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.
We 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.
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’ Theatre 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 Antonio 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.