Audience Development Manager Teila Theisen is dedicated to making high-quality art accessible to everyone. And she is unstoppable! Long story short, she’s worked a decade in nonprofit management, earned a degree in Fine Arts (voice AND dance); plus, she’s avidly served communities nationally and internationally through her years in AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. She joined the staff at Central City Opera March of 2020, just in time for a truly wild ride, and we couldn’t be happier to have had her on our team. Read on to learn more about Teila, her passion for arts equity and the upcoming Central City Plein Air Festival.

Teila introduces an outdoor concert during the Central City Plein Air Festival, 2020.

What do you do day-to-day at Audience Development Manager at Central City Opera?

The purpose of my role is to develop opportunities that increase access to opera, for both new and dedicated audience members. I spend my time identifying barriers that audience members face and brainstorming ways to tackle them. Opera is for everyone, and oftentimes we need to seek unique ways to bring it directly to our community! Creating a space in the opera house that is welcoming, and ensuring that all audience members feel a sense of belonging here, is essential to our success.

In preparation for the Central City Plein Air Festival, I spend most of my time getting ready for our artists’ arrival. I work closely with our festival judges, participating painters, historic properties team and our featured singers and musicians. I also plan many of the free public events.

The Central City Plein Air Festival is one of your biggest projects throughout the year. What makes this event special? 

The Plein Air Festival is a free, public event September 25-26. Outdoor, or “plein air,” painters from all over the country come to our historic town of Central City to paint the incomparable Colorado landscape and Victorian architecture. This family friendly event includes art, music, crafts, community and fall colors! 

Tell us about your life, education and career before this role.

My educational background and training is in classical voice and contemporary dance. I earned my BFA cum Laude through the Lila Dole Scholarship Program at Northern Illinois University. After that, I made it my life’s goal to pay-it-forward and bring high-quality performing arts experiences and education to underserved communities. In addition to serving in the Peace Corps, I’ve built a career in nonprofit management and arts advocacy.

How did you make your way into the field of opera? Why does the art form appeal to you?

As a child, I loved singing in classical choirs. I started studying operatic vocal technique in high school and was drawn to the very theatrical, vibrant and dramatic themes in productions I saw. I continued my training while also becoming a more active participant in finding solutions to issues my community was facing. This opened my eyes to some of the problematic themes that classic opera works portray, which made my love for the art form feel very complicated. I wanted to believe that there was a way I could help change the face of the industry, while also preserving the art form, through deep conversation with artists and arts workers. Audience development and engagement has the potential to allow passionate individuals like me have an impact.

How have you seen the arts/opera industry change during your career? What excites you about it? 

I see more attention drawn to addressing racial inequity in opera. I admire companies and groups that are fighting a long fight to change inherited racism, racial bias and microaggressions in this industry through accountability, training, workshops and deep discussions on making goals for change.

What’s something people might not know about opera that you’d like to share with our audience?

Opera is worldwide and has been performed on every continent, including Antarctica! Turns out penguins aren’t the biggest fans (this is a true story!) 

Tell us about your world and work outside of work.

I spend most of my free time supporting my friends and their art, traveling or being outside. Sometimes I do these things all at once!

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Central City Opera? 

My favorite Audience Development event was a screening of the 1956 film, Carousel film screening. Denver Film hosted us, and we were able to celebrate the return of our historic festival by starting the season off this way, after having postponed in 2020. It got people excited for the live, in-person production with CCO, and everyone who attended felt a real sense of nostalgia.

What’s your personal mission statement? Why do you do what you do?

To be present. To be a sum of my experiences, not just one of my experiences.

Come out and say hello to Teila at the Central City Plein Air Festival this September! 

Central City Plein Air Festival. Photo by Amanda Tipton.