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The Journey to Founding Downstage Arts

Circle up, friends! Today on the blog we interview our fearless gem, our do-it-all founder of Downstage Arts, Lindsay Cummings! *Holding for applause.* Without Lindsay, there would be no DSA as we know it. Read along to get to know our leading lady and why she decided to start DSA.

Hi Lindsay! Thank you for sharing on the blog today. Will you give us a short introduction all about you?

Hi! I’m Lindsay [she/her]. I am a Chicago actor, singer, music director, and educator (chronologically). I hold a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and a Master of Musical Theatre and Opera Performance from Arizona State University.

Growing up, it had always been a dream of mine to perform on Broadway eight shows per week. I excelled at music from a young age, and my mom would often find me teaching my friends how to play piano and sing. At the age of eighteen, I founded a theatre company in my hometown of Freedom [Wisconsin] to raise money for arts education scholarships for future students wishing to pursue arts degrees. The organization is in its eleventh season, and I am proud to write that it is still thriving today. Through my collegiate career and afterward, I worked in theatre and television across the country. However, I continued to be pulled to provide opportunities for young artists, just as I had in Wisconsin, so I decided to return to education. I desired to share the skills I had learned, while instilling young artists with greater confidence. I moved to Chicago in 2017 and immediately began working with a company that provided after school theatre education to students throughout the city.

Today, I find myself deeply invested in educating young artists. I am the owner of Chicago Music & Acting Academy, and I am an Instructor of Music Theatre Voice and Piano at North Central College, in Naperville, IL.

“First, we must create great human beings, before we can turn them into great artists.”

My goal in every aspect of my work is cultivating a safe and welcoming environment that allows my students the freedom to explore their musical voices. Teaching confidence, storytelling, respect, and kindness are more important aspects of theater education to me, than teaching technique or how to sing “correctly”—don’t get me wrong, I also teach them that. First, we must create great human beings, before we can turn them into great artists.

Thank you for that spectacular introduction, Lindsay! It sounds like you have had a passion to teach since a young age. From raising money for arts education scholarships in your hometown to founding DSA in order to provide access to the arts for all in Chicagoland, this must feel like a full-circle moment!

Now, you not only work as a professor at NCC but you are also the owner of CMAA. On top of those two jobs, you are building DSA. It sounds like there is a lot on your plate! What influenced you to take on another job, this time in the nonprofit sector?

I know, right? I’ve always been a huge dreamer and goal-getter. My path to arts education took many frustratingly unexpected twists and turns. Leading up to my undergraduate application process, I had no guidance or training. I trained in music from a young age, but I did not receive guidance on the next steps I needed to take. I spent countless hours on my internet explorer browser researching schools on my own, and over $5,000 on college applications, audition fees, and traveling to different schools.

I wasted so much time and money pretending to be the person whom I thought the auditioners wanted me to be, because none of the programs to which I applied accepted me as an incoming first-year student. I mistakenly thought something was wrong with me. I attended The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, the school where I thought I wanted to be, hoping I could audition into the program I admired in my second year. I was denied a second time. I finally transferred to UW-Green Bay, where I did all of the things I thought I was supposed to do: I double majored in Vocal Performance, Musical Theatre, and minored in piano performance; took six years to complete my undergrad; and ended up in a world of debt. Then, because I still did not feel like I was ready to enter the professional world, I went to Arizona State University for my master’s degree in performance. That led to more debt and still feeling lost. I worked in my field across the country, from New York off Broadway shows, to the La Jolla Playhouse, but something still did not feel right. Finally, I taught my first theatre class to a group of middle school girls. I realized they were just as confused as I was, at their age. They needed someone to tell them that they were exactly who they needed to be, and that when they were on stage, all I wanted to see was them, not them pretending to be somebody else.

It certainly sounds like you landed right on your heart’s center. You are proof that teachers often work beyond the scope of their job description. Knowing that you lead your work with confidence, respect, kindness, and authenticity is encouragement for us all.

I look forward to hearing more about your biggest hopes for DSA, how it is you stay inspired, and what the arts mean to you. Thank you, Lindsay! *Applause, Applause!*

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