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The Story of a City

This blog is written reposted from Richland Source’s Rising from Rust: SXSW series, and was written by Chelsie Thompson, our organization’s President and one of 15 individuals attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin with the intention to bring back ideas and to reimagine Richland County. To read more SXSW blogs, click here.


On more than one occasion, I’ve made the mistake of telling my boss that I value professional development more than anything else in a job… and then have had to quickly walk back that statement to make sure he knows I like getting paid, too. But it’s true — I love learning, and for someone who values it so much, this week in Texas at South by Southwest has been the experience of a lifetime.

We started our journey at SXSW as fifteen (mostly) strangers. Every one of these incredible Mansfielders brought something different to the group, and having the chance to get to know them all has only made me admire them more. We’re leaving as friends, comrades who survived the trenches of SXSW, with a shared vision and purpose for the work ahead. We’ve heard from speakers from around the world, celebrities to federal officials to multi-million dollar marketers, and there is so much to bring back to our home city from each of them.

In six days, I tackled nearly two dozen of SXSW’s most promising sessions, and remarkably, every single one somehow touched on a common theme: the cities that are successful throughout the world are the ones that are minimizing the differences that separate them and embracing their shared humanity instead. They ask questions, listen to every voice and involve their citizens in the action. Take these comments from chef and “Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern on the experience of his addiction in early life and how it shaped this perspective for him personally.

“I had to go to places to sleep at night, I had to go places to get meals because I was living on the street. I was the guy you crossed the street to avoid,” he said.

“After getting back on my feet and cooking as a nobody in restaurants, I kept feeling like I had to find a way to teach the world about patience, tolerance and understanding because I kept noticing throughout each restaurant that the way people talked about culture was only in terms of the ways that we were divided… In listening, one gains an understanding of the world. We all have to think about ourselves and how we fit into this, but the minute we get out if our heads and ask more questions, it’s a powerful experience.”

In everything he said, both Zimmern and his co-panelist, fellow chef José Andrés, emphasized respect for our fellow human beings. So often, we believe that we know what’s best for others, and without stopping to listen to what people actually want or need, we implement our solution. Andrés cited his trip to Haiti to aid after the 2010 earthquake.

“Beans, beans, everything there is black beans and that’s all we had. I thought, how terrible, there’s only beans, and this village hasn’t eaten in days. So I added rice, and gave them this bean and rice dish,” he said. “When I’m serving the stew I made, they all gathered around the translator… What do they want to tell me? That the beans are no good. It turns out they like their beans like a purée.”

In Andrés’s words, “It’s not helping when people impose what they think you need,” yet the loudest voices are often those who haven’t stopped to listen.

In a keynote with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, I learned about how the moral arc of a city bends towards chaos, not justice, and how social media has made it too easy to spread negativity far and wide. Whether they admit it or not, people say things that they wouldn’t otherwise say to someone directly under the guise of “honesty” without thought of respect. For those that hide behind this, there may never be change — and that’s okay — because their voices become minimized when the rest of the community comes together. But for those brave enough to step out from under this cloak of anonymity and participate in dialogue that is open and well-intentioned, they play a part in a larger cause, one that has the potential to impact tens of thousands in the place that they call home.

Ira Glass said, “Every good story has forward momentum of events.” This is our opportunity to be part of that momentum, to have a voice in our future, to step out of the negativity that has pervaded Mansfield for too long, and to propel the city forward. Our city has a story to tell, and this is just the beginning.”

Mike Miller & Chelsie Thompson; photos by Jeff Sprang and Isaac Coffy

LEADERSHIP EXPANDS AT THE RENAISSANCE TO SET THE STAGE FOR FUTURE SUCCESS

With an eye to the future and a commitment to the present, the Renaissance Performing Arts Association is undertaking a reorganization in leadership intended to set the stage for a second century of providing arts, education and entertainment to Mansfield and surrounding communities.

Michael Miller, who has served as the Renaissance Performing Arts Association’s President and CEO since 2010, will become the CEO of the non-profit organization effective March 1. Miller will represent the organization in the community and focus on broadening the base of support for the Renaissance.

Responsibility for day-to-day operations of the Renaissance will shift to Chelsie Thompson, who has been on staff at the Renaissance since 2010 and most recently served as Executive Director.  Thompson has been promoted to President of the Renaissance Performing Arts Association and will lead the staff in its continuing efforts to provide meaningful arts, entertainment, and educational experiences for the North Central Ohio region and beyond.

Miller stated, “As we just celebrated our 90th Anniversary, this restructuring will allow me to concentrate on locking in the support and resources we will need as we strive to achieve our vision. I have full confidence in Chelsie’s leadership of the staff and operations of the Renaissance and am excited to see the Renaissance further live into its vision.”

“I am thrilled to accept this new assignment, but at the same time humbled by the trust and support of the Renaissance Board in making this change,” said Thompson. “I believe that my education and experience, as well as my passion for the performing arts, all combine to prepare me for this opportunity,” she continued.  ”We have a lot of work to do, but I believe that our outstanding staff is ready to take us to the next level.”

Rand Smith, President of the Renaissance Board of Directors, added, “It’s unusual for an organization of our size to have two such talented and capable leaders.  Our Board members fully support Mike and Chelsie in their new assignments and will work closely with them to secure our future.”

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Arts Education: Why & How We Educate 15,000 Students a Year

By Audra DeLaney

Arts education is one key element to understanding the world around us.

“The arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic…music, dance, paining, and theatre are all keys that unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment.” – Former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett

Our Education Director Chelsie Thompson, along with Education Assistant Dauphne Maloney and a wealth of teaching artists and ensemble directors, provide educational experiences to over 15,000 students in our community across all generations through dozens of educational programs we offer each year. Here is a full list of all of the programs supported by the Renaissance Education Department at this time:

  • Mansfield Symphony Youth Orchestra
  • Mansfield Symphony Youth Strings
  • Teddy Bear Concerts
  • Mansfield Youth Theatre (MY Theatre)
  • Sensory Friendly Performances
  • Renaissance Youth Opera Theatre (RYOT)
  • Improv Underground
  • Broadway Camp!
  • Integrated Theatre Company
  • Mindsprouts Creative Writing Contest
  • Ghost Story ELA Field Trips
  • Partners in Education
  • Operation Bridge Building
  • Children’s Theatre Foundation Partnership
  • Professional Development
  • Internships

Each of these programs and partnerships bring something different to the educational experience offered at the Renaissance Theatre. By the names of these programs, one can gather that many of them are geared toward youth. While we know that fostering an affinity for the arts early is important, we also know that the arts can affect the life of an individual at any point and time.

In high school, athletics was my strong suit. I loved everything about them, from action packed games to early morning practices. While I still have an admiration for athletics, I have grown to respect the type of change and growth the arts are capable of bringing about in someone.

Finally, arts education plays a role in understanding what it means to be human. The National Standards for Arts Education states, “. . . the arts have been an inseparable part of the human journey; indeed, we depend on the arts to carry us toward the fullness of our humanity. We value them for themselves, and because we do, we believe knowing and practicing them is fundamental to the healthy development of our children’s minds and spirits. That is why, in any civilization – ours included – the arts are inseparable from the very meaning of the term ‘education.’ We know from long experience that no one can claim to be truly educated who lacks basic knowledge and skills in the arts.”

Being human is a journey, one that is full of highs and lows, triumphs and failures, spotless performances and ones where all the microphones don’t turn on. The Renaissance Education Department believes in celebrating the imagination in each of us through real-world experiences that help each person see the journey they and others around them are trailblazing. Programs, partnerships, professional development workshops, and internships are offered to help individuals gain experience and knowledge in their areas of interest, but also to give each person who walks through our doors a look into the life of someone else, what they are grappling with, and how that person’s gifts and talents can be utilized to positively impact those around them.

German Poet Bertolt Brecht elaborated on this thought when he said, “The theater-goer in conventional dramatic theater says: Yes, I’ve felt that way, too. That’s the way I am. That’s life. That’s the way it will always be. The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is no escape for him. That’s great art — Everything is self-evident. I am made to cry with those who cry, and laugh with those who laugh.”

If you would like more information on programs offered by the Renaissance Education Department, stay tuned for more posts on the individual programs or contact Chelsie Taylor Thompson at chelsie@mansfieldtickets.com or 419-522-2726 ext 251.

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, which began with a sensory-friendly performance of Shrek the Musical in our 2016-2017 season.

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 performances

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 our sensory-friendly performance offerings, please contact the Renaissance Box Office directly at (419) 522-2726.