101 Stories: James Ellis

By The Children's Theatre

Celebrate TCT’s 101st season as it comes to a close as we applaud and appreciate those who contributed to the organization’s magic throughout our century-long journey.  During 10 weeks of recognition, we honor individuals who have been instrumental in the success of TCT, and who have not only helped TCT grow in mission, but also thrive, thanks to their passion.  It is these people and their moments in our history that shaped TCT to become what it is today. We encourage you to consider giving a gift in their honor to ensure the sustainability of TCT’s mission for the next 100+ years. 

Jim Ellis

Mr. James Ellis was a member of The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati’s Board of Directors from 1999 until 2009, but his awareness of and involvement with TCT started long before that.

I guess you could say that I have had a personal relationship with TCT for probably 50 years,” Mr. Ellis says. “The reason being I have an aunt, who currently lives in Washington, D.C. who has been very close to Susie Louiso (TCT’s former Executive Director) since childhood. I met Susie through her in my teens and followed her involvement with The Children’s Theatre since she and Jack (TCT’s former Artistic Director) began their tenure with TCT. In the late 1980s, my mother and aunt were invited to be on the Board of TCT.  For many years I would listen to them talk about TCT and how professional, exciting and unique it was.”

He continues: “My mother, Jane Ellis and my aunt, Peggy Selonick, were both on the Board of TCT for probably 15 years. When they termed out, Jack and Susie asked if I would be interested in joining the Board. I have a great deal of non-profit experience in the Cincinnati area, but this was my first venture into the arts and how it interfaces with our community at large.”

Was there a particular situation where you witnessed the TCT mission specifically enhancing the growth and development of children’s imagination or creativity?

Mr. Ellis says: “Yes.  I remember one year in particular, when that season’s shows were unveiled to us at a Board Meeting.  This was always my favorite annual board event as it so clearly demonstrated what direction Jack wanted to take on that year.  I was always fascinated by his effort to bring a high degree of balance to every year’s shows.  And it was a choice he made, every year, which would directly influence our financial situation.”

“It would have been easy to just serve up a schedule with nothing but tried and true productions, year after year, like any Disney show. However, Jack always viewed our mission as a very important one — which was to expose our impressionable young patrons to other shows and ideas that might be a little unexpected but highly valuable.”

“One show in particular stands out in my mind…BEETHOVEN BY HEART. This was a challenging piece and was going to demand something new from our audience — an acceptance of something completely novel and stunning.  The reason being the production incorporated American Sign Language with spoken English to tell the inspiring story of Beethoven, and to demonstrate what it was like for Ludwig von Beethoven being deaf and telling his story with no words at all.”

“When we found out Jack wanted to do this show, needless to say, a number of Board Members were surprised, taken aback and concerned how this would be received by our young audience. To make a long story short, the show was a success, ticket sales were totally acceptable, and the show and Jack received national press for his bold, exciting and visionary efforts.”

What do you love most or miss most about your work with TCT?

“I miss taking my two boys to shows when they were a lot younger (they’re 25 & 20 now). I also miss attending school performances during the week and just standing in the back and watching and hearing all the kids’ reactions. That was pure joy and to me made all of our efforts worthwhile. Thank you for including me in this project.  It allowed me to be reminded of some very rewarding and enjoyable time being on the Board.”

Would you honor James Ellis with a gift to recognize the impact made on TCT?