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Shakespeare play meant to challenge hatred ignites a firestorm

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An all-girls private school scandal involving an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice has many wondering how a well-intentioned production could have gone so horribly awry. A group of parents say the show is blatantly anti-Semitic; the director disagrees and says he’s “dismayed and shocked” at the outcry; and a prestigious school has fired its head and apologized.

Bishop Strachan School (BSS) says it’s now doing an internal review. But one thing is already clear: It’s important to tackle controversial material in schools, perhaps more so than ever, but educators need to proceed with great care.

“I’m afraid that, for some people, the reaction will be ‘Let’s just not touch that’… because of a fear that it could blow up in their face,” said Allen MacInnis, artistic director of Young People’s Theatre, Canada’s largest not-for-profit theatre for young audiences, who was not involved in the play at BSS. “That would be a terrible shame, because we’re robbing our young people of opportunities while they’re in this learning mode.

“I would love for (educators) to come away from it thinking instead, ‘Right, let’s enter into the conversations about the difficult subjects — and do a better job of it.’”

Controversy followed the Oct. 17 staging by U.K. theatre company Box Clever, despite the director’s “extensive engagement” with students over a period of two weeks at BSS, where he ran workshops and rehearsals.

According to director Iqbal Khan, the students involved with the production, including an intern who identified as Jewish, showed nothing but “informed enthusiasm” throughout. Khan, who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, said students were involved in discussing the ambitions of the show, which delved into “the obscenity of the Holocaust and the centuries of mistreatment of Jewish People.”

Read more:

Bishop Strachan School fires head and issues apology after production of Merchant of Venice criticized for being anti-Semitic

The show was staged in front of 200 Grade 11 and 12 students, and during the evening for adults and BSS board members. Both performances received a “standing ovation from all who attended,” according to Khan. “The shows were an enormous success,” he says, adding each was followed with a “rich and enthusiastic” Q&A session. “There were no negative reactions.”

The one-man show was first produced in 1998 and described by Box Clever as a “poignant reimagining of Shakespeare’s most controversial play.” It begins with a man walking on stage with a suitcase, and telling the audience about both The Merchant of Venice and the story contained within his suitcase, which belonged to his grandfather who lived through fascist Italy and the horrors of the Holocaust.

“The rhetoric of hatred is explored through the centuries; from the time of the play’s writing to our modern age,” said Khan. “From the shockingly hateful sermons of Martin Luther, the smashing of his grandfather’s shop windows in 1942, to modern hateful chants in the football stands and against foreigners.”

According to MacInnis, who attended the evening show, the actor in the play adopted different characters and used various techniques. In one scene, he employed a kind of game show format; in another, he re-enacts scenes from The Merchant of Venice while using audience members as stand-ins for other characters.

Box Clever says the play aims to challenge hatred and remind audiences of the dangers of unchecked discrimination. But days after the show, 24 unnamed parents, who didn’t see the play, wrote to the school, saying the production left their Jewish daughters feeling “extremely uncomfortable and alienated.” They say the play “introduced the Holocaust in a humorous light that minimized its impact,” that students were urged to respond to statements such as “Burn the Jews” with “Hallelujah,” and that BSS failed to adequately prepare its teenage audience for what it saw on stage.

In the wake of the uproar, the school’s head, Judith Carlisle, was fired and BSS said it was an error to present this adaptation, for which appropriate context was never provided.

Khan is stunned by the outcry and says he has no plans to change the play. And, given the horrific killing of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, he says “The play has never felt more urgent.”

“Hate expressed in any form, against any section of society is abhorrent,” he said. “This is precisely what the play tackles.”

But there are now questions over why, for some, the play’s intended message was missed.

MacInnis doesn’t know the process behind Box Clever’s adaptation or how teachers prepared students. But while watching the play, he found himself wondering how he might have reacted to some scenes if he were Jewish or a teenager.

He recalls the actor donning a mask that was a caricature of a stereotypical Jewish villain, with a large nose. He suspects the point was to highlight anti-Semitism in Shakespeare’s time, when this was how Jewish characters might have been depicted and audiences likely would have laughed.

But would a teenager have understood this? “I don’t know if a group of 15-year-olds would say, ‘Oh, I see the stereotypes you’re doing there,’” he said. “The intention’s very clear, to an adult of my age. But is that going to land correctly on a teen audience?”

MacInnis sees educational value in producing classical works that explore difficult themes. But the key, he believes, is to stay mindful of the fact that audiences are diverse and, in an adaption of The Merchant of Venice, the play will feel differently for students who are Jewish versus those who aren’t. “You really have to account for the fact that one person may be more offended than the other, and you’ve got to give space and permission for them to have their genuine personal response.”

Just as important is ensuring people from marginalized communities are not only included in the creative process at every step, but empowered to influence the process and speak up. “Even if you intend to create a safe space, how do you do that … Because that’s actually a very difficult thing to do.”

MacInnis acknowledges the extraordinary task of presenting challenging productions to young audiences, which require a lot of intentionality and hard work.

Four years ago, his theatre staged To Kill a Mockingbird, which has become a highly-controversial book in schools, in part for its use of the N-word. In preparation, MacInnis spent three days with the cast, including the Black actors, going through the script scene-by-scene, discussing problematic aspects. He also hosted a public forum, attended by parents and educators from schools that would see the play, where they tackled its thorny subjects and held a panel discussion that included a representative from the Ontario Black History Society. And the theatre company produced a study guide for teachers that included lessons they could use with their students, both before and after the play.

“We really advanced the idea that no teacher should be bringing their students to the show without proper preparation,” he said.

MacInnis hopes the episode at BSS doesn’t discourage schools from tackling works like The Merchant of Venice. Kids and teachers need to be willing to have conversations about difficult subjects, “but do it with eyes wide open, and many, many people at the table to help construct the conversation.

“It is a lot of work, more than you think, and sometimes exhausting,” he said. “But I think it can be the best work you’ll ever do.”

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

Jennifer Yang is a Toronto-based reporter covering identity and inequality. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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