Photos by Jeff Sprang Photography

My Journey with the Helper’s High

by Jessica Dulle

When approached by our marketing department to write about the Renaissance membership program, I was delighted to have an opportunity to share content about what makes this program so special. To be honest, my mind couldn’t quite pinpoint exactly what areas of the program I should highlight due to the expansive nature of the program and all the good work that transpires from the donations the Renaissance receives from our members. “Where should I start”, I began to wonder.

First, I thought, “should I discuss that the historic Renaissance Theatre (once the Ohio Theatre) will soon be celebrating its 90th Anniversary and our members made that rare accomplishment a reality?” It’s true. Accounts of opening night on January 19, 1928 report that despite “blizzard-like” conditions, thousands flocked to the theatre to see Clara Bow in “Get Your Man”. When built, the theatre was billed as “a temple of amusement for the benefit of the people of Mansfield” and that legacy continues today. Our base of over 350 members (and growing) provide revenue to maintain historic preservation and facility operations to the majestic theatre.

Then I began thinking “should I write about the amazing performances their membership supports?” It’s hard to believe that the Renaissance is home to over 50 performances annually and over 40,000 (including 15,000 children) attend performances ranging from Broadway Musicals to comedy shows, and country music concerts to youth theatre shows. Our members make all these great productions happen.

Next, I thought, “should I discuss the economic impact that the Renaissance Theatre provides our community?” Below are a few statistics that prove that arts organizations like the Renaissance are economic drivers.

  • According to the last U.S. Census, arts and cultural production make up 4.2% of our country’s GDP and supports nearly 231,000 jobs in the state of Ohio.
  • Arts organizations like the Renaissance infuse more than $3.4 billion dollars into annual tax revenues in Ohio alone
  • The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the arts and culture sector is a $704 billion-dollar industry, which represents 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP – a larger share of the economy than transportation and agriculture.
  • Arts strengthen the economy. The nonprofit arts industry alone generates $135 billion in economic activity annually (spending by organizations and their audiences) that supports 4.1 million jobs and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue. – American for the Arts
  • Arts are good for local merchants. Attendees at nonprofit art events spend $24.60 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking, and babysitters. Attendees who live outside the county which the arts event takes place spend twice as much as their local counterparts ($39.96 vs. $17.42) – valuable revenue for local businesses and the community. – American for the Arts

Later, my thoughts went to the community outreach the organization provides to children, veterans, and adults recovering from illness. Our education department visits schools to assist students with creative writing development; provides free sensory-friendly performances to children on the autism-spectrum line; smaller ensembles of our symphony musicians perform intimate concerts for patients at hospitals who are too sick to attend our concerts; and invites our country’s veterans to free art therapy programs with trained professionals. Again, our membership makes these things happen.

These thoughts endow wonderful insight into what Renaissance Memberships support, but it didn’t provide me the answer to what motivates someone to support our organization. Finally, I thought “Jessica, why are you a member of the Renaissance?” It didn’t take me long and my former high school teacher’s lecture on philanthropy popped in my mind. It feels good to give!

Being an adult carries so much responsibility and at times it can be over-whelming. Even on my toughest days, I still feel good when I give. Being a member of a group of like-minded individuals who wish to improve the quality of life in Mansfield makes me happy.

Why is that? Is there any science to prove that giving is good for your health?

Yes, there are plenty of science-backed studies that provide evidence that giving is also good for the giver. This sensation is referred to by psychologist as the ‘helper’s high’. It’s based on the theory that engaging in charitable giving produces endorphins in the brain that places many givers in the state of euphoria. According to Dr. Scott Bea of the Cleveland Clinic, there are several physical and mental health benefits to giving:

  • Greater happiness
  • Longer life
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Less depression
  • Lower stress levels

In the next few weeks, I’ll be renewing my annual membership to the Renaissance Performing Arts Association. There are so many amazing performances scheduled for our 2017-2018 Season, several community outreach programs transpiring, expansion of our education department boosting economic development in Mansfield, and a 90th Anniversary Celebration for our theatre! It’s humbling to know my membership will make all those great ambitions a reality. I hope you will join me.

To learn more about the Renaissance’s membership program, please contact me at jessica@mansfieldtickets.com or call (419) 522-2726 Ext: 203.

Larry Griffin, Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography

Why I Sing: An Interview with Larry Griffin

by Colleen Cook

Forty years ago, locally-renown choral conductor Richard Wink had an idea: the Mansfield Symphony should have a chorus. So many great symphonic works require a chorus, and Mansfield is chock-full of great singers. And so, the Mansfield Symphony Chorus was born.

Members of the chorus have had the opportunity to benefit from the leadership of many great choral conductors through the years, and our current conductor Larry Griffin is no exception. Larry’s exuberance and expertise are truly one-of-a-kind, and his leadership this season has injected a new life into our chorus.

Under his leadership, the Mansfield Symphony Chorus will perform a spring choral concert on April 30th fully loaded with incredible choral repertoire (such as Haydn’s mass in B flat and some absolutely gorgeous short choral works including my all-time favorite, Joseph Martin’s “The Awakening.”) So, we wanted to take a little time to get to know Larry Griffin a little better:

Colleen Cook: When did you start singing? 

Larry Griffin: I don’t remember when wasn’t singing.  In church and school I use to get into trouble because of being high strung.  But once my teachers found out that I could sing it got me out of many situations.

CC: What was your journey to becoming director of the Mansfield Symphony Chorus?

LG: My journey to Mansfield started with Robert Franz inviting my Columbus group, Capriccio, to sing the Beethoven’s 9th in 2007 with the Symphony Chorus. They performed again with the Theresienmesse, and another time with Candide. This was my introduction to this fine orchestra and chorus.  I knew then that it was my desire to have the opportunity to direct the chorus.

CC: What do you love about choral singing?

LG: I love directing choirs more than anything!  Having the ability to mold individual voices and making beautiful music together is such a joy!

CC: What is your favorite choral piece, and why?

LG:  One of my favorite choral works is the Puccini Mass. It’s my favorite because it introduced me to my first major choral work, it gave me my first solo, and introduced me to my late wife, Jane.

CC: What can our audience look forward to on the Sing into Spring concert?

LG: The audience can expect a diverse program featuring the music from Haydn, Mozart, Negro Spirituals and other memorable choral pieces.  The choir will be accompanied by a small orchestral ensemble from members of the MSO and they will get to hear four wonderful soloist: soprano, alto, tenor and bass from the Columbus area. I’m very excited to have Director Emeritus Richard Wink directing and singing as a member of the chorus, as well.  

Writing Original Productions Photos by Jeff Sprang Photography

Writing Original Productions: An Interview with Michael Thomas

by Colleen Cook with Michael Thomas

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have favorite shows that we do here at the Renaissance, and the upcoming production of Hot Mess: A Lethal New Musical is easily my most favorite thing that’s ever been on our stage. It’s poignant and hilarious, crude and bold, and absolutely endearing. One of my favorite elements of Hot Mess is the fact that it’s “stage on stage,” meaning that the audience is seated on the stage with the performance happening right in front of them; when a show pushes the boundaries the way Hot Mess does, the audience is just as much a player as any of the eccentric characters on stage. (Maddie Beer, Colton Penwell, and I take a deep dive into this particular aspect in our recent podcast about Hot Mess, which you can listen to here)

Truth is, I feel this enthusiastic about everything our brilliant Artistic Director Michael Thomas writes: in my opinion his creative genius has raised the bar for the performing arts in Mansfield and I’m thrilled that we get to see his creations on our stage. Michael has a remarkable background in the performing arts (which he talks about on an early episode of our podcast and in this recent blog post) and as a writer for stage, TV, and film. Since his background looks so different from my own, I wanted to learn more about what it takes to write a musical from scratch:

Colleen Cook: When and how did you start writing musicals? Do you have a favorite one that you’ve written?

Michael Thomas: When I was in the 7th or 8th grade, I started to write these silly parodies – probably inspired by the sketches I saw on the Carol Burnett Show. Her writers would spoof classic films, such as Gone With the Wind and Sunset Boulevard, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I started to write parodies of Broadway musicals – complete with songs. The only one I can remember off the top of my head, I called The Sound of Her Music – which told the story of Marla Von Tramp and her crusade to corrupt the children she was meant to govern. Classy stuff. But remember, I was 12.

As far as a favorite piece I’ve written? I think, like all writers, I have a love/hate relationship with my original works. I don’t know that I have a favorite, but I definitely have favorite moments from the original shows that have premiered at the Renaissance. The despairing high school boy from Remember Me Always who pens a heart-rendering letter to his television hero because he’s thinks it’s the only friend he’s got. Or the frustrated teacher, from that same piece, who is so addled by the idea of teaching sex ed, that she advises all the girls to get hysterectomies. I love the couple in Hot Mess who adopt more and more children – not to better their lives, but to add to their celebrity standing. Or Sally from Twilight Gardens, who, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, proudly hands a caregiver a picture she’s tried to color from a child’s coloring book. I’m incredibly lucky because I’ve not only gotten to write and stage new musicals for the Ren, but also productions for Lori Turner’s RYOT shows, Neos Dance Theatre’s original ballets, collaborations with the Mansfield Symphony as well as the scripts for our Teddy Bear concerts.

CC: How did you come up with the idea for Hot Mess?

MT: All year long, we get emails from agents pitching shows they would like us to book – and nine times out of ten, they are an incredibly weak, hastily-written, hodgepodge of ideas performed by a thrown-together cast but given a clever, topical title. Spoofs based on 50 Shades of Gray, The Real Housewives or one-joke-shows snickering at menopause or mid-life crises. I don’t watch reality television – in fact the best decision I ever made was to have my satellite dish yanked out a few years ago – so I had no idea who or what a Kardashian was – or why anyone would have an interest in plumbing the depths of a Duck Dynasty. But still, I was fascinated by why the public was so obsessed with watching unfortunate souls paraded out to air their dirty laundry on cable TV. I knew I didn’t want to just plop a bunch of silly characters up on stage and try to fill a two hour show, so I turned to classic literature to find a story to use as a basis. I searched through all of Shakespeare and even golden oldies like The Iliad and Beowulf. Nothing worked. Then I started to think about the classic Greek drama, Medea, written by Euripedes in 431 BC. Here was a woman who came from nothing, fought her way to the top, got kicked to the curb by her husband, then did something terrible to get her name back in the headlines again. It seemed like the perfect fit – and despite the fact that it was written 24 centuries ago, improbably modern and topical.

CC: When you’re writing a musical, what are some of the considerations you make?

MT: Well, first and foremost, you have to come up with a good story. And then you have to think about whether your story is song-worthy. Is there a reason for the song to be there? Even in the silliest of shows there has to be a reason your characters open their mouths and start to sing.

CC: You have a gift for writing things that are really hilarious. How can you tell if a joke will work?

MT: Even after all these years I still wonder if a joke will work or not. Years ago, I wrote what I thought was a hilarious line for our musical version of Hamlet that ran in Chicago for years and years. Claudius and Polonius are trying to think of a way to trap Hamlet. Claudius excitedly proclaims “I have an idea!” – and Polonius shouts “Is it Velcro? Have you invented Velcro?” To this day that still makes me laugh – but when played in front of an audience, we got crickets. Not a single titter. So you really just have to wait and see how and if the audience responds before you know if the joke works.

CC: Is it different writing for a live setting than when you’re writing for screen?

MT: Yes. When writing for the screen you use a real economy of words because you usually rely more on the action. I’ll use The Wizard of Oz for an example. On stage, Dorothy might land in Munchkinland and say:

Dorothy: Oh my goodness, this is a strange land indeed. I’ve never seen anything like this in Kansas. Look at the tiny houses and the tiny streets. The strange plants and beautiful waterfalls. It’s so beautiful! Do you think this is all a dream?

The screenplay, however, focuses more on action – so that the scene reads like this:

Dorothy opens the door and the world is suddenly vibrant and colorful, filled with oversized flora and crystal blue waterfalls. Here and there tiny houses, complete with tiny doors and tiny windows, dot the landscape. She rubs her eyes, wondering if it’s all a dream.

Dorothy: I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

When working with first time writers on their screenplay, (and believe me, EVERYONE has a screenplay idea!), I point out the fact that most of us have spent our entire lives watching movies and television – so screenwriting and story structure is probably a lot more familiar to us than we realize.


At the time of publication, we still have a few seats left for the upcoming production of Hot Mess, but they’ll likely sell out soon so don’t delay. More info and tickets here. By the way, it’s chock-full of “mature content,” and for adults only.

Fresh Ideas for Easter Baskets - the Renaissance Blog

Fresh Ideas for Easter Baskets

by Colleen Cook

It’s officially spring, and I still have Halloween candy in my pantry. From two years ago. Does it ever feel to you like we just go from one candy-consuming holiday to the next? We trick-or-treat, then Christmas stockings, Valentine’s parties, and now Easter baskets. The last thing we need is more candy in our cupboard.

So, I’m the Easter Bunny is thinking outside the box when it comes to Easter baskets this year. One of the tenets of our mission at the Renaissance is to “celebrate the imagination in each of us,” so here are some great ideas for Easter basket gifts that celebrate imagination (without rotting your teeth!):

Carrousel Rides

Richland Carrousel Park

We’ll be stuffing Easter eggs with tickets to the Richland Carrousel Park – my girls adore riding the Carrousel, and what better way to welcome spring than to enjoy a day at the Carrousel? And, bonus, you can get 6 rides for just $5! (As I’m writing this post, my 3 year old walked up and saw just the bottom of that photo and shouted, “Hey! Look! That’s the carrousel! I LOVE THE CARROUSEL!”)

New Books

Main Street Books Mansfield

Our friend Llalan Fowler at Main Street Books has a wealth of great choices for families. Here are a couple of sweet suggestions from Llalan:

GuessHow

“Guess how much I love you,” says Little Nutbrown Hare. Little Nutbrown Hare shows his daddy how much he loves him: as wide as he can reach and as far as he can hop. But Big Nutbrown Hare, who can reach farther and hop higher, loves him back just as much. Well then Little Nutbrown Hare loves him right up to the moon, but that’s just halfway to Big Nutbrown Hare’s love for him.

 

EggQuiet

This stunningly beautiful and wonderfully informative book from award-winning artist Sylvia Long and author Dianna Hutts Aston makes for a fascinating introduction to the vast and amazing world of eggs. Featuring poetic text and an elegant design, this acclaimed book teaches children countless interesting facts about eggs. Full of wit and charm, An Egg Is Quiet will at once spark the imagination and cultivate a love of science.


Children’s Museum Visits

Little Buckeye Children's MuseumWe have several gems for families in Mansfield, and Little Buckeye is definitely one of them! Two floors jam-packed with creative exhibits cultivated to foster imagination in your child. If you haven’t been to Little Buckeye before, or in a while, pick up a gift certificate to visit and stick it in this year’s Easter basket – it’s a wonderful way to spend a day as a family.

Theatre Tickets

The Renaissance Theatre - Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography

There are few things I enjoy as much as sharing something I love with my children. Whether we’re attending a Teddy Bear Concert, a full-stage musical, a family show, or a concert by the Mansfield Symphony, I’m always amazed by the permanence of that memory with my children – they talk about it for years after.

Some great upcoming choices for Easter baskets include tickets to our summer show, The Little Mermaid (July 29-30, Aug. 5-6; tickets starting at $15), the Mansfield Symphony Youth Orchestra’s Spring Concert (May 7th; student tickets $5), and Little Johnny Jones presented by our Renaissance Youth Opera Theatre (May 27-28; tickets $15).


How will you be celebrating the imagination of your children this year? Tell us in the comments over on our Facebook page!

Save the NEA

Arts, Jobs, and the Economy

by Colleen Cook 

It’s easy to think of the arts and entertainment as something that happens when you’re not working. After all, the “weekend” as we know it was birthed out of the Industrial Revolution when suddenly workers had time off and expendable income to spend on entertainment. This spurred on expansion of Vaudeville circuits throughout the country, followed by cinemas, and later performing arts centers. So, it makes sense that we separate the way we think about “jobs” and the “arts,” but in reality the arts are an incredibly effective economic driver.

“While America is in a time of deep political division, there is little disagreement about the importance of supporting jobs and strengthening the economy. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows that the nonprofit and for-profit arts is a $730 billion industry that directly employs 4.8 million arts workers. This represents 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP—a larger share of the economy than transportation, tourism, and agriculture. Arts organizations are resilient and entrepreneurial businesses. They employ people locally, purchase goods and services from within their communities, and market and promote their regions. Arts businesses are rooted locally. These are jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.” – Americans for the Arts, Statement on Arts, Jobs, and the Economy

There’s been a lot of conversation about the importance of the arts, since President Trump announced his plans to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts from the federal budget. It’s easy for us to talk about the intrinsic, personal benefits of the arts – we could have that conversation all day long, every day. But, decisions about federal spending aren’t necessarily viewed through the lens of how meaningful the results of that funding are, they’re viewed through the economic return of that federal investment. When we have that conversation, it’s evident that federal arts funding has an remarkable impact on the economy:

Arts & Economic Prosperity IV, Americans for the Arts

Economic Impact of the Nonprofit Arts & Culture, “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV,” Americans for the Arts

“The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is the largest national funder of nonprofit arts organizations in America. Every $1 of NEA funding leverages $9 in private and public dollars and fuels a dynamic cultural economy and generates millions of American jobs. A pennies per capita annual investment has helped to leverage a nonprofit arts industry of almost 100,000 organizations strong serving millions of citizens in every part of America. Nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences today generate $135 billion of economic activity that supports 4.1 million arts and non-arts jobs throughout their communities.”- Americans for the Arts, Statement on Arts, Jobs, and the Economy

The NEA funds the arts in all 50 states, and Ohio is the second-highest recipient of that funding. The NEA’s entire budget is just 0.004% of the entire National Budget, with an incredibly high return on investment. We as a country can’t afford to lose that investment in our country’s arts and culture. Arts = jobs, period. If you would like to take action, here’s a simple way to do so.

Read the full Americans for the Arts, Statement on Arts, Jobs, and the Economy here, and check out their Arts & Economic Prosperity IV study as well.

Meet Octavio Más-Arocas

by Colleen Cook and DRM Productions

Octavio Más-Arocas is the second of three finalists for the position of Music Director of the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra. Maestro Más-Arocas tells us about his musical background, the family of conductors he comes from, and what he does when he’s not conducting.

This is just a fraction of our full conversation, which you can watch here: https://youtu.be/sdClDMrQc1s

See Maestro Más-Acrocas conduct the Mansfield Symphony on March 25, 2017 at the Masterworks: Strife and Victory! concert.

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Live, 2016 - Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography

Three Valuable Lessons from Daniel Tiger

by Colleen Cook

We are BIG Daniel Tiger fans at our house. My husband and I often refer to Daniel Tiger as the third parent in our house, and I am sure any parent of a preschooler knows what I’m talking about. And, if you’re familiar, you’ve also found yourself singing the earworm jingles in the shower and simultaneously realized that you are no longer cool at all. (No? Just me?)

If you’re not familiar, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the 21st century animated spin-off of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Many of the familiar characters from Fred Rogers’ Land of Make Believe are featured as the adults in this series, with the next generation of preschool-aged neighbors teaching positive behavioral lessons through story and song. It’s produced by Angela Santomero, the genius behind great educational children’s television shows like “Blue’s Clues,” “Super Why,” and “Creative Galaxy.”

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live is on our stage on April 7th at 7 PM – Read more here!

To me, what makes Daniel Tiger so great is that it reinforces emotional intelligence and positive behavior in a memorable way. When you’re in the depths of new parenting, it can be really challenging to know how to change a negative behavior in your child effectively. Daniel’s parents always respond calmly and rationally, even when real-life parents sometimes lose their cool.  There have been many moments when I’ve taken a cue from Daniel and it’s paid off. Here are a few stories:

  1. Happiness counters fear.
    In August 2015 we had a series of thunderstorms. We live in an old, drafty house and when the weather is moderate, we often place a box fan in my daughter’s bedroom window. One afternoon while she was taking a nap, a large gust of wind and clap of thunder during a storm caused the fan to fall out of the window and awoke my daughter in a panic. The very next night we had another thunderstorm and another clap of thunder awoke her into hysterics. This caused several nights of terror as my traumatized toddler was wildly afraid that another thunderstorm would come (and, the reality was, it would!).

    So, we took a cue from Daniel Tiger and watched and re-watched this episode when Daniel and O the Owl were afraid of thunder, and my daughter started “closing her eyes and thinking of something happy,” just the way Daniel did, and her fears subsided.

  2. How our roles evolve as we grow.
    Our daughter Eloise became a big sister to baby Coralie in December 2015. For most kids, adding a sibling to the family is complex and full of emotions ranging from delight to jealousy. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood produced a series of episodes about the addition of “Baby Margaret” to the Tiger family that are incredible for helping a child adjust to a new baby. By giving us the tools to show our 2 1/2 year old that, while she was no longer the baby in the house, she was a valuable helper in our family, our transition to a family of four was as smooth as possible as our daughter took on her role as a “big helper” with pride.
  3. Give your child all the information up front.
    This lesson was maybe a bit more for me than it was for my daughter. In this episode, Daniel’s mom sings “When we do something new, let’s talk about what we’ll do.” I’ve adopted this methodology into my parenting and it has been a life-saver. My natural inclination is to limit the information and just deal with things as they happen, rather than add worry and fear to the day. But, talking about about things with my children has been incredibly helpful in allowing them to fully understand and avoid surprises.

I’m so thrilled that we get to bring Daniel Tiger and his neighbors to our stage once again this April. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live is an excellent interpretation of the animated show, featuring many familiar songs along with newly composed pieces, all of the beloved characters, and a story that reinforces the lessons you want your child to learn. I can’t wait to bring my daughters.

Sensory-Friendly Theatre

Sensory-Friendly Performances: What, When, and How Much We Love Them

By Chelsie Thompson

We take our mission to make the arts accessible very seriously – it is the lifeblood of our work and the passion behind everything we do here – so one of the things that matters more than anything to the Ren team is creating an exceptional patron experience, for all of our patrons.

Of course, we know that going to the theatre is more comfortable for some than others. Families or persons with autism or other disabilities that create sensory sensitivities, in particular, may find the prospect of attending a performance at the Renaissance to be somewhat daunting.

Let us assure you: we are committed to creating an experience that will thrill and delight every single member of our diverse audience. So, we are expanding our ability to offer sensory-friendly performances, starting with a sensory-friendly performance of Shrek the Musical on Thursday, March 30th at 7 pm.

For those who aren’t familiar with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it is a complex developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others (source: Autism Society of America, 2013). This can easily create feelings of anxiety and stress for a person with autism when attending a performance in a space that may be crowded, loud, and have sudden or unexpected happenings.

Luckily, there is a lot that we can do to make the performance experience a pleasant and welcoming one for those patrons with sensory sensitivities. Here are a few of the accommodations that you can expect when you come to the Ren for a sensory-friendly performance:

  • Lower sound and light levels, especially during louder or more dramatic events
  • The freedom for patrons to leave their seats or talk during the performance
  • Designated quiet areas
  • Places to move or stand while still enjoying the performance
  • Lower crowd sizes
  • Pre-show visits and videos to acclimate to the theatre environment
  • A staff and volunteer team that is trained to be inviting and accommodating

Let’s pause to look at that last bullet point: our staff and volunteer team is now trained to not only design and create sensory-friendly programming, but to be the welcoming faces who are here to help you enjoy these meaningful events. Thanks to an anonymous donor, we’ve had the good fortune to work with consultant Dr. Ryan Hourigan, Director of the School of Music at Ball State University and a parent of two teenage boys with autism.

Dr. Hourigan is a nationally-recognized author and advocate for the inclusion of students with disabilities in the arts, and he first came to us through our Kennedy Center Partners in Education program as a teaching artist on their national roster (and he also co-founded the incredible Prism Project at BSU, which has now grown to multiple locations across the country). Since his first workshop for our local teachers in the 2014-2015 season, he’s offered additional professional development for both teachers and the Ren team. Most recently, he visited in February for training and to help us confirm logistics for our sensory-friendly performance of Shrek the Musical on March 30th.

While we are thrilled to be able to work with Dr. Hourigan (we’ll admit it – our staff is a bunch of arts nerds who love learning new things), we are even more excited for our patrons to be able to experience the performing arts in a way that may be more comfortable for them. We feel that there has been a segment of our audience that we haven’t been serving well, and we want to correct that, so you can expect to see more sensory-friendly programming on the schedule in the coming seasons. Why? Because above all else, the arts are good for us, and they are inclusive.

For more information on the sensory-friendly performance of Shrek the Musical, contact the Renaissance Box Office directly at (419) 522-2726.

Spinning Sisters: The Revolving Stage

By Colleen Cook

When you look at our staff list, the reality is that our titles are a little misleading. While we are each responsible for our primary job functions, each of our staff members possess unique and specialized skills and talents that overlap into many other areas of our organization, and are frequently showcased.

Mike Miller, for example, in addition to being President & CEO, is a talented sound engineer as well as a performer. Dauphne Maloney, in addition to being our Education Assistant and director of MY Theatre, is a skilled costumer. Her creations are seen in nearly every theatrical production on our stage.  Steven Au is our very gifted graphic designer and also happens to be an outstanding violinist who frequently plays with our Mansfield Symphony. And Jason Kaufman isn’t just our Facilities Manager, he also happens to imagine and build incredible sets for our productions as a set designer and carpenter.

Jason’s designs have created beautiful sets like we saw this season in Beauty and the Beast and A Christmas Carol. You might know Jason from Main Street Books, or perhaps you’ve seen some of his sculptural work around town – one of our favorites is the heart sculpture at Relax, It’s Just Coffee. Or maybe you’ve just admired his work from our audience – who will ever forget the haunting beauty and intricacy of the willowy branches in Beauty and the Beast in Summer 2016?

Beauty and the Beast 2016 - Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography

Beauty and the Beast 2016 – Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography

Colleen Cook: When and how did you get into set building here at the Ren?

Jason Kaufman: The first set I worked on was Mary Poppins, I think. I wasn’t really lead on that, but I did pitch in quite a bit. I ended up as lead set builder when we had a staff member leave and we had a void where no one was really taking the lead and I just sort of ended up in that place. I really enjoy that position and I wanted to step into that. We had a really great intern for Mary Poppins, Abe Swanger, and he did such good work that we ended up hiring him and he became my assistant set builder. Abe is very skilled and our personalities meld very well, and we also have an unspoken understanding of what our strengths and weaknesses are, and we just know what needs done with very few words. It’s been a very seamless partnership.

CC: Can you tell us about your background in visual art?

JK: I’ve always been interested in art. I went to college at Kent State and I knew I wanted to do something in the arts. I thought maybe art education, but after a few classes I realized that wasn’t for me. I started taking all kinds of arts classes and landed in glassworking program at Kent. Their program is very sculptural-based, where you use glass with other materials, so less focused on craft-based vessels and blowing and more fine art based. I ended up getting a degree in studio crafts with a focus in glass-casting, and then I have a minor in fine arts.

CC: What’s one of the most challenging set pieces you’ve gotten to build to date?

JK: Definitely the revolve for the Sister Act set. It is built in a modular way, with a 12-foot wide disc that can be disassembled into 10 segments, made by creating our own tongue-and-groove pattern so they all slide within one another and are bolted together. But, that required a significant amount of engineering. Everything needed to fit precisely and has to be put back together exactly the same way each time. And then, once that was put together, we had to figure out how to motorize it, which took a lot of trial and error to get the gearing right on the motor and the drive wheel.

View from above: The Revolving Stage

View from above: The Revolving Stage (Photo by Jason Kaufman)

I had a lot of help from my dad Rick Turske, because I’m not as mechanically-inclined as he is. It was a lot of trial and error, and we actually found an old treadmill that we were able to remove the motor from and since the variable speed adjustment was already attached to that, we could use that. Once we got the gearing right with the wheel driving the turntable, it spins easily and smoothly. We’ve had five or six people on it spinning.

Here’s a sneak peek of the incredible revolving stage in action!

Sister Act runs March 4-5, 11-12 and will be incredible – learn more and get tickets to this awesome show here.

Please silence your phones

Please Silence Your Phones: True Confessions of a Multitasker

By Colleen Cook

I used to pride myself in my ability to multitask. I could be watching a show on TV, making dinner, discovering a new recipe, checking email, replying to a text, and carrying on a conversation with my husband all at once – what a marvel!

Yet, what I’m feeling is anything but “marvelous.” I feel tired, exhausted by the constant stream of information and ideas and notifications. I feel like I never have time to do anything. I have a friend who recently reined in her habit of checking social media throughout the day to only once per day and she was able to read 10 books in a month in that same time.

The longer we live with devices in our hands and our pockets, though, it seems that ability to “multitask” is just a recipe for overwhelm and disengagement. When you’re doing everything, you’re focusing on nothing. No one gets your full attention, you’re engaging with the world in a way that is broad, but extremely shallow.

While many of us can remember a time before the internet, we are quickly approaching a world in which the adults have never lived without digital technology as a part of their everyday life. Michael Harris writes about this in his book The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection and in this Huffington Post Article, “Why We Must Teach Digital Natives How to Be Alone:” 

“Emily, 13, wakes up and rolls over to kiss her smartphone good-morning. Not an actual smooch, naturally, but a virtual kiss of attention, a kiss of grazing fingertips as she calls up 34 missed messages. The swarms of comforting “contacts” deliver new material — texts about a sleepover, photos of Slurpees, links to new cat videos — and the possible solitude of the morning is banished. The question that drives her is not “what shall I do today?” The question (more passive) is: ‘what did I miss?'”

The reality is, we’ve only had the internet in our pockets for less than a decade, and the generations living today haven’t yet developed best practices for moderating this luxury, so what’s happening is a form of digital obesity – we over-indulge in this endorphin-releasing technology and when we do that, we’re missing out on the real life right in front of us. Psychologists and neurologists are finding evidence to exactly this:

Psychologists have hypothesized that the constant demands of emails, notifications, and general busy-ness put a significant burden on the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the region involved in multitasking and higher-order thinking (like critical thinking and problem solving). Those small demands add up to drain our attentional resources, making us distracted and cognitively fatigued—which in turn makes it more difficult to focus, think deeply, and come up with new ideas. – Carolyn Gregoire, “The New Science of the Creative Brain on Nature”

When you come to the theatre, we implore you, “Please silence your phone,” for a very practical reason: it’s disruptive to our performance to have noisy, shiny devices going off among a crowd of hundreds. But, maybe the performing arts have had this right all along. Perhaps our constant connection is disruptive to our day-to-day, and it’s time to put our devices in their place.

When we turn off our phones, spend time with those most dear to us, and simply engage with a piece of art, it’s like giving ourselves a breath of fresh air. It’s allowing our brains for once to “uni-task,” to disconnect, to be fully present in time and space with the people we love. And, our children depend on us learning the values of silence, solitude, togetherness, and full engagement so that they might be passed down to future generations.

Further listening: one of my favorite podcasts, Sorta Awesome, has a great episode talking about this topic that you can check out here.