The past two weeks in Chicago have flown by. Today was our last performance and tomorrow we will begin the trek home, but before that, a quick look back at our time in the Windy City. This was Elements first time touring in Chicago, and having spent a month here in the summer of 2012, we were quickly reminded of the many things we love about this city. It was wonderful to have an opportunity to reconnect with some of our teachers from that month of study, and to meet and see new people and places. Our first stop was at the Elaine and Zollie Frank Theater at the Mayer Kaplan JCC in Skokie, IL. What a lovely, hidden gem of a theater! The staff there have been trying to reinvigorate the theater programing and we hope our two full performances of Merchant and post-show discussions will help them on their way to realizing that goal. A few days later, on Tuesday, February 17th, we had the wonderful opportunity to perform scenes for the students of the University of Chicago's Lab School 7th and 8th graders, as well as the faculty, staff and students of the Chicago Theological Seminary in the beautiful Chapel space at CTS. These scenes sparked conversation moderated by Rev. Lillian Daniel, Rabbi Fred Reeves, Sr. Danielle Dwyer and Chris Kanaga. It is always our privilege to see the incredible connections young people are able to make with Shakespeare, and reminds us again of why education is such an important part of our mission. On Ash Wednesday, February 18, we were grateful to be able to work with Rabbi Fred Reeves again, this time at KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue in Hyde Park, where he serves. To perform scenes from The Merchant of Venice in that space was incredibly powerful for the actors, and the audience responded to their work in new and different ways which informed a thoughtful panel discussion. Thursday was frightfully cold, so cold that public schools were cancelled, but a few hardy souls braved the cold to attend a Shakespeare sonnet workshop at the Lincoln-Belmont Branch of the Chicago Public Library. Those who did were rewarded with a presentation on sonnet writing, both how Shakespeare wrote, and an introduction to writing your own. At the end of the presentation, the attendees began working on their own four quatrains and a couplet, all written in iambic pentameter. Our final venue on this tour was the Dominican University Performing Arts Center, located on the lovely campus in River Forest. After load in and rehearsal on Sunday, we were joined in the theatre on Monday morning by 500 high school students from the surrounding area. For many students it was their first time in a theater and for many more, the first time seeing Shakespeare performed. When the performance concluded, the room was buzzing with questions and the actors answered as many as they could before the students had to board their busses to go back to school. We hope they caught the Shakespeare "bug" and keep asking questions and looking for the truth that Shakespeare reveals. What a privilege to have been able to work on our craft and what an incredible journey it has been - two cities, 3 workshops, 10 performances, and 2,000 miles. New York and Chicago, in the words of the great man himself, "Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again."
Yesterday we performed at Chicago Theological Seminary, with an audience of seminary students and 7th and 8th graders from the Lab School (affiliated with the University of Chicago.) For the kids, their questions about the play were simple. They, often, couldn’t understand why a character would do something so hurtful to another. It was a great reminder that hate isn't something that we are born with.
For the characters in the play, where did all this hate come from? Who taught Shylock and Antonio to hate each other? Was this something that was taught in their homes, prejudice being served with along with their breakfast cereal? How can we prevent our own aversions being passed along towards our children?