For the 25th National Conference in Cleveland, TCG is highlighting the current recipients of the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship and the SPARK Leadership Programs. These programs are unique to the field, and provide critical support and mentorship for the future leaders of our art form. In honor of our longstanding commitment to professional development across the field, we feel the time is right to expand the Spotlight On brand beyond the Conference. With this in mind, we are excited to be hosting the Spotlight On Series throughout May and June—all content leading up to the Conference.
“The arts are not a frill. The arts are a response to our individuality and our nature, and help to shape our identity. What is there that can transcend deep difference and stubborn divisions? The arts. They have a wonderful universality. Art has the potential to unify. It can speak in many languages without a translator. The arts do not discriminate. The arts can lift us up.”
–Former Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan
As a young girl in Houston, Texas, my parents found it imperative to expose me to the arts. They introduced me to dance through ballet and tap classes, but after refusing to wear a pink leotard any longer, we discovered my love for the theatre. From a young age, I discovered a love for creative expression and was encouraged to pursue a career in acting by my parents. It was through theatre classes at Fort Bend Community Theatre that I discovered my voice. I learned how to work with those who didn’t look like me. I engaged in fun Stella Adler improvisation games where anyone in the room could be your mother or brother. My personality developed during those times and I discovered the uninhibited “play” that is required to be innovative, creative, and take risks. As I grew older, the thrilling desire to continue in this field developed— be it on the stage, directing the work, teaching the work, or in fundraising for the work that has helped form my confidence and character.
My life would have been dramatically different (no pun intended) without the training that I received at that community theatre as a young person. From there, I went on to attend a performing arts high school (for theatre) in Atlanta. Even then, I received important lessons about leadership, communicating ideas, how to work as part of a team, and how to connect with people of different cultures. These lessons, together with the experience working with my local church’s youth ministry, with high school students as a teaching artist for True Colors Theatre Company’s August Wilson Monologue Competition, and as the Development Director for True Colors, have shaped how I contribute and will continue to contribute to the theatre field.
After I graduated from The Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Acting, I quickly booked a job at The Second City for their Diversity and Outreach showcases. While I was performing at Second City and with a Christian Improv troupe at night, I booked a flexible 9-5 job (just as I had refused to wear a pink leotard before, I similarly refused to be another actor working as an under paid waiter!) I landed a fundraising associate position at the United Way of Metro Chicago. At that position, I learned how to build relationships with donors, how to encourage them to become charitable givers, and how to make creative and compelling speeches to large groups of USPS workers. Working at the United Way was extremely rewarding. I gained an understanding of how nonprofits change our communities at the grassroots level. I went on to receive a master degree from Georgia State in non-profit management. I discovered that the best way to be influential in changing our society was to work in the nonprofit sector. This discovery was the reason I chose to pair my love for the performing arts with fundraising for theatre and another reason to pursue an executive leadership role within the theatre. I have postponed my pursuit of booking acting gigs, yet I have found that fundraising for the art form that has taught me so much is just as rewarding. As Development Director at True Colors Theatre, I find that encouraging others to believe in the impact of theatre is just as important as the work that happens on the stage.
This invaluable work has played a role in shaping my leadership style and my passion for educating people of all ages and backgrounds through the arts.
I envision theatre as a tool to reach the most disadvantaged groups in our society through viewing plays, working with teaching artists, and community engagement activities at the theatre and at workspaces. Expression of an individual’s view of the world in an artistic way is not only liberating, it is also transformative for the individual and for those who experience the work. When we allow the community, people of all ages, to participate in creating a theatrical outlet for communicating their struggles and triumphs, they can discover the power of their voice. The work becomes an artistic outlet for them. Working with communities in this way does not weaken the professionalism of our art form, but rather engages individuals and builds appreciation for the theatrical as a form of impactful communication that can inform and enlighten the individual. I see the work as a way to teach biblical principles to young people within ministries and to the masses on stage. I see the work as a tool to educate and grow an individual’s capacity to envision achieving their dreams or the importance of communicating their worldview, and of proposing creative solutions for change. I see the work as an opportunity to educate about diversity and inclusion and expose the cultural fear and subjugation that lies behind facing the “other” dynamic in our communities, which in turn hinder people from loving and understanding one another despite their differences.
In particular, the driving force for me is to use the forum of theatre and artistic expression to encourage and affect the life of the individual. As the quote from the late Barbara Jordan states, “the arts can lift us up.” I am in pursuit of using the God-given gifts and talents that I possess to lift up the individual and lift up our communities.
LaTeshia Ellerson joined Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in 2007 as Development Associate and was promoted to Director of Development in 2013. LaTeshia is a participant in the SPARK Leadership Program, funded by American Express, The Joyce Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by Theatre Communications Group. During her undergraduate career, she completed internships at Jomandi Productions in Atlanta and Ensemble Theatre in Houston. Professionally as an actress, LaTeshia has performed with The Second City in Chicago and several Christian Theatre Companies in Chicago and Atlanta. LaTeshia holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago and Masters of Science in Urban Policy Studies/Nonprofit Leadership from Georgia State University.
Photo Credit: Keiko Guest