A Toronto private school has fired its headmaster after a provocative performance of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice riled parents, who characterized it as blatantly anti-Semitic.
Bishop Strachan School issued an apology and said it had “parted ways” with its head Judith Carlisle in a statement issued last week, days after two dozen parents penned a letter to the BSS board lamenting the play’s “demeaning, derogatory and highly inappropriate language.”
The rendition put on by Box Clever Theatre, where Carlisle had previously served as a director, included an element of audience participation in which students were urged to chant “Hallelujah” in response to statements like “Burn the Jews” and “Take away their holy books.”
The letter from the aggrieved parents said that “Box Clever materially exaggerated the anti-Semitic sentiment of the original version of the play and sadly introduced the Holocaust in a humorous light that minimized its impact and offended many of the Jewish students whose families were personally affected.”
I did below. An adaptation of The Merchant of Venice.
— Caryn Lieberman (@caryn_lieberman) October 27, 2018
Box Clever has said the play intentionally uses provocation to stress anti-Semitic elements and critique them.
In its statement BSS admitted that it was “an error to present that particular version of the play,” adding that “the appropriate context was not provided to students to prepare them.”
In a statement of her own, Carlisle took responsibility for the incident. “I deeply regret that there was not a plan in place to ensure that teachers were fully prepared to engage the students on the play.
Box Clever also apologized to students who were upset by their adaptation, but pointed out that the company has been performing it around the world without complaint since 1998 — and this included a showing in Jerusalem.