Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Following the dark and compelling Richard III in 2010, the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble (QSE) returns this year with William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Supported by a brilliant directorial team including major international Shakespeare director, Curt L. Tofteland, founder of the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars Program, and Crystal Arons, selected as a top 20 director for Short and Sweet Brisbane, The Merchant of Venice tackles tough realities of prejudice and exclusion through the wheelings and dealings of commerce in 16th century Venice.

When the generous but anti-Semitic merchant Antonio must default on a large loan for a friend, the abused and bitterly vengeful Jewish moneylender, Shylock, demands the gruesome payment of a pound of Antonio’s flesh.

According to Tofteland, who brings thirty-three years of professional theatre experience as co-director, the underlying themes of prejudice and intolerance are as relevant today as they were 400 years ago. “The ‘insider’ [Antonio] is generous to a fault with his 'kind' and an anti-Semite to the 'other' [Shylock] but will use the Jew’s usury for his own benefit.”

With a ten-strong ensemble cast, featuring senior lecturer in linguistics and drama at the University of Queensland, Dr Rob Pensalfini (star of Richard III), as Shylock, QSE’s passion and skill brings to life one of the best scripts ever written in the language.

“In this play, everything is commerce, including the trade of people, in marriage, servitude, or slavery," says Pensalfini. "The conflation of commerce and the human reaches its absurd but logical conclusion in the pound of flesh.”

Supported by an original score of live music enabling actors and audience alike to co-inhabit the world of the play, QSE’s The Merchant of Venice will have Roma Street Parkland immersed in a timeless world where everything is skewed, a world of fluidity that brings the mirror to us all, revealing hidden prejudices”.

"Meaning incandesces from the spoken word. It crackles in the air and we all catch fire. Comprehension is instantaneous, the effect, miraculous." - QSE audience member

The Merchant of Venice
Directed by: Crystal Arons & Curt L. Tofteland
Venue: The Amphitheatre, Roma Street Parkland
Dates: 21 September – 09 October
Tickets: Adults $30; Concessions & Groups of 10+ $20
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The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble

Introducing QSE
The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble (QSE) was founded in 2001. Since its inception, QSE has gained a reputation for energetic, accessible and unique productions of Shakespeare's plays.

Our Vision
The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble exists to engage Southeast Queensland communities with Shakespeare in order to strengthen the connections and relationships between community members, and to create evocative, engaging theatre that awakens the senses and impassions the lives of its audiences and artists.

QSE is committed to sharing epic, eternal stories with a live audience and considers the human voice the paramount instrument for doing so. The Ensemble's core belief is that performance is most potent when embodied by actors who train together, exchanging skills, experience and a sense of belonging with one another.

Why Shakespeare?
QSE focuses on the works of William Shakespeare because they reflect the diverse fears, hopes and joys of the current world; and are some of the most deeply layered, finely articulated and moving studies of human behaviour and passion ever created.
Shakespeare demands of his actors an intense intellectual-emotional-physical-spiritual connection and his language is the ultimate actor training and community building tool. His plays, created when language was a rhythmic, physical, aural experience, insist on a whole-body relationship to words, challenging theatre artists to act boldly and speak with desire. Shakespeare is an indispensable antidote to the move towards visual storytelling in live theatre, and although the Ensemble produces other playwrights and authors, Shakespeare will always be the home from which we travel.

Performance History 

The Ensemble formed in 2001 and presented several staged readings at the historic Avalon Theatre in St. Lucia (now closed). In 2002, As You Like It, directed by Artistic Director Rob Pensalfini and featuring the live music that QSE has become known for, marked QSE's first full production. A workshop production of Pericles, directed by Ira Seidenstein, was presented in 2003, followed by a 17-actor Coriolanus, complete with battle scenes, later that year (directed by Anne Pensalfini). An intensely vocal and experimental re-working by Stephen Daniels, The Madness of King Lear, played in March 2005 at !Metro Arts. In November, Rob directed the company again in its ground-breaking re-gendered Comedy of Errors.

In 2006, Shakespeare's Shorts, a trio of severely abridged hysterical tragedies (The Half-hour Hamlet, Instant Romeo & Juliet and Midsummer's Mechanicals) performed at a dozen festivals, libraries and schools. This was the same year that Shakespeare's Briefs -or- Let's Kill All the Lawyers! played in the Banco Court as part of the World Shakespeare Congress activities, presided over by actual Supreme Court judges, and our highly physical adaptation of Ted Hughes selections from Ovid's Metamorphoses made QSE's first non-Shakespeare production a critical success, garnering a Matilda Award for director Leah Mercer.

2006 also marked the inaugural year for the Arts in Community Enhancement (ACE) program in Borallon Correctional Centre. The project concluded with a performance of an hour-long version of The Tempest for an audience of inmates, prison staff, and family members of project participants. Six prisoners and three QSE Core Ensemble members played roles. ACE was made possible through partnerships with The Department of Corrective Services, The Supreme Court Library, The Queensland Law Society and The University of Queensland. The program was delivered again in 2009 and 2010 with the financial support of the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.

Shakespeare's Shorts played seasons at !Metro Arts and in Ipswich in 2007, which was also the year that QSE began its relationship with Roma Street Parkland, performing Much Ado About Nothing directed by Jo Loth. At 2008's production of Twelfth Night, directed by Rob Pensalfini, audiences were able to purchase picnic baskets through our long-time supporters DeliOz, and enjoy an hour of live music prior to the show in the beautiful Parkland. That production netted Matilda nominations for Rob (Best Director) and for Gavin Edwards (Best Supporting Actor, as Malvolio). A new incarnation of Metamorphoses, directed by Jo Loth, played at the Visy Theatre in March 2008. Roma Street Parkland continued as the venue for both of QSE's 2009 shows: the evocative Shakespeare cabaret Food of Love, directed by Cienda McNamara, played in the more intimate Harry Oakman Pavilion in May, while the amphitheatre stage in October hosted As You Like It.

Isabelle de Keranflec'h
P: 0402336479


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