Category Archives: Elements

Phyllis Tickle

Phyllis Tickle 1934-2015

A dear and generous friend moved on to the Paradise chapter of her life yesterday. Phyllis lived her life fully to the end, and as her strength waned, her spirit was still encouraging and inviting larger thoughts and hopes about the world, the church, and the possibilities within ourselves.

A great friend and advocate of Elements Theatre Company, we will miss her here in our daily pursuit of beauty and truth. She was especially passionate about this pursuit and eager to have others join with her in shoring up the church and look to the light of its future. There are two things that stand out about Phyllis and her involvement with us: her humility and her fierce love of the bible stories that wed the will of man to the will of the divine.

Phyllis was no doormat, no self-effacing religious, but a fiery, articulate, and strongly convinced woman. Her humility was that much more significant because she would listen to and invite another point of view. There were several times where we would differ about her playwrighting, each of us strong in our feelings, and she was willing to change her work at our request. Her art was not just hers, and so she would allow the work she birthed to live through other people, and in doing so gave her artistic children the freedom to run and play without limit. These artistic children were often offspring of the bible stories she was so in love with. Figs and Fury tells the story of the prophet Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch; The Doorway (a play written by her specifically for the tenth anniversary of our church’s dedication) tied together the struggle of an artist and her muse with the lives of Moses, Elijah, Peter, and John – beloved characters that were never far from her consciousness.

So, while we are sad not to laugh and haggle with her over the theatre or language again anytime soon, we send our love and prayers on as she reunites with the Creator who gave her the gifts she shared so generously with us, and we say to her, Deo volente!

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Hamlet V, ii Tickle

      Doorway Chorus



Big City, Amish Country

The past two days were travel days, heading from NYC to Chicago – stopping half way in Mercer, PA.  Going from Times Square to Amish Country was a large and somewhat welcome shift. 


Seeing the Amish buggies got me thinking about the Amish people and how their core values center around the process of submission or “the offering up of oneself”.  I realized that that is really no different from the job of an Actor.  I am learning more and more working with Elements Theatre Company that in order to truly “submit” to the story on stage, the actor must “get out of the way” or yeild yourself in a way.  And only then are the real truths communicated through the production.  Interesting.  We are only in PA for one night but I think I will take a page from the Amish way of life – look out Chicago!

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Leaving the Big Apple for the Windy City

Hard to believe that the first portion of Elements’ 2015 Pound of Flesh tour is over. Yesterday we started the trek out to Chicago, and the hours in the car gave us ample time to ponder the events of the past two weeks in Manhattan.

IMG_5898We love New York for many reasons, not the least of which are the many, many friends and kindred spirits that we have found in the city over the years. While this tour gave us a chance to reconnect, it also led us to many new places and faces, beginning with the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. The space is infused with history; just walking into the auditorium, you can’t help but feel that it demands a certain level of respect and attention. Mindful of this, and of the panel discussion that would close the evening, we were eager to bring our very best to this first performance of scenes from Merchant. As we trusted they would, Shakespeare’s words provided plenty of fuel for a dynamic and generous discussion between the audience and our distinguished panelists.IMG_6033

Elements’ ongoing charge of “education and conversation” continued with two Sonnet Workshops at the 92nd Street Y. A small group of Shakespearean language lovers gathered to delve deeper into the Sonnets, specifically exploring those that related themes from Merchant of Venice.

The Tishman Auditorium at The New School provided the next frontier for Merchant – this time including two full performances of the play. While the auditorium itself is not used for theatrical events, we found both the space and our hosts at the school very welcoming. Again, the Bard’s genius in exposing the heart of humanity brought many thoughts, reactions, and questions to the fore in the two post-show discussions.

A few days later and a few streets over, through the “rabbit hole” of the Everyman Café, Elements took up residence for a day in the intimate and gracious setting of the Classic Stage Company. As CSC is currently running A Month in the Country, we were unable to give a full performance of Merchant. Instead, we presented scenes from the play in Readers’ 16495440632_87146bd631_kTheatre style—a tradition begun in New York, and sometimes referred to as “theatre of the imagination”—again paired with a panel discussion. It was clear from the beginning of the performance that this was an audience that was ready to get down to business. The multi-faceted conversation afterward touched on everything from Shakespearean scholarship to questions of religion and faith raised by the play.

Our final performance in Manhattan fittingly took place at St. Malachy’s – the Actors’ Chapel—just off Times Square. That evening we presented a completely different show, juxtaposing Christ’s trial scene from The Trial of Jesus by John Masefield with IMG_6424Antonio and Shylock’s trial scene from Merchant of Venice. The conversation afterward took on a slightly different tenor, and ended with Portia’s “quality of mercy” speech – which in this setting almost turned into a prayer.

It’s easy to feel intimidated in New York. But even in the midst of these great minds and great spirits, we felt only genuine respect, and a mutual hunger for deep, honest, and life-giving discussion. We cherish these new relationships, and look forward to meeting again.

Reading The Merchant of Venice

IMG_6090At Classic Stage Company’s East 13th Street Theatre we performed a Readers Theater version of The Merchant of Venice. The idea of Readers Theater is that the audience becomes the character who is being spoken to, every line is said directly to the audience. It creates a different kind of community than a traditionally staged production and focused the listener on the language – what you hear is more important than what you see.

One of our panelists, the OBIE award-winning actor John Douglas Thompson describing the performance:  “I got a lot out of it, I heard things I hadn’t heard before in the IMG_6187context of the language. And so I found the presentation really wonderful because it opened up new vistas for me.”

In the panel that followed one question came up that provoked quite a bit of discussion: What is more powerful or impactful – hate or love?

A very challenging and meaningful conversation has followed this question with many advocates for love being the most impactful, but Rabbi Hirschfield added a bit of a challenge to the discussion:

“I’m very interested in evidence-based approaches to life. Show me the evidence of a hate-based approach to life. What kind of world does it create for the hater and hated, and for the legacies of both? Show me the evidence of the world created by the lover and loved and the legacy it creates for them?”

Looking at The Merchant of Venice and the legacies of the characters, it is hard to imagine it becoming a legacy full of meaningful relationships, but what about us? What can we do to create a legacy of love?

The discussion continued with a heated discussion of whether or not the play was IMG_6296anti-Semetic, with many arguments for and against and Fr. Matt Malone offered this in his final parting thoughts: “The real genius of the play is that it reminds us it is better to discuss something without resolving it, than to resolve it without discussing it.”


Truly this was also the case for the characters in the play, how much better would it have been to allow the characters to discuss their differences rather than forcing Shylock’s conversion and therefore “resolving” the problem.

Thank you to all who joined us last night. It truly was a wonderful evening.IMG_6288