This piece is part of a series showcasing Rose students past and present.
When you bring your child to The Rose, you never know where the experience will lead. Their acting classes may lead to a prestigious internship. Or maybe the disciplines learned on the stage will make them a stand out when applying for their dream job.
An arts education teaches kids to use their imagination to innovate and problem-solve in ways that transcend the stage and lead to a successful life. Here’s proof.
The following blog post highlights the career of Fran Sillau. Fran has accomplished much throughout his theater career. From appearing in productions at The Rose Theater to collaborations with the Institute for Holocaust Education, Fran has had a great impact on the theater community. He currently is the accessibility coordinator at The Rose where he ensures that all young people have equal access to the theater’s programming.
But before he was impacting the lives of children in ways that many others had done for him, he was a Rose kid. Here is his story.
My relationship with the Rose Theater goes back almost thirty years. I began taking classes at Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater in 1988 before the theater moved to its present-day Rose Theater location. From the very beginning, I thought of this theater as my home away from home. The outside of the theater depicted a castle and so much warmth and magic occurred inside those walls.
I began taking classes because a former theater guild member found me at a church event playing pretend in a corner and immediately encouraged my parents to enroll me in a creative drama class. This class met every week and used a simple script and improvisation to create a play. This play was called Kitties Love Milk and Mice Love Cheese and was written by the theater’s longtime artistic director James Larson. It was in this class that the acting bug bit me and I was enrolled in almost every Saturday morning class after that. As early as third grade, I spent most of my summers at the theater acting in what were then called Summer Institute Productions where students learned the process of putting on a play and got to perform on the theater’s main stage with costumes and scenery.
As I said I was hooked on performing from the very beginning, but I always thought of acting as just something fun to do. I never thought it could be a career for me. It wasn’t until the summer of 1995 when a theater instructor, Stephanie Anderson, encouraged me to pursue acting as a career. She said you are really good at this and I think it could be a good job for you. It was at this time that the Emmy Gifford was preparing to make the big move from the little theater on Center Street to the Vaudeville movie house Farnam Street, known today as The Rose. Stephanie encouraged me to audition for the first main stage production at The Rose, an adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life. I was very excited to audition but knew that it was a long shot to be cast. Three weeks after the audition I got a phone call from the show’s director inviting me to play one of the young children in the show. From that day on, my life changed in so many positive ways.
Not only did I get to perform alongside the theater instructors that I had so admired, but I was also enrolled in the theater’s first performing arts school. This was an acting conservatory that allowed me to dive into the art of acting as well as the art of theater making every Wednesday for a whole year. For the first time in my life, I was studying with kids like me who wanted to learn about the art of making theater. Carole Waterman, a longtime Rose Theater education director, taught these classes. Carole was instrumental in my theater training and she taught me by word and example how to create quality theater for young people. She also taught my classmates and I the importance of working together as an ensemble.
In theater, the most important thing to remember is that it is not about you, it is about the work that is created as a group.
It was because of those classes and early production experiences that I was able to get into a good college and create a productive career in the arts.
As the years went by and I entered middle and high school, I began to branch out. I wanted to explore more than just acting. By this time the Rose really was my home and gave me the opportunity to grow and flourish. I served as an assistant stage manager for two main stage productions and completed four professional internships at the Rose. It was during this time that I learned of an artistic passion that was even more powerful to me than performing, the art of producing and directing. In fact, the same woman who encouraged me to be an actor also gave me my first opportunity in the director’s chair. Stephanie Anderson was unable to cast me in the main stage production of The Sound of Music but she allowed me the opportunity to be her assistant director and even gave me a scene of my own to stage.
As I went through college, I branched out to other arts organizations but always kept my eye on what was happening at The Rose. It was The Rose Theater’s education director Brian Guehring and then executive director Roberta Wilhelm who gave me my next big professional opportunity by encouraging me to apply for a national internship with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I was awarded this prestigious internship in 2003 and it gave me the opportunity to work at The Rose once again, but this time as a director and a theater educator. I was now teaching the same curriculum that was taught to me as a child, only this time I was doing it alongside the same people who had taught me. It was a rare and wonderful opportunity to become friend and colleague with many of the people who were influential early in my career.
The Rose allowed me an opportunity to find my passion early in life, and also taught me that I could be myself and be proud of it.
As the years have gone by I have worked in other theaters and states, but it was my time at The Rose that gave me my start. They always say you can’t go home again, but I like to say I’ve come home several times. Today I serve as accessibility coordinator at The Rose. I collaborate in the education department to administer and design programming that ensures all young people, regardless of perceived limitations, have equal access to our theater’s programming. Along with my work as accessibility coordinator I have had the opportunity to direct. Most recently I directed the critically acclaimed production of Shrek The Musical on the theater’s mainstage.
I have been lucky to do a great many things in the Performing Arts. Some of my most proud moments have included my sixteen-year professional relationship with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, appointment as the artistic director of Circle Theatre and my current collaboration with three well-known New York City directors on another Theater for Young Audiences musical.
Being involved in theater taught me that I had a responsibility to my cast mates and to the story that I was telling. Theater is a very powerful medium and it’s important that it is used to spread positivity into the world.
There are many people to thank for my early theater experiences and successes besides those I’ve already mentioned. I want to thank my parents for believing in me enough to drive me to rehearsals for years, and understanding the importance of a creative outlet. I also want to thank longtime artistic director James Larson who was very influential directly and indirectly in my early career. Not only did he green light a lot of my early directing projects in Omaha, but he also nurtured a company of loving artist that helped make me who I was today.
If I had any advice to anyone who was about to take his or her first class at the Rose, I would say definitely without hesitation take the class. When you take classes at the Rose you are not just a student you are a fellow theater maker.