone their choreography for “I Knew You Were Trouble.” The look on their faces during the bed scene in R&J.
And Jennifer’s husband yelling “That’s my wife!” after she sang “Sweet Child.” (R&J)
Ask me tomorrow and I’ll have another list.  –Marie Lowe, Associate Artistic Director, Master of Audience and Lit

Duty! (HamLIT)  –Nathan Pearce, Master of Dispatch

Anytime we sing “Dear Wormwood.”
The welcoming and charming reception we always get when performing at the library. Especially during LibrariCon.
Uptown Funk during S&S
Marie and Traycie to the rescue during AYLI.
Talking with an audience member at Behold as they were describing the amazing stage for AYLI and watching his face as he realized we were in the same space transformed.
Trying to make it through the MoV trial scene while slowly being choked by a moustache.
Marie’s Gratiano in MoV.
The absolute beauty that was S&S inside and out: how the environment and the show were beautiful reflections of each other.  –Tohry Petty, Master of Gift and Hype

Seeing Marie take Lit from an idea to two successful, hilarious productions.
Gertrude’s ever-changing speech to Laertes upon revealing Ophelia’s death. (HamLIT)
Medina’s note to make “a sound of marital discontent.” (MoV)
Portia rejecting all the suitors. (MoV)
Ruth as Marianne singing “White Blank Page.” I want to cry just thinking about it. (S&S)
“Doors of Heaven” and “Like a Virgin” (Measure for Measure)
The nurse’s sudden appearance in the bed scene. Even when I knew it was going to happen, it stayed funny.  –Jennifer Czechowski, Sugars and Volunteers Fellow

Thank you so much for sharing these memorable moments with us in 2016. We hope you had a beautiful year and that you found joy, solace,  wonder, and hope in a play. Please share your own Sweet  Tea Shakespeare memories with us, and join us to make new ones in 2017. Happy New Year!

A Love/Hate Relationship

The Merchant of Venice is listed as a comedy, but known as a “problem play,” in which the central problem is racism. In a company whose motto is “Love is the strongest choice,” it has proven very difficult to capture racial and religious hatred of the most brutal and unrelenting nature.
As an actor playing one of the most vicious characters in the piece, I’ve been particularly challenged in three ways:
  • I don’t want the audience, specifically my family and friends, to associate me with this behavior. This is a horrible failure for me as an actor, because of course we’re not supposed to care about what the audience thinks of us at all; but here at Sweet Tea, the audience is all around us. We speak to them, make eye contact, and engage. It’s hard not to care, because it’s impossible to block out.
  • I don’t want my cast mates to think I’m enjoying this behavior, or that I’m good at it. We bring ideas and choices to rehearsal every day. But with this piece, I worry that an idea I bring will be considered too outrageous, too upsetting, too far. There’s little worse than the look on a scene partner’s face that says, “I can’t believe she went there.” It’s also terribly difficult to look someone you like and respect in the eye while spitting in their face and treating them like an animal.
  • I don’t want the hate to follow me home. In order to prepare a role, we spend hours with the text – not just memorizing it, but analyzing every word. We work on posture and gesture and gait and mannerisms. We develop ideas about how our characters understand and interact with the world. In order to do that for The Merchant of Venice, I have to spend a lot of time at home with the darkest, angriest, most feared and fearful thoughts. It’s the most unpleasant work I’ve done.
But plays express things that need expressing, and The Merchant of Venice is frighteningly relevant to today’s world. In preparing this role I’ve watched hours of YouTube footage of Trump rallies and MRA events, and the language, adjusted to the modern day, is identical. We are still living in this world; the play is a mirror. But that won’t make sense unless the audience  believes that we are capable of deadly violence against a Jew, and he against a Christian. So our ideas and actions must go all the way.
 Finally, though, this is a play in which you can’t see the love – the sacrifice one friend makes for another, a father’s care for his daughter, the help a servant gives a member of a troubled household, and particularly the love between a Jewish girl and a Christian boy – without understanding the hate. So, I console myself, the stronger the hate, the stronger the love. Because at Sweet Tea Shakespeare, love will always be the strongest choice.

Perks of Participation

From Reba Fox, who plays Jessica in The Merchant of Venice
Me being a senior in High School and being apart of Sweet Tea is a really incredible thing. For example: acing a test on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice without having to study was pretty nice. All I had to do was work on the play and my character and pay attention in rehearsals which was pretty cool. So Sweet Tea helps High Schoolers in multiple ways.
Jessica is a really interesting character. Would you leave behind the only life you knew to be with someone who fell in love with by meeting them only once? Well Jessica does. When you first meet her, I feel like you think she is just some teenager who wants what she wants because she wants it. However, the more you see her, the more you see her reasons behind what she does. You see that she is human and is actually very fun-loving and carefree. Also, something I find really interesting is that the way Lorenzo and Jessica meet is never known. When you meet them, it’s almost like you’re picking up from another story-their happy ending. So you, as an actor get to create a whole backstory and that has been a really fun thing to work out with the actor who plays Lorenzo.
I really think that the song I sing “Come Away with Me” is a perfect song for Jessica, because she is obviously singing to Lorenzo. It’s something I imagine she might have written while out on her balcony after they snuck out together. “Bad Blood” is wonderful because of how well it portrays her relationship with her father after she leaves. When she leaves she creates a divide between them that won’t heal. So it is a great song to describe what happens between them.
I love playing Jessica and I find her to be a very happy person who is strong willed and knows what she wants. I admire her for that, she is a joy to get to know. Hopefully you’ll love her just as much as I do.
Can’t wait for you to watch the magic come to life! Bring all your friends and have the biggest laughs and the most fun you’ve had in years. The more the merrier!


From Chris Brown, our Shylock in the upcoming production of The Merchant of Venice

It is always a pleasure to play the richness of Shakespeare, rich language and rich playing possibilities.  I counted up the number of discoveries in Shylock’s lines that I’ve made since first reading the script: they amount to twenty, and this for only a medium-sized character who is in only five scenes. But he is a rich character.

Superficially he fits the comic type of the paternal heavy whom the young lovers must circumvent and defeat, and, for the rabidly anti-Semitic citizens of Venice, where the play is set, he is devilish as well. But Shakespeare is not content with that.

Instead he crafts a man who, albeit narrow in outlook, is capable of humor and verve, overlying anxiety and uncertainty, and of emotional attachment to his daughter and his deceased wife. His sad fate is to be goaded by the extraordinary hostility he confronts into reducing himself to the vindictive figure that everyone else expects and indeed wants, but Shakespeare has shown other possibilities.

One of them is something that Shylock himself does not fully understand, a motive in addition to the obvious ones for him demanding the famous pound of flesh from Antonio, the merchant of Venice. In the climactic trial scene, Shylock can only tell the Duke that, as some men for no seeming reason urinate at the sound of a bagpipe (Shakespeare doesn’t like bagpipes), so he cannot fully account for his hatred. See if you can detect the x-factor.