Chelsea Ritter-Soronen crouched on the stage of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Kay Theatre with a piece of chalk in hand, her enormous work of art splayed out in front of her, beginning to take shape.
She was working busily on a chalk drawing that would soon be featured as part of The Clarice’s NextNOW Fest.
“I had to do it on a portable canvas just because of the location and the weather,” said Ritter-Soronen, Chalk Riot director and co-founder, a group that specializes in creating stunning, gigantic chalk drawings for organizations and events.
The task at hand seemed gargantuan, yet Ritter-Soronen worked alone.
“It’s the height of our busy season right now,” she said, implying that the sheer number of projects Chalk Riot was working on meant she had to do this one solo.
Chalk Riot has been responsible for chalk art all around the world, spanning from the Cardinals’ baseball stadium in St. Louis to a multi-location project in Perth, Australia.
“If someone would have told me two years ago, ‘Hey, you’re gonna be a professional chalk artist,’ I would have laughed in their face,” Ritter-Soronen said with a chuckle.
This particular project had already involved a lot of effort and thought. The chalk piece had to capture the vibes of NextNOW as well as showcase aspects of the festival that patrons would recognize. The final product was a stunning visual: a drawing of comedian and headliner Reggie Watts in the center with a man playing a trumpet and a ballerina flanking him. When viewed from the correct angle, the piece almost jumps off the ground.
“It seems like a very high-energy event, so I wanted to be able to capture that,” Ritter-Soronen said.
Although the chalk pieces done by Chalk Riot are primarily put outside on pavement, on Thursday the weather forecast forced the immense drawing to a more sheltered location, the student lounge behind Applause cafe. Indoors the piece still captured a lot of attention.
Abigail Wasserman, a sophomore English and theater major, said she was surprised to see the work of art as she made her way through the building.
The space behind Applause "would just be the usual table and chairs and students sitting and eating,” Wasserman said. “It was a nice change to the normal day.”
With its bright colors, larger-than-life images and imaginative design, the chalk drawing truly seemed to capture the sheer excitement and spectacle that NextNOW Fest delivers.
Wasserman seemed to notice this as well.
“It’s all [NextNOW] is trying to do, encompassed into one drawing,” she said.