‘Merchant’ a new challenge for South Surrey’s Bollard

Peninsula Productions artistic director learns from Bard on the Beach experience

It’s a hectic summer for White Rock-South Surrey theatre director, musician and actress Wendy Bollard (Belfast Girls).

She’s apprentice director for The Merchant of Venice – one of three in-rep productions for this year’s Bard On The Beach season in Vancouver – at the same time she’s overseeing Peninsula Productions’ presentation of Sea Of Stories, coming to White Rock Playhouse in August to mark the 60th anniversary of the city.

Fortunately, Bollard said, much of the current work on Sea Of Stories involves music rehearsals, allowing her a greater chance to focus on Shakepeare’s classic.

The opportunity to work with the Bard On The Beach company has been “absolutely amazing – their culture is very welcoming and respectful,” she said.

But she admits she approached it with some trepidation.

Merchant is a problem play, after all – many have struggled with the inherent anti-semitism of a story in which moneylender Shylock (Warren Kimmel) is cruelly out-manoeuvered by the gentry of Venice – represented by heiress Portia (Olivia Hutt), Bassanio (Charlie Gallant) and Antonio (Edward Foy).

“Who knows, now, where Shakespeare was coming from?” Bollard said, although she allows that while he may have expressed attitudes of the time, his concern was also to depict the greys as well as the black-and-whites of human interaction.

And that’s certainly the emphasis of director Nigel Shawn Williams in his modern-dress version, she said, noting it doesn’t take the usual contemporary route of portraying Shylock as a victim.

“What Nigel has done is made this a play about fathers and daughters – he’s shone a light on a patriarchal society and how awful it is,” she said, noting that while Portia is bound to choose a suitor through conditions unfairly dictated by her deceased father, Shylock’s daughter Jessica must also rebel against the rigidity of the moneylender’s own set of beliefs.

While acknowledging the lot of an “apprentice director” could literally mean making tea or simply being an observer – depending on the director and the production – she has been delighted to find in Williams “a kindred spirit.”

“We have a lot of the same ways of looking at the material.

“He’s been very good about listening to my input – he’s been very supportive of me going off and talking to actors. I’ve felt as though I’m part of the process,” she said.

“I have huge respect for him as an artist – one who sets the bar very high – and that gives me more confidence in my own ventures.”

The Merchant of Venice runs until Sept. 16 at the Howard Family Stage in Vancouver’s Vanier Park.

For tickets (which range from $21 to $59) and information, visit www.bardonthebeach.org or call 604-739-0559 or 1-877-739-0559.