Category Archives: Behind-the-scenes

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Careers in the Arts: Arts Administration

by Colleen Cook

Arts Administration (also called “arts management”) is a diverse field of employment in the arts, with a broad range of jobs and workplaces. An arts administrator is a business-minded leader of an arts and cultural organization/festival/institution. Degree programs in the field of Arts Administration have been available in higher education since the 1970s, and focus on elements of business administration, non-profit administration, advocacy, fund development, marketing, arts law, along with other elements of the arts and cultural industry.

At the Renaissance, we employee arts administrators in the departments of fund development, marketing, executive leadership, bookings, box office, finance, and direction. Many of our staff have experience in both the arts and business, and some of our staff members hold degrees specific to arts management. Successful arts administrators possess a dual understanding of what it takes to make great art, alongside what is required to run a viable business.

I’ve had the opportunity to work in roles in both marketing and development at the Renaissance, as well as some positions and internships at institutions of higher education and non-profit arts advocacy. Before entering the field of arts administration, I studied music education and worked as a voice teacher and vocal music teacher in the public schools. In my experience, it has been especially helpful to be familiar with the composers, artists, shows, and elements that come together to perform a show so that I can communicate that story with our patrons, donors, and community at large.

An arts administrator needs to be organized, a self-starter, hard-working, and passionate about the arts to be successful, in my opinion. While the field is broad, many arts administrators are responsible for multiple job roles, particularly at smaller organizations. There’s always more that you can do to support a performance or exhibit, and being on top of your workload is key. In my specific roles in marketing and fund development, great communication skills are essential as well.

If you boil down my job as Director of Marketing to just one phrase, it would be “communicate with the audience about the organization and its programs.” In my previous role as Director of Development, that phrase would be, “communicate with donors and potential donors about the organization’s programs and opportunities to give.” We communicate through dozens of channels, in an effort to reach each individual in a meaningful way that is comfortable for them.

All of our arts administrators have to be great communicators, but often for different reasons. Our executive leaders (for us, that’s our President and CEO, Artistic Director and our Executive Director) need to be effective communicators with the staff, board, volunteers, and artists to ensure that the organization runs well, that the performances are successful, and that everyone stays on the same page.

Our Box Office and Front of House team need to be great customer service representatives, helping to communicate with the audience directly at the point of purchase and at our events, or when a problem arises. Our Bookings Manager must be able to negotiate and communicate with agents and with our artistic and technical staff to land on contracts that are reasonable for our team, profitable for our organization, and bookings that are attractive to our audience. Our Finance team needs to be detail-oriented and communicative with the staff and board about the financial position of the organization so that we are sustainable in the achievement of our vision and mission.

Interestingly, great communication skills make a great arts administrator, as well as a great artist. In my opinion, it’s one of the things that makes working in this field so much fun, and the people who work in it so fantastic.

Careers in the Arts - Renaissance Performing Arts photo by Jeff Sprang

Spotlight on Careers in the Arts

by Colleen Cook

High schoolers are often expected to determine their career path at the ripe old age of 16, planning out colleges, programs of study, and future careers they’d like to take up in their adult life. In some cases, students have a broad exposure to a wide field of employment, but students are human beings who tend to follow the paths that are familiar. When choosing their future careers, they consider those of their family members, mentors, and idols. They think about what they enjoy doing as a teenager and translate that into a profession.

When I was a high school student, I loved to sing. I enjoyed the camaraderie of being in a musical or an ensemble, and I had been mentored by my music teachers, so naturally the career path I chose was music education. I might have chosen music performance, but music education seemed like the more viable career option of what I thought were two choices in the music field.

Years later, I discovered the field of arts administration, along with many other careers, and I’ve often wondered: if I was aware of these career paths when I was in high school, would I have pursued something different?

Arts and culture as an industry contributes $704 billion to the economy in annual revenue.  There’s a wide range of careers and jobs in the arts, and many creative local economies are beginning to shift to an arts and culture-based model from an industrial economy.

In an effort to build awareness about careers in the arts, we’ll be doing a multi-week series of blog posts about the various career paths one can take in the arts in the coming weeks. You’ll hear from people working in the field as entrepreneurs, administrators, artists, and more. We can’t wait to share with you the depth and breadth of this fulfilling field.

Community Collaboration

Creative Collaboration

by Colleen Cook

One of my favorite elements of working with the Renaissance has been the amount of people, organizations, and businesses I’ve been connected with as a result of this work. I’ve heard people in Mansfield say that collaboration doesn’t work here, and I admit that sometimes people don’t play well together, but more often than not I’ve been able to witness Mansfield at its very best when creative collaboration is allowed to happen. Each person, each organization, brings its best to the table and the results are exponentially more than if the collaboration hadn’t existed.

A few examples of these creative collaborations come to mind right away. In 2015, the Renaissance partnered with Little Buckeye Children’s Museum to address a problem at the museum that I had witnessed first-hand with my children.  The stage exhibit at the museum had a hard, wooden painted panel functioning as a curtain. More than a few parents slammed their heads against it as they exited the stage, and the exhibit was underutilized because it was missing some of the critical elements that make a theatre so magical.

Our staff and board got involved and within a few months, we built a new theatre exhibit, “The Little Ren” with a functional curtain, a video monitor, a tech booth, actual theatre seating, a box office window, and a concessions window. Opening this space for our young families gave us a place in the community outside of our own building to foster relationships early on with our region’s youngest arts lovers, and a chance to showcase the many careers in the arts available to our area youth. Today, it remains one of the most popular exhibits in the museum!

Another creative collaboration has been with Richland Source, our area’s online news organization. One of the core values of Richland Source is to proportionally cover the great things happening in Richland County alongside the negative stories, and their unique business model affords them that opportunity. Their team, in particular reporter Brittany Schock, has regularly brainstormed with us ways to think outside the box and partner creatively on projects that benefit the community through playing on the strengths of our two organizations.

This partnership has included creative journalistic pieces like live interviews broadcast on Facebook, a documentary following a young performer from auditions through to performance, and most recently the creation of a new journalistic tool, the Listening Post. A listening post is a microphone stand attached to a digital recorder partnered with a question for individuals to answer without the intimidation that might go along with a news interview.

Richland Source approached the Renaissance to help build this post, since the Renaissance’s brilliant tech team regularly solves carpentry and audio challenges such as this in show production, they were able to create a sleek and functional design in time to launch it at the Community Baby Shower hosted by Richland Source on September 9th. On its inaugural use, the Listening Post received 110 interviews from expectant and experienced moms.

(Warning: If you’re anything like me, this will probably make you cry.)

Here at the Renaissance, we’re particularly excited to place the Listening Post in our lobby for certain events to give our audience voice in a different way than we ever have before, and we’re equally excited to see how it will be used throughout the community by Richland Source and other area businesses.

We could talk about other creative collaborations endlessly, because we’re better when we’re working together. For now, though, stay tuned for some other exciting collaborations coming soon.

 

Maddie Beer Sister Act - Photo by Jeff Sprang

Pro-Tips for Auditioning for Theatre

by Colleen Cook

At the Renaissance, we frequently have auditions running for upcoming productions. The audition is a critical moment for any performer, because it’s your chance to show your best self and potentially secure the part of your dreams. For our casting teams, auditions are challenging because so many talented individuals show up and perform well, and many factors (age, look, personality, etc.) all go into the final casting decision.

If you’re curious what auditions are upcoming, we keep all of our audition information current on our website, and we also post our cast lists there as well; we also try to keep our social media audience informed on our Facebook page. Each type of production has a slightly different process for auditioning: some register for specific time slots and specify what they’d like to hear and see, others offer an open process where there is more flexibility. When in doubt, follow directions and be flexible in the moment!

Our artistic team has offered up some pro-tips for having a better audition. Here are our top tips, and a few things to avoid:

Tips:

“Be prepared, flexible, respectful, focused and friendly. The auditors take notice of you the second you walk into the room, so be self-assured but not arrogant. Roll with the punches and do what is ask of you to the best of your ability without apologizing or making excuses. Producers and casting agents know that big egos cause big problems. Act like a professional, don’t tell them you’re a professional.” – Michael Thomas

 

“Be pleasant throughout the audition process. We watch you, and try to engage with you, from the moment we first meet you. If we sense a challenging attitude, it may not matter how well you audition. As directors, we need to know that you are willing to work WITH us; and that we can successfully communicate with you.” – Dauphne Maloney

 

“When approaching an audition, and while in the audition process, fully commit to everything you’re asked to do!  If you’re asked to read for a role that doesn’t interest you, do it anyway. Still apply yourself; use your training, skills, and experience to show us the best of what you’ve got (don’t try to “throw,” or sway an audition by downplaying your ability to audition well in ANY role.)” – Dauphne Maloney

 

“If it’s a musical audition, have several varying selections prepared. The auditors may not like your choice and may want to hear something different. Have your music clearly marked and in a three ring binder. No accordion/taped-together mess that flows over both ends of the piano. No loose sheets. If your music is a Xerox copy, make sure the music is printed on both sides, so there are less page turns. Clearly mark where you’re beginning and ending, taking liberties with tempo, pauses, ritards, etc. If there is a coda or you’re going back to a certain part of the music, print that sheet out again so your accompanist doesn’t have to flip through the pages to find the right spot.” – Michael Thomas

 

“Don’t audition unless you’re willing to accept any role.” – Lori Turner

 

“Come in the room and make us believe that whatever you do is what you meant to do.” – Kelly Knowlton

 

“Be familiar with the show and the composer, and select audition material that is aligned with that show/role/composer’s style.” – Lori Turner

 

“Be clear, concise and friendly to the pianist – even if they mangle the accompaniment to your song. Soldier on as best you can. The auditors know it’s not your fault, you don’t need to point it out.” – Michael Thomas

 

 

Pet Peeves/Things to Avoid:

 

“Worst for me is when someone comes in the room and is apologetic or making excuses for their performance.” – Kelly Knowlton

 

“Don’t bombard the auditors with excuses – such as: you’ve recently had a bad cold, you’re nervous, you haven’t had time to adequately prepare, etc.” – Michael Thomas

 

“Starting off your audition by telling me the reason you may not sing your best that day.” – Lori Turner

 

…sensing a theme here???

 

“When someone is unprepared or underprepared, without having music explicitly marked for the accompanist, and copping an attitude when things don’t go perfectly.” – Kelly Knowlton

 

“When a performer auditions with the wrong style of music for the show they’re auditioning for.” – Lori Turner

 

“Don’t overstay your welcome or try to be hilarious.” – Michael Thomas

 

“Children choosing to sing songs which are inappropriate for their playable age; for example: “I Dreamed a Dream, ” from Les Miserables–sung by a seven-year-old. A more appropriate choice for/from that show would be “Castle on a Cloud.” – Dauphne Maloney

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Intern Where The Popcorn Is: What It Is Like To Spend A Summer At The Ren!

By Audra DeLaney

Staff meetings. Social media scheduling. Blog writing. Brain storming sessions.

There are a number of things that happen during a day at the Renaissance Theatre for the Marketing and Development Intern. My name is Audra DeLaney and I am a third year public relations major and political science minor at Bowling Green State University. I have had the pleasure of interning under Colleen Cook this summer. I have an interest in working in arts advocacy after I graduate from college, so my summer at the Renaissance was a wonderful learning experience.

I found out about this internship back in the spring of 2016 after I got home from a spring break trip to New York City. I quickly fixed up my resume and decided to apply. I did not get the internship that summer but I stayed in contact with those at the Renaissance. I applied again this spring hoping to become the intern and the rest is history!

My responsibilities varied day-to-day during my internship. As my title states, I was a part of two departments at the Renaissance. In the Marketing Department I was responsible for scheduling social media, writing blogs/a blog series on the Renaissance Education Department, filling out event calendars, creating an Instagram strategy document, and doing a few other small projects. In the Development Department, I entered donor and member information into our system, filed donor and member paperwork, went to development committee meetings, attended board meetings, and created a document that holds ideas for the Annual Fund Campaign.

My favorite part of interning this summer was working with the Renaissance staff. Each staff member brings a new perspective to discussions and decision making. As well, they each have hidden talents! The Marketing Director is a singer, the Graphic Designer can play the violin, the Director of Operations got her undergraduate degree in horn performance, the list goes on and on. From impromptu pizza parties to coffee runs the Renaissance has felt like home since the day my internship began.

My advice to anyone wanting to intern in marketing or development for an arts organization/a nonprofit is to be willing and ready to soak up as much information as possible during your internship. The people mentoring you have stories and pieces of the advice they will share with you that will serve you well throughout your career, so listen!

I was not the only intern at the Renaissance this summer. Production Intern/Assistant Director Andy Blubaugh worked with President & CEO Mike Miller, Guest Director Kris Kyer, the Renaissance tech crew, and the whole cast of our most recent musical, The Little Mermaid. Andy is a second year theatre management and visual arts double major at Kent State University. She heard about the internship from Mike Miller after she talked with him about her interest in directing theatre.

“He mentioned the internship and it sounded like a great opportunity,” Andy said. “So I knew immediately it was something I wanted to apply for.”

Andy said her responsibilities changed daily.

“If I was not working on constructing and painting props, I was sending out backing tracks to the cast so they could rehearse at home, or I was talking to Kris about what we needed to accomplish for the day,” Andy said. “I would take notes and cue tracks and sound effects during rehearsals, take t-shirt orders, and help with the odds and ends that needed to be taken care of.”

She also said that her hours varied based on what was going on at the theatre each week and that she thoroughly enjoyed her time interning at the Renaissance.

“My favorite part was getting to learn so much about production that I never had the chance to be involved in before. Especially in making giant fish puppets, working with Cue Lab, and figuring out how to be best organized among a cast of 35,” Andy said. “Watching Kris work was awesome as well. I got to sit in on a few of his coaching sessions with some of our actors, and it showed me a lot about the communication of the director to the actor, and then translating that into their character. Being a part of this show really opened some doors for me to be involved with more parts of theatre than has ever been available to me before.”

Andy felt supported by other members of the staff of the Renaissance and the cast of The Little Mermaid. One of Andy’s biggest projects this summer was working on props for The Little Mermaid. When they were unveiled to the cast, they thought they were wonderful.

“As an artist and as the assistant director, it felt like my work was really appreciated, which made the whole experience so much more fulfilling,” Andy said.

Andy has a piece of advice for those wanting to intern in the production area of performing arts.

“Try lighting, sound, costumes and makeup, audition to be onstage, and offer your assistance to a production in whatever way you can. Every opportunity gives you the chance to learn something more, which can only better prepare you.”


Andy and I would like to say thank you to those who mentored us during our time at the Renaissance. We wish everyone a fun and successful 2017-2018 season!

Family Four Pack

All About the Family Four Pack!

by Colleen Cook

It’s a part of our organization’s mission to ensure that everyone has access to live arts and entertainment, and we’re committed to finding new ways to expand our reach each season. At the same time, we have a responsibility to our donors and sponsors to steward their gifts well and to be a financially sustainable organization – that means, we have to be affordable and accessible, but we usually can’t make our tickets free.

Finding an affordable price point for each of our shows that fulfills our artist agreements, ensures that our expenses are covered, and maintains affordability to our patrons can be more than a little bit tricky. We subsidize every ticket price with approximately 50% donated/sponsored funds (that is to say, without the support of our donors and sponsors, we’d be forced to charge twice as much for every ticket to simply break even).

All of those factors played into our decision to create a Family Four Pack ticket option this season. The Family Four Pack is essentially 4 seats and two popcorns for $50. These seats are available in our Section C for most of our family-friendly shows beginning in the 17-18 Season. Family Four Pack tickets are not available for sale online, and can only be purchased through visiting or calling the Box Office at (419) 522-2726 during open hours, Tuesday through Friday, 12-5 PM.

When you purchase a Family Four Pack, your family can easily afford to bring the whole crew to a show without draining the college savings account. If you need more than four tickets, you can add additional tickets to your package for just $15 each. When you pick up your tickets either at the Box Office when you purchase or at the will call window the day of the event, you will have two vouchers for popcorn that you can redeem at the concession stand anytime that evening.

We hope that this new price point will make attending our shows more affordable for families and increase your opportunities to enjoy great performances here in Mansfield! We’d love to hear your thoughts – reach out in the comment section, or give our Box Office a call any time!

Colleen Cook Renaissance Theatre

Journey to a Career in Arts Marketing

By Audra DeLaney

You have to wonder to yourself sometimes, “who is the person who runs the Renaissance social media?”  Well, this person is the same person who’s name you see in the top left corner of most of our blogs and who is asks all the questions to interviewees during podcasts. Marketing and Communications Director Colleen Cook is an innovative digital marketer,  invested wife and mother, and someone who is constantly thinking about how to improve herself and the world around her.

Colleen’s path to a career in arts marketing was a little different than most. She received her undergraduate degree in Music Education from Ashland University. After graduation, she took up a job as a music teacher in an Ohio school district. Following that, she chose to pursue a master’s degree in Voice Pedagogy from Shenandoah Conservatory near Washington D.C. in Winchester, VA. She always had a nack for arts management, but didn’t know one could obtain a degree in it.

“A friend said to me why aren’t you doing a masters in Arts Management?” Colleen said. “I responded that I hadn’t even heard of the field!”

After speaking with the advisor to those pursuing degrees in arts management, Colleen chose to add a Master of Science in Arts Management to her course load and was able to get an on campus internship that helped her hone her skills. She then interned for Americans for The Arts, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C. who’s mission is to serve, advance, and lead the network of organizations and individuals who cultivate, promote, sustain, and support the arts in America. Colleen was placed in the Leadership Alliances department where she assisted the organization with their artist committee, administration for the National Arts Awards, the Nancy Hanks lecture and dinner for Arts Advocacy Day, and several development-related tasks.

“When successful artists and celebrities come to D.C. to testify on behalf of the NEA, or to do anything pro-arts, this is the department they go through,” Colleen said. “I was fortunate to meet a number of well known arts leaders through this internship, and I learned a lot about how a successful national-level nonprofit does business.”

Colleen said her internship with Americans for The Arts helped her learn how to do things the right way in the field of development because Americans for The Arts has to works with some of the biggest philanthropists in the United States. The experience taught her the ins and outs of the fundraising process she may not otherwise have learned.

After concluding her internship, a friend who was performing at the Renaissance at the time reached out to her about an open Assistant Development Director position. She and her husband had talked about wanting to move back to this area, and Colleen knew the Renaissance Theatre would be a good fit for her. She still had classes left to finish, but interviewed for the job anyway. She got it, and moved back two weeks later. The next year, Colleen became the Development Director and helped to reorganize the development practices at the Renaissance. After three years in that role, she made a lateral move to work as the Director of Marketing and Communications, having thoroughly enjoyed being able to tell the story of the Renaissance through her role in Development.

Meetings with various individuals are also a part of Colleen’s schedule, as is working closely with Assistant Director of Marketing and Graphic Designer Steven Au on the numerous print and digital ads the Renaissance runs for each show. Colleen develops the marketing plan for each show, partners with numerous media outlets, creates the majority of the written content the Renaissance produces, which includes web management, news releases, social media management, and numerous print pieces.

 

“I love that my job allows me to be creative and productive each day. We work with some of the most incredible people in our region at the Renaissance and I feel so grateful to have built relationships with so many brilliant and hardworking leaders here. It’s my pleasure to tell the Renaissance’s story each day,” she shares.

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.

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.