Poster offends

Merchant of Venice poster deemed anti-Semitic by campus groups

Avi Grenadier says he found Vagabond Theatre’s Merchant of Venice production posters in Kingston Hall. This photo appeared on Twitter user @radio_613’s Twitpic account.
Avi Grenadier says he found Vagabond Theatre’s Merchant of Venice production posters in Kingston Hall. This photo appeared on Twitter user @radio_613’s Twitpic account.
Photo supplied by Avi Grenadier

A poster with an image evoking a Nazi party flag has campus groups calling for the removal of the poster and a response by Queen’s administration.

The poster, which depicts a Nazi flag where the swastika is replaced with the star of David, a symbol of Judaism, promotes Vagabond Theatre’s production William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, opening on Mar. 11.

Avi Grenadier, ArtSci ’07, was in Kingston Hall on Wednesday night when he saw about 10 posters advertising the production.

“I took the posters down with a few friends of mine,” he said, adding that he also took a picture of the posters and uploaded it to the Twitter page of radio 613, a Jewish broadcast he co-hosts on CFRC.

Grenadier said he found the posters personally offensive.

“Any time that Nazi imagery is exploited, especially for marketing purposes, it denigrates the legacy of the Holocaust and it’s deeply painful as a Jew to see this symbol, and especially to see Jewish symbolism interwoven with it.”

He said he thinks the posters are anti-Semitic because they’re presented without any context or explanation that they intend to counter the play’s well-known anti-Semitism.

“I think that regardless of the intentions of the producers of the play, there is a very real impact on Jewish students who are faced with this imagery,” he said. “The producers of the play need to understand the context in which they’re operating, which is one in which Christian anti-Semitism continues to be deeply woven into the fabric of Western society. There’s no reason to believe that the anti-Semitic stereotypes found in the Merchant of Venice do not replicate themselves on Queen’s campus in a painful manner. … It ignores the lived realities of Jews on this campus to think that such imagery can be written off as ironic or as a use of high theory.”

Grenadier said he’s contacted Vagabond Theatre personally to ask for the posters to be removed.

He said he’s also asking Queen’s administration to investigate the production.

Merchant of Venice director Nathaniel Fried said the play has anti-Semitic roots that shouldn’t be forgotten.

“Through time and through history, and especially with what happened under Hitler’s Nazi regime, is the play has lost that sense of [Jewish] villainy,” he said. “It’s a very difficult subject matter which has to be dealt with honestly and responsibly and I think our play does that.”

Fried said he wanted to examine the anti-Semitism in Shakespeare’s time by comparing it to 20th century manifestations.

“Anti-Semitism is so instilled below the surface so Hitler could use it,” he said adding that he thinks by being exposed to anti-Semitic material for generations societies were more accepting of anti-Semitic thought.

Fried, who is Jewish, said he understands the poster has been offensive to some people but that he would still put out the same poster if he could do it again.

“I really hope people who have taken offence to the poster will take the opportunity to see the show because anything that is misunderstood in the poster will be much more intricately explained in the production,” he said.

Fried said he will post a director’s note on Vagabond’s website a few days before the production opens to explain his rationale for the poster and dispel the rumours which have been going around.

“There are no Nazi-inspired arm bands used in the show [and] there is definitely a portrayal of Shylock that is close to the original depiction of the character,” he said. Maddie Axelrod, Queen’s Hillel co-president, said Hillel finds the posters misguided and sent Vagabond Theatre an e-mail on Wednesday night condemning the posters.

“The posters are offensive because they invoke the historical memory of the Holocaust and although it’s not intended in this way, they do make a racist comparison,” she said.

Axelrod said she and other Hillel representatives met with Fried and co-artistic director Ryan LaPlante yesterday afternoon to discuss the issue. She said Hillel was told the directors wanted the posters to spark discussion about the ways in which anti-Semitism surface.

“I don’t think that’s the response most posters get,” she said. “I don’t think they spark reflection; just gut reaction, and the gut reaction is offensive to Hillel members and probably to other students as well.”

Axelrod said Hillel’s issue is with the posters, not the production. They’ve asked Vagabond Theatre to remove the posters with the Nazi-inspired symbols.

“The response was that they would need some time to consider if they could change it,” she said, adding that Fried and LaPlante told her they would talk with their production team this weekend.

Axelrod said Hillel sent a copy of their e-mail to Vagabond Theatre to Queen’s administrators’ e-mail addresses.

As of last night, a spokesperson for Principal Daniel Woolf said administrators were waiting for more information about the incident. They declined further comment.

Axelrod said if Vagabond Theatre doesn’t remove the posters, Hillel will pursue a more formal complaint.

“Some Jewish organizations have been alerted of the problem and they would issue a formal statement,” she said. “Obviously we hope it can be resolved and doesn’t come to that.”

Update: Friday, Mar. 5, 11:20 a.m.

Vagabond Theatre artistic directors Nathaniel Fried and Ryan LaPlante sent an e-mail to the Journal this morning at around 2 a.m., after the paper went to press, saying they have removed the offending posters and apologized to Queen's Hillel and other offended groups.

"We did not intend or foresee the response this poster elicited, and appreciate that at this point, that sounds very naive, but never the less it is genuine," they said in the e-mail. "Our posters had been approved by the front desk of the JDUC, and were then posted. We believed we had a politically acceptable poster, not one in which we were attacking the Jewish faith. In acknowledgement of the unintended response this poster elicited, we have withdrawn the image and are in the process of removing the posters that were distributed. Our cast and creative team have combed Queen’s Campus to remove any of our posters, and if any remain they should be immediately removed and destroyed."

They went on to add they will be putting up new posters around campus.

"It is our hope that the aims of our production, to remind audiences of the roots of anti-Semitism through the use of the extremely difficult and sensitive play The Merchant of Venice, can still be expressed and fairly critiqued."

-with files from Michael Woods

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