Editor’s Note

This is part 4 of a 6-part sponsored series that focuses on the Renaissance’s passion of the arts and what it means for the community.

Read previous articles in this series here: Part 3 | Part 2 | Part 1

Whether it’s musical talents, stories being shared through plays, songs, and poetry, or emotion being poured out through dance, the arts bring great value to those it’s being shared with, as well as those sharing it. Many desire to step away from the audience and create, but don’t know where to start. 

The Renaissance, a staple in the Mansfield community for 95 years, is happy to offer a helping hand and guide those toward a creative future. With many programs available that offer individuals a safe space to openly share their ideas with others who share the same passions, one can truly begin to blossom in their talents. 

Michael Thomas especially recognizes these people, which is why he had the idea to create the Emerging Artists Program. Through this program, people from all around the world can submit their original plays and musicals. Once finalists are selected, actors will work with the director and playwright to present a performance. The goal of the program is to guide and advocate for artists of all ages as they navigate finding their voices through their original work. 

“What we want to do is inspire people locally to say, ‘Hey, this dream could be mine. I could claim this, I can do this,’” Thomas said. 

“That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to nurture them and to advocate for them, to help them along their way as they create, whatever their dream is.”

The idea started churning nearly six years ago. With his background in the development of plays, shows, and films and seeing the multitude of talent in the area, Thomas dreamt of the Renaissance becoming more of a “producing house”, balancing a season of works at the Renaissance made up of both outside acts and those internally produced.

It began with “At Last: A Night With Etta James,” starring Condrea Webber. Thomas brought people he knew he could count on on board and, under his direction, they created their own show. 

“It was an amazing hit. We brought it back and sold out again. I remember sitting there the first time we did a run through and Aaron Nichols, our tech director, was sitting beside me, and I turned to him and said ‘This is really good,’” Thomas said.

“To sit here in Mansfield, Ohio, where people think they have limitations or can’t do something, and look at these people and see what they created and be blown away by it is an amazing feeling.”

So, submissions were opened, and they received hundreds of plays, movies, screenplays, and more. This year, they’re even presenting a play from a writer in Belgium. Not only were people around the world realizing the importance of the program, but also the National Endowment for the Arts. The prestigious grant was awarded to the Renaissance in November 2020 to provide funding for the program.

That’s not the only program available that has potential to create a long lasting creative future for local, or non-local, citizens. Since the 1980’s, The Renaissance has proudly presented their Mansfield Symphony Youth Orchestra, made up of many incredibly talented musicians, mostly in high school. It spans a 12 county region, and is the only youth orchestra within a 65 mile radius of Mansfield.

Stephen Domka evolved from being a part of the orchestra for six years, starting in the sixth grade, to now being the current director. Before that, he was the orchestra director for multiple schools in the area. He currently remains as the director for Lexington Local Schools.

“I’ve been a part of the mainstream groups in the area that have fed this group for a long time, so I’ve seen a lot of these kids that are a part of this group go into music education, and we have a lot of alumni that are from the youth orchestra that are currently teachers throughout the state of Ohio and the United States,” Domka said.

The orchestra, involving strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion, is primarily for high school students, and represents the top instrumental students within a one hour radius of Mansfield. Currently, auditions are held year-round seeking talent. 

In schools, being taught strings is considered a specialty, so it’s not as widely available as typical band classes. An opportunity to be in a full orchestra offers so much more, particularly a wider range of music.

“I do have some students that will email me, especially if they’re a string student and there’s a recommendation from their teacher, their orchestra director, or their private instructor,” Domka said.

“Last year I allowed the kids to show up, try a semester, see how they do, and then when the end of the spring comes I’ll have them do the formal audition to be in the group.”

With its numerous and ever-growing programs, The Renaissance is there to support the community in moving them forward to reaching the goals they may have never deemed attainable. To learn more about these programs, visit their website.

“The Renaissance shines beyond just the city itself, and it shines way outside the county as a resource and outlet for those to express themselves, whatever passion they’re into,” Domka said.

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