Circle Arts Theatre Founder Elizabeth Elliot's Final Bow, or: the death of the matriarch of local theater

From the Herald-Zeitung of New Braunfels, TX:

New Braunfels performing arts community lost the woman perhaps best described as the matriarch of local theater with the passing of Elizabeth Elliott.

The founder and executive director of Circle Arts Theatre, Elliott was 76 when she died Saturday. She recently underwent surgery and had been unwell for some time.

Elliott has influenced thousands of community actors of all ages in New Braunfels since she founded Circle Arts, including her daughter Roberta, the theater’s artistic directory. Just last month, the company drew down the curtain on its 40th season and currently is staging its annual Wurstfest melodrama — this time entitled “Raiders of the Lost Wurst.”

A single mother who raised two daughters with disabilities — and a theatre from scratch — Elizabeth has directed 91 major productions to date, including the award-winning “Seascape.”

Speaking in October, Roberta Elliott said she was a teenager when Elizabeth, became interested in opening a theater.

“Originally, she wanted to renovate and reopen an abandoned theatre called the Peninsula Playhouse, which used to be where the (Landa Park) dance slab is now,” Roberta said.

Taking on the challenge of raising $10,000 to save the building, Elizabeth worked hard on a local petition and various fundraising activities.

When the playhouse fell into disrepair it was torn down in the 1960s. Elliott said she was livid when she learned that repairing the building would have cost the same as demolishing it — about $10,000.

"But anger is not a bad thing," she said. "It's what you do with your anger that makes a difference. I was so angry that I said, 'I'll show them. I'll build my own theater.' Then I got 20 friends together and borrowed $10 from each of them, and got the rights to do Calamity Jane."

Although, she ultimately was not successful, her determination and the fire in her belly eventually gave birth to what originally was the Community Actors Theatre.

“The name was changed because we want to show all different aspects of the arts; the serious side, as well as melodramas and comedies. Even Shakespeare has played here,” Roberta said. “Circle Arts is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the performing arts and the affirmation and growth of the human spirit.”

Apart from its annual five-show season, another goal of Circle Arts’ is its “Klasses in Drama” program, which is meant to encourage self-discovery and build self-confidence, while teaching theatre to 2nd through 8th grade students. Another program, the Inner Circle company focuses on bringing live theatre to area elementary and middle schools. To date, the company has performed nearly 600 performances for more than 120,000 students.

Elizabeth was the recipient of the First Lifetime Achievement Award from the Greater New Braunfels Arts Council and, in 1990, was named by the San Antonio Express-News as the “Outstanding Woman of the Year in the Arts.”

In recent years, Elliott’s mobility has been restricted and she got around using a motorized scooter. Up to age 75, Elizabeth Elliott continued to direct one show per year — her final show was “Driving Miss Daisy”

Speaking to the Herald-Zeitung in April, Elizabeth Elliott recalled that when she could still walk, she was often the last person to lock up the building each night.

"I'd close the back doors, and come out and walk on the stage, and look at the seats, and wonder to myself, 'When did we do all this?'

"We were so caught up in the job of building the theater and getting the seats and doing the shows, we were so busy doing the work that I didn't notice it until it got quiet at night. Then the theater's empty and you walk out on-stage and say, 'My God, when did all this wonderful stuff happen?"

Funeral services for Elizabeth Elliott are pending at the Zoeller Funeral Home in New Braunfels.


Dazzle the dark, dazzle the dark, dazzle the dark.

I met Elizabeth when I was in second grade. I was a part of the Klasses in Drama program (then known as the Fantasy Factory) where I performed in one of my first shows ever, "Turkey Day," written by Roberta Elliott.

Ms. E (as she's known to most who work with her), was a woman of staunch demeanor. She was very wise and very professional, a trait that some incorrectly confused for strictness and stubbornness. She knew what she liked and let everyone know.

She also knew what she didn't like. To say the least, she was a mighty presence to a second grader doing one of his first productions of a theatrical nature. But she left an indelible impression.

And she has kept that same presence all throughout her long and productive life. No one who met Ms. E ever forgot her. The Herald-Zeitung article doesn't mention that she not only affected thousands of actors in the New Braunfels area, but her impression of thousands of actors in the San Antonio community as well.

My most recent production with Circle Arts Theatre was Honk!. It was a fun show directed by the insanely talented Robin Williams (yes, that is her real name). It was a show that was somewhat out of Ms. E's taste for theater. She preferred classic musicals that appealed to a large demographic or meaty dramas that enriched the culture of theater in New Braunfels. Honk! was a little too cute for Ms. E (a word she despised as a descriptor of any production), but she whole-heartedly championed the strong production and the talent involved. Every night there she was in the front row, offering her wisdom; offering her unwavering support and dedication.

My previous role at Circle Arts was back in January and February as Will Parker in Oklahoma!, a show that was right up Ms. E's alley. A classic musical with strong material and music that made the audience hum along in delight. Oklahoma! for me was a particularly strong production (thanks in part to the steady direction of Roberta Elliott [or Rob as she is referred to as by those closest to her ] and a committed, versatile, talented cast).

During that production Ms. E gave one of the most cherished compliments I have received. She called me a great actor. It was offered in a sort of back-handed compliment way, but it was accurate in its bluntness.

"Joseph has a wonderful voice. He may not be the greatest singer in the world, but it doesn't matter; because when he sings, he acts. And you feel every moment of his performance."

Coming from Ms. E, I took it in stride. That's the kind of woman she was. And to this day, it's one of the most cherished moments of my theatrical career. Everyone wanted her approval. And I knew I had it.

She will be missed. Next time I perform on that intimate stage and I look out to stage left and see her empty chair, where she so dubiously wrote and read detailed notes for actors, I will take a moment to appreciate all she has done for arts in the local area, all she has done for her theater family, and all she has done for me.



Mark said...

Mrs. E will sorely be missed. I owe most of my professional demeaner to my "career behind the big red door..."

Adults came and went, but Fantasy Factory kids always seemed to get it.

Joseph Gomez said...

hi mark. is this a mark i know? if so, please don't hesitate to contact me. if not, glad you found my blog.


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