A New Ulm-born artist has become a torch bearer for successful arts in small towns.
Silas Sellnow, a graduate of thi
s year’s University of Minnesota Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program, is currently employed in his third consecutive season at the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona.
Sellnow’s roots were planted with GRSF in his sophomore year at the U, when current artistic director of the festival, Doug Scholz-Carlson, directed Sellnow and his castmates in a production of Romeo and Juliet at the Guthrie.
The following summer, Sellnow participated in the apprentice program at GRSF, an educational experience where young actors understudy professional roles and singlehandedly create a production of their own. Last summer, in 2015, Sellnow made the jump up to the role of acting intern; this summer, in the festival’s thirteenth season, Sellnow has finally earned his keep and is a full-fledged member of the acting company.
Sellnow is a big fan of acting in towns the size of Winona. “Being in Minneapolis, everything is bigger and faster, which is great most of the time,” he said. “But then coming down here [to Winona] in the summers, there’s an easiness about everything here. I love being in a small town.”
Sometimes, said Sellnow, being in Winona reminds him of being back home in New Ulm. “These small Minnesota towns, they have similar energies,” he said. “New Ulm has an incredibly cute, quaint, historic downtown. Winona has that too.”
Sellnow is one of only three of the company’s actors to have a role in all three main stage productions. He plays Oliver in Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, Cinna in the tragedy Julius Caesar, and a musician in the non-Shakespeare production, Georama.
Small towns like Winona and New Ulm may seem like the last destination for a professional actor looking to further his career, but not so fast, says Sellnow. “You always figure, if you’re going to be doing acting work, you’ll be in a big city,” he said. “But that’s not always the case. It’s really important for small towns to have an arts community. While it’s great to go over or up to the Cities to see a show there, having art in a small community makes the art so much more specific and so much more immediate.”
Case in point: for the non-Shakespeare production this year, GRSF chose Georama, a musical about an artist who made his way traveling across and painting the Mississippi River. “Doing a show like Georama, doing a show about the Mississippi, it has a connection to the town and the community,” Sellnow said. “It’s something that everyone can come together around. Sometimes you do need to have conversations about your community and what you guys are doing.”
“That’s what theater is about,” he finished. “That’s what art is about. Coming together and having that conversation.”
Performances at Great River Shakespeare Festival run through July 31. Tickets are available at 507-474-7900 or grsf.org.
Submitted by Emily Loof, GRSF Intern 2016