Category Archives: Theatre

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!

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.

Lori Turner Turandot 1993 Flemish Royal Opera

Life as an Artist: An Interview with Lori Turner

By Colleen Cook with Lori Turner

When parents talk to me about Lori Turner and the work she does with the students who participate in the Renaissance Youth Opera Theatre, or “RYOT,” program, their eyes glisten and their faces become reflective and soft. “She does such a good job,” they tell me; “my child is discovering who she/he is, they are growing so much,” they say. Behind the curtain and apart from the outstanding productions this group regularly performs, the culture of RYOT and the quality of instruction Lori provides creates an almost sacred space for the students who participate each year.

Beyond the RYOT shows, many of our patrons have had the opportunity to see Lori’s unforgettable performances on our stage in a number of musicals over recent years, including Young FrankensteinA Christmas Carol, White Christmas, Xanadu and Ragtime to name just a few. What our audience may suspect from her notable performances on our stage but may not know, however, is that Lori has enjoyed a tremendous career as a performing artist. Lori’s performance career began with the Los Angeles Opera, the Roger Wagner Chorale and the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra. She then spent 10 years in Europe as a member of the Royal Flemish Opera in Belgium. I invited Lori to allow me to interview her and share some insights from that season of her life:

Colleen Cook: What was life like as a full-time opera singer in Belgium?

Lori Turner:  European audiences support the arts in a very different way from those in the United States. As an opera singer with the Royal Flemish Opera, I had a full-time, salaried position and I worked for the season from August through July, with a paid summer vacation. We performed 6-8 fully-staged, avant garde productions each year in two houses, one in Antwerp and another in Ghent. The houses were slightly larger than the Ren, so about 1500 seats, and they would regularly be sold out.

The opera company was constantly aspiring to make opera an interesting visual as well as aural sensation for a younger audience, and they responded. European audiences have fewer preconceptions about opera and are generally more interested in attending an opera even if it’s outside of their normal type of entertainment.

The arts are state-subsidized because European Governments believe that access to the arts is an important experience for the general population’s quality of life, which really improves life for the artists because you can be a working artist. The Royal Flemish Opera Company is 1 of 3 national opera companies in a country the size of Los Angeles.

CC: When you left Europe and moved to Mansfield, what kind of culture shock did you experience?

LT: I tried to anticipate a lot of things, but I missed performing a lot. I missed being able to sing really challenging music, but I was also occupied being a parent, and that was priority one, so that was certainly impactful but it didn’t control my life.

It was harder on our son, because he was used to European lifestyle. He told his friends that it was always warm in America, because he had only visited the US in the summers. Let’s just say that first winter was a rude awakening! Not having medical insurance was impactful. Teaching privately, via a community arts school, and not having a salary had a big impact.

CC: What advice would you give a young performer considering a career in performance?

LT:  If they’re about to go into the world, into college, I’d encourage them to go to a college that has as many performance opportunities as possible. If they’re going into the world to work, then go some place that has as many performance opportunities as possible. I believe every American should spend time overseas – in Europe, Asia, England – to gain a world-wide perspective. Every performer should study the classics, regardless of your discipline, dancers should study ballet, actors should study Shakespeare, singers should study opera – the foundations don’t limit you they expand your higher ability.

CC: The decision to make a major shift from performing to moving your family back to the US and focus on parenting is brave and bold. What advice would you give a young parent?

LT: It really changed my life for 20 years. I was performing full-time, and then I wasn’t. For me, to be home at night, I felt that needed to happen to be an effective parent. For a time, I lived a little bit vicariously through my son’s involvement in theatre, as I suppose all parents do. I never lost touch with theatre because I was still directing. I still sang some with the symphony and concerts but now that Phillip is grown, I’m starting to perform again. I’m no longer a “Dorabella,” the roles I can play have changed as I’ve aged and as my instrument has changed, but I’m having to redefine myself as a performer now, 20-years later. One thing I did for myself and for my instrument, I studied the whole time that I wasn’t performing.


Lori’s next production is RYOT’s The Gondoliers & Pinocchio, February 4-5, 2017.
Get information and tickets here.

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Lessons From The Second City

By Michael Thomas, Artistic Director

I have to admit, when our Marketing Director, Colleen Cook, asked me to write a blog about my time at the Second City I was a little stumped. “Write about something funny that happened. When something went wrong.” Of course, something going wrong was what we’d always hoped would happen. Someone forgetting to make an entrance, a missed sound cue, a server dropping a tray of glasses, a cell phone ringing… Those sort of things were like little gifts to the improv-trained actor because they knew that the unexpected is funny – and they can riff on it. Even in the worst of times – as when a drunken high schooler, celebrating her post prom at our show, vomited all over herself, the server and the unfortunate couple in front of her – I watched the actors on stage spin upchuck into comedy gold. For the rest of the evening, the actors would somehow find a way to work a barf joke into the scene – and it would send the audience into hysterics. We were taught not to resort to potty/childish humor, (see below), but when forced into it, we could keep pace with the best/worst of them.

Looking back, some of the funniest, (albeit frustrating) moments came when I first started improv classes. There was always someone in your class who ignored the basic rules of improv and would completely change the scene so that they could, presumably, insert what they considered to a funnier situation or even just a corny pun or one liner. For instance, I recall that our suggestion for a scene was “a man whose wife is cheating on him.” . My scene partner and I got up on stage and I began with “I’m so distraught. I know something is going on and it’s driving me crazy.” My partner responded with “What are you talking about? I’m George Washington and it’s my birthday!” The guy had clearly been sitting on his hands waiting to unveil a hilarious George Washington birthday party scene he’d concocted – and he was going to do it whether we liked it or not. Fans of the television program The Office may recall Michael Scott’s failed attempt at improv. When he doesn’t know how to end a scene, he simply pulls out an imaginary pistol and shoots all of his teammates dead. The star of that show, Steve Carrell, is a Second City alum – and I’m certain that scene must have been based on his real life experiences.

Of course, there were also many memorable moments dealing with certain members of the audience. I don’t think we ever did a single show when there wasn’t someone in the crowd who thought they were funnier than the folks on stage. It usually went down like this:
Actor: We need a suggestion for a place. Any place. A train station. A taxi cab. Your mother’s kitchen.
Man in audience: Poop!!!
Actor: (ignoring him) An amusement park. A doctor’s office. An operating room.
Man in audience: A urinal!!
Actor: (still ignoring him) Betsy Ross’ sewing room. The deck of the Titanic. A hamster cage.
Man in crowd: Someone farting!
Actor: (ignoring him again while cocking a hand to his ear) I think I heard someone call out “A basketball court!”
The unfortunate man in the audience really felt as though he was the first person in the history of comedy to think of toilet humor. I’m sure he envisioned the audience hoisting him upon their shoulders and celebrating him as the great wit of his generation. The Noel Coward of gastrointestinal-based comedy.

But what I remember most about my time at Second City is that I witnessed some of the best acting and storytelling I’d ever seen. When I was in acting school, we wrote off our comedy improv class as a silly, albeit entertaining, diversion from the much meatier works of Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. But what I discovered at Second City was that the best improvisers are also the most profoundly adept actors. And why? Because they are always listening and reacting. They stay “in the moment” – so their reactions are always honest and believable. Some of our most renowned actors, including Bill Murray, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Alan Alda, Ed Asner, Alan Arkin, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Mike Myers and Martin Short – as well as my friends Rachel Dratch and Tina Fey – were trained at the Second City. I spent four years there in the 1990s – and met some of the most incredibly funny, kind, giving and generous folks I’ve ever known. Unlike so many, I didn’t seek out a job there, but came onboard thanks to my friend Jeff Richmond, who directed many of their main stage and ETC productions. At first it just seemed like any other gig – and I honestly just did it for the paycheck. But I quickly discovered that what they do is truly an art form – and I had fallen, bass ackwards, into one of the most profoundly life-changing experiences I would ever know.

Year In Review

Highlights of 2016, Looking into 2017… and a BIG announcement!

by Mike Miller, President & CEO

This has been one of the most exciting and expansive years in my history with the Renaissance, and it’s all thanks to our incredible staff, board, volunteers, donors, and patrons! We have truly got the best team of people working together to bring outstanding arts and culture to Mansfield, and I am proud to be a part of it.

This year, the Renaissance has reduced its total debt down to $150,000, down from $1.2 million when I took the helm in 2010. We’ve done this through streamlining our operations and programming, fundraising for debt reduction, and improving our business practices. We want the Renaissance to exist in Mansfield forever, and adopting a sustainable business model and operating within our means was critical, and we couldn’t have done it without our incredible team.

Another highlight for the Renaissance was Michael Thomas’ original production of Hot Mess: The Musical. Never before have we sold out a production before it even opened, but that was the case with this hysterical new musical that showcases Michael’s adept skill for musical comedy. Even more exciting, renowned Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh has taken interest in the production and we will be taking our cast to workshop it in New York City in April 2017, following our spring revival of the production on our stage in Mansfield. We couldn’t be more excited for our artists at the Renaissance!

Our Mansfield Symphony conductor search has been a remarkable process, with over 100 outstanding applicants from all over the world for the position of music director! This speaks to the quality and reputation of our orchestra to have such a wealth of individuals vying for the position. Having the opportunity to showcase three of those conductors on our stage this season has already been a treat for our community.

And now for the big announcement…!!!

For me, one of the most exciting things of 2016 is only first being publicly announced right now, and that is our acquisition of a 15,000 square foot building at 166 Park Avenue West. Despite our large building, we have so many educational programs, performance groups, ensembles, and productions rehearsing in our space that we are constantly running out of usable rehearsal and performance spaces in our building. When we approached our board about a building that was for sale by the Richland County Land Bank for $89.00, but required $150,000 in work just to make it usable, rather than back away our board ran in and raised and supplied the funds in 10 days, fully funded through cash and in-kind donations. In particular, massive thanks go to Bill Hope of Alumni Roofing for providing a new roof for the building, and Ary Van Harlingen of Shaw Ott Medical and his team for remediating the extensive mold in the building and gutting it, as well as one anonymous funder.

Over the coming months we’ll talk a lot more about this space with you. We’ll be conducting a feasibility study, thanks to support from the Richland County Foundation, in order to determine what the community needs from this space. We know we’d like to see more rehearsal space, a more intimate performance space, and education classrooms. Keep your eyes open for a lot more conversation about this space soon. If you’d like to hear just a little more, you can listen to the Renaissance Podcast episode the Chairman of our Board, Rand Smith, and I released this week.

The Renaissance is committed to being the cultural hub for our community. We are energized by the partnerships we’ve formed with our region’s non-profits and we are delighted by the support we continually receive to keep our program vibrant and expanding. Thank you for making this the greatest job on earth.

3 Things You Support By Giving to the Annual Fund Campaign

By Jessica Dulle & Colleen Cook

1. Education

Teddy Bear Concert - Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography

Teddy Bear Concert – Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography

The Renaissance proudly boasts that our Education Department serves 15,000 students each year! We have 13 distinct programs, numerous collaborations with area schools and agencies, and serve individuals of all ages and abilities!

2. Live Performances

Beauty and the Beast 2016 - Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography

Beauty and the Beast 2016 – Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography

Whether it’s our locally-produced professional Broadway-style productions, touring bands,  artists, or comedians, or offering a venue to local emerging artists and acts, the Renaissance exists to make outstanding live performances available and accessible for everyone in our region! (Did you know that no one is turned away for an inability to pay for a ticket, thanks to our Angel Ticket Program?)

3.The Mansfield Symphony

The Mansfield Symphony Orchestra - Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography

The Mansfield Symphony Orchestra – Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography

A cultural establishment in Mansfield for over 85 years, the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra is one of the premiere mid-size symphonies in the country. This season, the MSO is able to offer 6 concerts to the public, plus four educational concerts and numerous community outreach performances. As Ben Folds recently said, “Symphonies symbolize the epitome of civilization, i.e., people working together. If you go to a town without an orchestra or a bad orchestra, it’s a crappy town.”

You can give to the Renaissance Annual Fund Campaign $100,000 Matching Grant Challenge and have your gift matched 2:1 by the Landers Foundation and the Hire Foundation anytime between now and December 31, 2016! To give, click here.