We gathered at the ancient Jewish Ghetto in the city - which was founded 500 years ago this year and became the pattern for ghettos around the world. Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells gave an introductory talk over dinner, highlighting key themes of the play. But perhaps the greatest evidence of The Merchant's continuing contemporary relevance was the phalanx of armed police with riot shields surrounding the performance area.
As darkness fell, the heat of the day faded, and the loud rasping of the crickets suddenly became total silence, the actors danced into the square, Commedia dell Arte style. And the play's shades of light and dark unfolded in front of us. The unique location gave an undeniable frisson. As Shylock was abused, called a dog and cur, and reminded us that "if you prick us, do we not bleed" the ghosts of the 5,000 Jews who were nightly locked in to this small square whispered around us.
Karin Coonrod's thoughtful production used 5 actors to play Shylock, each expressing different aspects of the role. The following morning, the group had the fascinating opportunity to hear from her about her vision for the play and the artistic response to the historic and political issues raised by performing in such a highly charged location.
We also heard from Sorab Wadia, who played both one of the Shylocks and Graziano -abused and abuser, Jew and anti-Semite - about the tensions of the play, and how it felt as an actor to play out this story in the very place it happened.
Another short lecture, in the impressive surroundings of the Palazzo Papafava Pessaro, then the group boarded a speedboat to cross the lagoon to the island of Torcello for a delicious lunch at the famous Locanda Cipriani (a favourite of Ernest Hemingway). The sun came out, the conversation flowed, and the afternoon was rounded off as we sat shaded by vines in the garden of the hotel, reading Shakespeare's sonnets.
As well as being a wonderful couple of days, and offering a unique opportunity for our donors to connect with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, this unique event raised over £4,000 to support our transformation of Shakespeare's New Place.
Find out more about how you can support Shakespeare's New Place.