What Community Means at Charleston Stage, with Board Member Chelsea Rennhoff

We are so grateful to welcome our newest Board Member, Chelsea Rennhoff, to our Board of Directors and Director’s Circle Philanthropic Group! Hear about her beginning in the performing arts and love for the Charleston community below.

Please share some of your background and how your love for the arts began.

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I trained as a classical singer when I was young, which is where my love for the arts started. I’ve moved all over the country and world for my work in HR, and I’m very happy to be in Charleston now. My husband is originally from South Carolina, so this is a really special place for us to be. As I explored opportunities to get involved in the community when I moved here, Charleston Stage became such an easy choice. I’ve loved being able to be a board member and do volunteer work to stay involved in the arts.

How did you come to discover Charleston Stage?

Since I finished college and started my career, in each city I’ve lived in I’ve strived to get involved in my community in some way. Even when you’re new in your career, often the best way to get plugged in with different organizations is to volunteer your time and skills to help others by contributing what you already know. I like being involved in one local and one national organization. I had the privilege of meeting Janet, Charleston Stage Board President, at the CityStage Gala last spring, and she asked me as someone with HR expertise to join the board. 

Something that’s really special about Charleston Stage is its diversity of focus in performing arts. Often arts organizations are uniformly focused on performances. What I found so compelling about Charleston Stage is the breadth of their work in the community by also prioritizing arts education–the number of kids in the Charleston community who are touched by their work is incredible. The shows are amazing, but I find it really unique how big of a hand Charleston Stage has in the community by being very education focused.

As a new board member, how would you like to see Charleston Stage grow?

I’m really enjoying the work I’m doing on the search committee–exploring the right leadership for someone in this critical role at such a widely respected institution but who can also offer fresh eyes to improve how we run the organization. Secondly, I think even in an organization as dynamic as Charleston Stage, on any given night at the Dock Street Theatre we’re seeing mostly folks who are older. We need to be thinking more about our next generation of supporters, and I’m interested in exploring how we can bring more young professionals to the stage and make the theatre a date-night spot. 

I’ve led work on how to bring more young professionals to an organization, and the key way is creating community, a space where you know you’ll see your buddies there. I really want to focus on helping Charleston Stage expand this.

What is your impression of Director’s Circle?

There’s an important distinction between a season ticket-holder and a Director’s Circle ticket-holder. One, it’s really fun–the environment is great! Because Director’s Circle happens at the beginning of the show I’m able to talk to so many people I know about it after I attend to come see the show later. As we emphasize that Director’s Circle is a philanthropic organization, it’s important to explain how much Charleston Stage does to improve our community with arts education and how the contribution of Director’s Circle members helps the organization do that. If you are someone who is interested in the arts and wants to meet like-minded people in Charleston, this is the place to do it!

Why do you think the performing arts is so important to people in all walks of life?

The companies I work in HR with employ people of all walks of life and experiences. What’s unique about art is its capacity to put everyone in our communities on a more even playing field and help us all feel better connected. The arts transform people out of who they are on a day to day basis and take them to a place of better relating to one another. The arts bring people together regardless of where they are in the world, especially when you’re watching a performance as a group–the differences between you and other people start to fade away. The U.S. right now feels really divisive, and I believe it’s important to look to arts organizations to help unite us.

The arts are incredibly important for kids because it provides a space to express themselves creatively, help them share how they are feeling, and more intelligently manage their emotions. 

Charleston Stage is unique because it wants others to get involved in the arts and learn the arts. The organization sees its mission to create bridges across Charleston into the arts, such as with the CityStage and TheatreWings programs. Arts communities give young people a place to feel like they belong, and oftentimes, that’s enough.

What is your favorite show?

The Music Man on Broadway took my breath away when I saw Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster opposite each other recently. And, I had the opportunity to play Amaryllis when I was younger!

Charleston Stage Board Member Chelsea Rennhoff

Behind the Character of Bob Cratchit, With Cody Elsensohn

Cody Elsensohn, a Season 45 Resident Actor, was last seen in “The Play That Goes Wrong” and “The Addams Family – A New Musical,” and will return to the Dock Street Theatre stage in our MainStage production of “Native Gardens” this March. Hear his take on preparing for the role of Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol” here:

You’re a Season 45 Resident Actor with us and we are so grateful to have you here! What have you enjoyed about your work with us so far?

I have honestly loved everything from engaging in different rehearsal processes, to performing at the beautiful, historic Dock Street Theatre, to connecting with and teaching theatre to so many young theatre artists. It has been a joy to share in these experiences with the other Resident Actors and with the larger Charleston Stage community!

How have you been preparing to play the role of Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol?”

Growing up watching “A Christmas Carol” each holiday season provided a nice jumping-off point for me as I prepared to play Bob Cratchit. I had always known Cratchit to be cheery, optimistic, and kind-hearted. After reading this original adaptation by Julian Wiles, however, I found new insights into Cratchit’s character. I am a firm believer that all the information I need for my character can be found in the script: taking note of what other characters think/say/feel about mine and paying close attention to the words my character chooses to say (the power of those words, or the lack thereof) to determine an energy from the character. Playing the action of the script to elicit any emotional response rather than playing the emotion of the scene is far more compelling. That being said, most of my preparations have happened during the rehearsal process as I’ve experimented with different ways to play scenes and deliver lines, and this even continues to develop into the run of performances!

Featured: The Cratchit Family with Charleston Stage Resident Actor Cody Elsensohn as Bob Cratchit (Far Right) in “A Christmas Carol”.

Tell us more about Cratchit. What motivates him? What is he afraid of? How have you been working through these things as an actor?

Bob Cratchit is a warm, jubilant, hard working man. He is a father of seven, a husband, and is employed by Ebenezer Scrooge. I think Cratchit is most motivated by family and love. I think the fact that Tiny Tim is ill is also a huge motivator for Cratchit to take as many hours at work as he does, and could also be a major reason he is as jubilant and cheerful as he is. In a bind like the Cratchits, where a father and oldest daughter provide for the entire family, including a perhaps terminally ill child, it might be imperative to keep a cheerful demeanor around the house. I believe Bob Cratchit practices happiness as a way to maintain gratitude against the odds of his family’s circumstances. Bob primarily is afraid of losing his position at Scrooge and Marley’s because this would mean that he would lose his entire livelihood. He would no longer be able to feed his family, he could lose his son to illness, or the Cratchits would go homeless. These motivators and fears are all supported by the script, which makes working through this information a lot of fun. When there are this many layers, the stakes for the character rise and offer a lot of interesting work to play around with.

Featured (Left to Right): Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Members Noah Greisheimer as Peter Cratchit, Louie Chaplin Moss as Tiny Tim, and Charleston Stage Resident Actor Cody Elsensohn as Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol”.

This show is challenging particularly as a big musical with many moving parts. What has been the most difficult aspect of rehearsals for you? What has come more naturally?

I think the most difficult aspect of the rehearsal process was getting confident with my British accent! I was determined to do it well because I find that accents can tend to be a weakness of mine, yet they are required for this production. Things like Bob’s temperament, his tenderness, and his joy came more naturally to me when working the material.

What are your standard pre-show routines as you get ready to perform?

For “A Christmas Carol” I don’t have a very demanding dance or vocal track, so my pre-show routine is quite standard and brief. I like to start with a consonant and vowel vocal warm up to make sure my speech is crisp and clean, then I like to do some lip trills up and down my range to awaken all the parts of my voice. I’ll usually do a quick full body stretch and a shakedown to loosen up, and then I’m good to go!

Tough question: plays or musicals? Why?

Plays. While I love being in musicals, I always end up enjoying playing characters written in plays more than I enjoy playing characters written in musicals. It always feels like there’s more substance to the characters, and reactions garnered from a performance in a play tend to feel more genuine than those garnered from audiences in a musical, so I like plays more!

Cody is ecstatic to join Charleston Stage in its 45th Season as a Resident Actor! A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Cody earned his B.F.A. in Acting from the University of Southern Mississippi in May of 2022. Some of his recent credits include Billy Cane in Bright Star, Jerry Hyland in Once in a Lifetime, Actor 1 in The Stinky Cheeseman, and Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cody would like to thank his family, friends, and teachers who endlessly encourage and support him; it is highly valued! Keep up with Cody by following his Instagram: @cody.elsensohn

Behind the Scenes of Our Holiday Shows, With Facia Lee

Facia Lee, one of our Season 45 Resident Actors, takes us backstage of “A Christmas Carol,” our holiday tradition reimagined this year with entirely new sets, costumes, and music, and “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” in our Family Series! Hear from her below:

You’re a Season 45 Resident Actor with us – we are so grateful to have you here! What have you enjoyed about your work with us so far?

I am grateful to be here! Performing this season has been such a blast, and I have learned so much in teaching our TheatreSchool classes. I’ve also certainly enjoyed how I’ve gotten the chance to meet and work with other incredibly talented Resident Actors, staff, local actors, and students. I cannot forget to mention that Charleston is absolutely gorgeous, too!

Doing two shows at once certainly isn’t easy. How have you been preparing for and handling it? 

I agree it’s no easy feat by any means, but luckily our responsibilities as Resident Actors are scheduled perfectly for us to be able to have time to rehearse AND relax at home when needed! As the holidays pick up, we devote the time we were teaching to getting into more shows, rehearsals, and other magic, as our TheatreSchool semester closed before Thanksgiving break.

Tell us more about your characters in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and “A Christmas Carol.” What motivates them? How have you been working through these things as an actor?

I am truly blessed to play both Grace Bradley in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” then switch hats (literally!) to play the Lady Visitor/Ghoul/Beggar Woman/Debtor’s Wife track in “A Christmas Carol!” Grace is a loving mother who is devoted to accomplishing something outside of her comfort zone, while the Lady Visitors go from being rejected by Scrooge at first to being gifted by him in the end! Both roles are absolutely hilarious and require so much confidence throughout, which has helped me improve so much as an actor and in my personal life. I have learned immensely from these characters’ stories of perseverance and joy, and have grown tremendously while working with my incredibly talented directors and fellow actors in both casts.

Featured (Center): Charleston Stage Resident Actor Facia Lee as Grace Bradley in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”.

As an actor, what aspects of rehearsing and performing come more naturally to you? What parts are more difficult?

Though not every single song I have ever learned is easy, music is easiest to pick up on for me! Dancing and physical theatre are a tad bit more difficult for me, but of course the directors, choreographers, and other Resident Actors always hook a girl up with the extra help I ever need! 

Featured (Left to Right): Charleston Stage Resident Actors Eliza Knode and Facia Lee as the Lady Visitors and Actors’ Equity Association Member and Former Charleston Stage Resident Actor Gabriel Wright as Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”.

What are your standard pre-show routines as you get ready to perform? 

Before every single performance, the ladies’ dressing room listens to “Plastic Off the Sofa” from Beyoncé’s newest album!

Tough question: plays or musicals? Why?

Love them both tons, but I’ll have to say musicals because of the song and dance aspects!

Facia is thrilled to work with Charleston Stage! She has been performing on stage since she was about 6 years old. Her favorite credits include Macduff (The Scottish Play), Cinderella, an in-house written children’s theatre version of the same name, and Sandra/The Witch in Big Fish. She graduated from Florida School of the Arts with both her A.A. and A.S. in Musical Theatre and graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic University with her B.A. in Theatre with Concentration in Music. Facia would like to thank her loving family, friends, teachers, and Father for all of their support.