“My journey has had many different avenues but the reality is that I have always only been a singer; a singer who needed a day job, a way to heal, a new way to teach.”
Mary Elizabeth began singing when she was just a child. Her first remembrances of this were around six years old, sitting on the floor between two speakers with her father putting on record after record. This honed her ear, her voice, and her musical skills. He’d wanted to be a singer, but had a mental blockage and great fears around it, so he chose his daughter Mary Elizabeth to do the work he longed for. She has taken that work to the end of what she thought it could be and now is taking it further than he could have ever imagined.
Mary Elizabeth earned her BFA for both Acting Performance and Costume Design from the Brooklyn College, where she specialized in Shakespeare and Elizabethan Theater. Mary Elizabeth had studied voice and music in an experimental program in John Dewey High School and wanted a chance to go into theater deeply as well. She’d won great praise as an actress as well as a singer and wanted to develop that side of herself too. She also delved deeply into the art of costume design and wigs. After college, Mary Elizabeth wanted to begin her professional artists journey and formed a theater company with some of her school colleagues titled “None of the Above Theater (NOTA),” this very successful artistic venture was a true labor of love for Mary. NOTA’s forte was new and modern works that told a different story than what the usual theater fair of the time was offering, hence the name. Modern plays and musicals and original pieces began to fill NOTA’s seasons. Notoriety in the then-burgeoning off- and off-off Broadway arena came quickly for this company thanks to Mary Elizabeth and her vision. While this was certainly fulfilling to Mary, the idea of working as a singer kept calling to her. By now, she had built an impressive resume for one as young as she. Numerous musicals and a National Tour of The Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare were now under her belt. It was at this time that she discovered she had some serious vocal damage from misuse of her voice. Searching for expert teachers she found and forged some deep relationships with several voice teachers. Topping the list was era star, Maria Dornya, and her partner, Ray McDermitt. Maria and Ray put her back on the right road with her voice and also gave her some life changing advice: she was wasting her voice on anything but Opera. From the first aria, opera began Mary’s all-encompassing, lifelong passion. Eventually studying with other teacher including Marko Lampas, as student of Maria Callas and others.
This was a great time of spiritual discovery for Mary. She grew deeply involved in the new age movement, studying astrology and reading tarot cards (another skill she had since childhood taught by her Grandmother) as well as explorations on the works of Edgar Cayce, as well as color & music healing. During this time, Mary Elizabeth also began to work in veterinary hospitals as a practice manager. What began as a “day-job” became a mission of mercy for Mary Elizabeth at several successful practices in Manhattan and the outer boroughs where she also worked in animal rescue with other dedicated people.
During these years, Mary Elizabeth sang all around New York City in concerts and operas. This included roles in La Giaconda, Tosca, Ariadne Auf Naxos, Suor Angelica, Cavalleria Rusticana, Turondot, Un Ballo in Maschera , Tristan Und Isolde, Dido and Aeneas, MacBeth, La Wally, and many more at well known companies such as Queens Opera, Bronx Opera, Di Capo, Herkalone, Chelsea Opera. She sang in many places including Cami Hall, Merkin Hall and St. Stephens Church.
In the late 90s, she began working with producer/director Jay Michaels on a series of Shakespeare productions utilizing new and unique production schemes. Her role as Gertrude in his production of Hamlet, set in Washington 1963 (“the Kennedy Hamlet”) allowed Mary Elizabeth to sew-together all three of her passions – acting, acting in classical theater, and the use of voice. She was also able to design costumes, make-up, and wig-work again. Quick turnarounds and shoe-string budgets made Mary Elizabeth adept in creating high-quality work for opera and theater.
Hamlet succeeded beyond both Mary Elizabeth & Jay’s hopes. They needed a foundation to do more such works, so after numerous discussion and preparations a team was gathered and Genesis Repertory Ensemble, a non-profit arts & education organization was formed. Untold hours were expended forming a mission statement, deciding a board, and subsequently, a season.
Mary Elizabeth and Jay’s combined experience and energy enabled rapid movement forward. They brought talented people to the table and this created many opportunities. Genesis became more than a theatrical company – it became an institution. It fostered a classical stage, a new plays workshop, a musical theater program, an improv troupe, an educational program, a women’s spirit and theater group, and an opera company. Mary Elizabeth managed things with Jay and her board and still found time to appear in principle roles in Hamlet (Gertrude – 3x), Macbeth (Lady M), Romeo and Juliet (the Nurse in one production, the Apothecary in another and the director of a third), Julius Caesar (Calpurnia), Faustus (“She’ in two separate productions), Cavalleria Rusticana (Santuzza), Suor Angelica (La Badassa), and many others.
Mary Elizabeth also headed Genesis design dept. – costume, make-up, and hair/wigs. Her license in cosmetology (which she got at age 40) and her stunning work at Genesis gained the attention of a designer from ABC-TV, who suggested Mary Elizabeth share her talents with other companies. What was meant to make some extra money became an avenue of notoriety for Mary. She went on to work, execute, and design for Broadway (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Beauty and the Beast, Aida, Wonderful Town, Spamalot, Little Women, The Paris Letter, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Light in the Piazza, The Producers, Mary Elizabeth Poppins, Wicked, Jersey Boys, Mama Mia! and Spring Awakening, GMHC Showstoppers, and two Tony Award shows); film work (Duane Incarnate, The Color of Love, Norman Normal, 89 Seconds at Alcázar – featuring Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones); and seen at the Whitney Museum in NYC and world wide. She worked in commercials and TV (Today Show, Costco, American Express, BMW) as well as print work for the New York Times, New York Daily News and Macy’s. She served as a consultant for various hair, wig, and toupee designers (Farrell, Paris, and Fleisher) known for high end clients from Television, Film and Theater.
In an ironic way, this led to her teaching resume. Supervising the Opera program at Genesis led to Mary Elizabeth also working with the company’s resident opera singers who needed help with acting. Then she added singers in general who needed acting help, and then she added singers who were nervous or had stage fright. This led to the development of her program helping all stage artists who truncate their talent due to stage fright or anxiety issues. The same issues her father had.
Concurrently, Mary Elizabeth was looking at spiritual paths to fulfill her own needs in life. She studied and worked with Hebrew magic and the Kabbalah and began exploring more esoteric practices including the Northern European Shamanistic and Magickal systems of Wicca, Norse Pagan work, and serous study into the work of Aleister Crowley and others. She began working with magick and entered into a serious study at NYC’s Magick Hub, Enchantments, studying with local expert, Joe Zuckowski. She was lucky then to be able to work and study with many of NYC’s best teachers including Anthony Russell, Lady Rhea, Carole Buzone, Len Rosenberg and Alexei Kondratiev. She formed her own working group and took initiation into paganism in 1996. Today she is an initiated Gardenarian Witch with lineage that reaches back to England and Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca. She was also initiated into a mystery tradition that goes back in its teaching to Ancient Rome as well as an initiated member of the Fellowship of Isis. She continued her path working with the tarot, concentrating on the more esoteric decks like The Thoth deck by Crowley as well as teaching it.
Fascinated by Herbalism and the power of natural healing, Mary’s work in Wicca only fueled this further. She eventually made herbalism and herbal work in magick and medicine as a main focus as a Witch. This branched out into aromatherapy as well. She added celebrated herbalist, Susun Weed (who calls herself a Goddess worshiper and Green Witch) to her list of teachers.
By 2007, she’d formed her own line of Magickal Goods entitled The Magic Apothecary. Mary Elizabeth always felt that healing was part physical and part spiritual so this seemed an easy transition. Using the skills she acquired as a makeup artist and cosmetologist blended with her magical knowledge.
Those years also brought a most unwanted change to her life. She began experiencing extreme pain in her joins and hips; her voice took on a grainy quality; she experienced a lack of energy accompanied by unexplained weight gain; finally, she reached the point of partial immobility. What began as an hypothesis of working too hard or stress, was finally – in 2011 – diagnosed as the autoimmune disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis. For much of that year and following year, Mary Elizabeth was forced to make rapid and unfortunate changes. Her work on Broadway had to end as she could not move at the pace needed and the intricate work of preparing wigs and costumes became too painful for her. Her voice began to change greatly due to how the diseases attacked her throat and she had to make a sad decision about her operatic and musical theater singer career.
Rheumatoid Arthritis debilitates its sufferer in another way. As it is generally unknown and is often greeted with less-than-overwhelming support due to its connection with the better known Osteo-Arthritis, those living with this incurable disease are often ignored as being hypochondriacs, lazy, and even liars. The medications for RA cause everything from drowsiness, to memory loss, to extreme weight gain, to cancer. Told my many doctors, Mary Elizabeth had to rebuild her life and stop the onslaught of permanent immobility.
This disease is extremely painful and many with this condition end up crippled. The body attacks the lining of its joints, the heart, lungs, liver and other internal organs. She was determined to not let this happen. When her worst fear – that of losing her singing voice – started to look like a reality, Mary Elizabeth used the time she was bed-ridden, to sing and teach herself to sing differently. She began to look into Jazz and the Great American Songbook. Mary fell in love with this music and sensed it would keep her voice going due to its soft and easy nature and its healing lyrics and sounds. It was the music her father first introduced her to.
Mary Elizabeth was no exception in terms of the prescription drug side effects. She suffered hair loss, memory damage, weight gain, and finally, her liver began to have some damage. Before the damage of the cure outweighs the damage of the disease, she turned to her knowledge of herbal healing. Enlisting the aid of respected herbalist and homeopath whom Mary had studied with at The NY Open Center as well as privately, Peeka Trenkle, Mary Elizabeth began creating and utilizing many natural treatments to heal herself. This flowed nicely into her pagan practices as Wicca celebrates nature and natural healing. Ms Trenkle’s homeopathic remedies and spiritual care, along with Mary’s unwavering dedication to finding relief, has slowed Mary’s illness greatly.
Mary’s journey to find a cure led her to many other natural and spiritual forms of healing. She studied Reiki with Reiki Master Teacher Joanna Crespo. During a yearlong certification program, Mary Elizabeth trained in concentration and focus, body scanning, treatment, meditation, listening, centering and so much more. Now a certified Reiki master and ordained minister herself, Mary Elizabeth uses her new skills and power to heal others as well as continue to battle her own disease. Mary Elizabeth is licensed to help those in hospitals now – as well as to preside over spiritual ceremonies and weddings.
Mary Elizabeth was on a new path. So she created P.A.T.H. Performing Arts Training – Holistically. This was a theatrical studies program that included her spiritual practices as an aid. Vocal work mixed with shamanistic work as well as herbalism, aromatherapy, meditation, visualization, and Reiki. She became a specialist with performers who have fear or stage fright issues. Her large roster of students now profit from all these arts as well as being given opportunities to take classes in Paganism, Tarot, Astrology (a study she honed thanks to working with world-wide celebrity astrologer, Tom Lescher) and Spell craft alongside others from the community Mary teaches in and serves in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. The place of her birth. Mary chose to go home to teach so that those like herself who have limited access to quality performing arts training could have it close. Genesis being a Non Profit organization helps keep the prices low too so that all who need to study can afford to do so.
She is on the road to her certification in sound and music healing – the bridge between all her varied and fascinating arts. Tuning forks, gongs, movement, drumming, chanting, singing bowls, and much more have already been added to the P.A.T H. Just finishing a new course of singing with Rhiannon from Web-3 opening and growing the new venues for her voice seem to be leading to healing in all directions.
Mary Elizabeth now has a physical base for all these as well. The M Center, the arts training school sponsored by Genesis Repertory, offers all things on Mary’s resume as well as acting, play writing, and arts marketing.
Mary’s study of jazz and standards has created The M Band and Reverend Mary. It’s here that Mary Elizabeth performs and strengthens her voice. She’s even revisiting her operatic repertoire.
Mary’s take on all this is, “I am still no more than that six year old singing to my father’s records! Sometimes many sacrifices have to be made in order to achieve in this life. I am grateful for all of it. ”
Mary Below talking about her work at the M Center