Board of Directors
Kelsey D. Phelps
Nichola is a seasoned international economic development professional with international organization, public, private, and non-profit experience. She is committed to serving the greater good.
Born in England, she grew up in Quebec, Canada, where she became fluent in French. After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from Concordia University in Montreal – where she also hosted a weekly show on the campus radio station – she moved to the US in 1985 for graduate studies in economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1991 Nichola relocated to the DC area and now considers Washington DC her home.
After working for KPMG’s Policy Economics Group for a year, she joined the World Bank Group in 1993. During 26 years at the Bank, 10 of which focused on Africa, she held various operational and corporate roles in Washington and Africa. Highlights include establishing the Bank’s office in Gabon, leading the WBG’s ethics office, developing greenfield engagements on disability and excluded minorities, and designing and delivering training in various media.
In her last role at the Bank, she managed a global agriculture and food security fund supported by multiple donors. Her leadership focused on strengthening partnerships and on the needs of smallholder farmers. She positioned the program for successful fund-raising by doing strategic outreach and raising its profile in various high-level fora, including the UN.
Since retiring from the World Bank, she has remained actively involved in the sustainability agenda. In particular, she is focusing on the untapped potential of seaweed. In the spirit of giving back, she volunteers her time, serving on several non-profit boards and mentoring diverse professionals. She also co-chairs a committee that reviews applications by African women for education grants.
Known for her diplomacy, Nichola is a passionate advocate, compelling speaker, top facilitator, and trusted advisor. She has a robust operational governance perspective, having served in numerous board and committee roles, including co-op board president. She brings to the Tonic board skills in strategic visioning, stakeholder outreach and engagement, building programs, and nurturing partnerships.
Kurt is a veteran theater actor, and, a good thing to be sure, a theater rat. Through his mentor Judy Magee, he can trace his acting roots to Augustin Duncan, older brother of dancer and choreographer Isadora, who mentored Magee. Kurt learned his way around the classics from texts with Mr. Duncan’s own hand-written notes still in the margins.
Interest in new works was built into his career early on when he worked with Cy Coleman and Joe Layton on the original version of Mr. Coleman’s future hit show The Life alongside TONY winners Chuck Cooper and Lillias White. The show was built from scratch with Mr. Coleman composing music on the spot with the ensemble of performers and director Layton. The joy of this experience shaped Elftmann’s career path, bringing him back time and again to the development of new works for both the nonprofit and commercial theater.
In his more than thirty years in theater, he has built professional relationships in all aspects of the business. This includes working with stars and legends such as the aforementioned Cy Coleman, and Joe Layton, as well as Joanne Woodward, Keir Dullea, Dan Lauria, and Lorraine Serabian, among others. He has championed and developed works with playwrights including Authur Giron (Moving Bodies, Emelie’s Voltaire, Dreams of Wealth), Carol Bugge (Strings), and Richard Rhodes (Reykjavik).
A part of the burgeoning off-off-Broadway theater scene on the Lower Eastside and other areas of Manhattan in the 1990s, he had simultaneous membership in several award-winning ensembles; Expanded Arts, Blue Light Theatre Company, Third Eye Repertory, Hypothetical Theater Company, and New York Classical Theatre. During this time, he acted in and independently produced a successful transfer of Expanded Arts’ production of Shakespeare’s Richard II to the Douglas Fairbanks Studio Theatre on Theater Row. At Blue Light Theatre Company he performed in Joanne Woodward’s production of Waiting For Lefty, with Marisa Tomei, among other projects. Kurt was an original company member of both the New Jersey Repertory Company and New York Classical Theatre. For the latter, he performed outdoors in site-specific productions in Central Park before thousands of people every summer for the first four seasons.
Kurt formed Tonic Theater Company in part as a way to produce the many great but largely unknown plays of the playwrights he’s come to know and admire, and to foster new works by more writers. These beautifully constructed gems deserve the broadest possible audience. Tonic is also a response to the denial of facts about both science and history that has become so prevalent. This is why several years ago, Kurt gathered friends and supporters together in a small room above a bar in Washington, DC for Tonic Theater Company’s first reading. By 2015, he had established Tonic as a 501(c)3 not for profit corporation and began more formal operations.
He continues to build partnerships at the local, national, and international levels, extending the company’s reach while producing readings and programming. This includes two initiatives to complement Tonic’s anticipated 2021 production of Reykjavik, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes. The Makers: Reykjavik is a free public education program designed to bring artists together with diplomats, scientists, and policymakers who shaped Cold War history. The Road To Reykjavik is a podcast featuring interviews with the creative team as well as all other things Reykjavik, the play.
Moving toward sustainability for Tonic, financially, and for its community as a corporate citizen, has factored heavily in the company’s development. Along with the rest of the board, Kurt has pursued a vision for Tonic of a twenty-first-century theater company, one that aims to truly nourish its community mind and body. This vision is coming to life and will continue to develop.
Kurt trained at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Classical Acting from the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting at The George Washington University, Washington, DC.
Board Vice President
Cindy comes to Tonic from a background in academic administration. Currently, she wears several hats for the University of Delaware, including Program Coordinator for the Graduate Student Seminar Series. Cindy holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University (Liberal Studies) and a master’s degree from the University of Delaware (Hospitality Business Management). Developing strong relationships is the foundation of everything she does, both professionally and personally.
Two of her favorite hobbies are binge-watching movies on Netflix with her husband Michael, a retired Master Sergeant (Air Force), and hanging out with their dogs Bandit and Ruger and their cats Atticus and Ligero.
Kelsey D. Phelps
Kelsey is a Washington, D.C. based director hailing from western Kentucky. She attended Murray State University where she earned a degree in Theater and Art with an emphasis on directing and printmaking. For the last eight and a half years she has lived in the District working as a director, audiobook assistant studio director, Writer, and in company management, including company manager for Olney Theatre Center and NETworks, specifically their promotional tour of War Horse.
After coming home from tour Kelsey settled into her positions as Producing Director for Tonic Theater Company and Assistant Studio Director at Potomac Talking Books. She continues to thrive at both companies, directing readings and overseeing play development for Tonic and managing a studio producing audiobooks for the Library of Congress. Kelsey looks forward to directing Tonic’s production of Richard Rhodes’ Reykjavik in 2021.