Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you personally engage with the TYA world!
My name is Fran Sillau (he/him/his). I am a director, producer, playwright, theater disability consultant, and teaching artist. When I was four years old, my parents took me to a TYA play, and I have been passionately hooked ever since. I started as a student engaged in creative drama and improvisation classes, then transitioned to teaching the classes and acting in TYA productions. I soon realized my true calling was to create new programming for young audiences.
Currently, I engage in TYA in three specific ways. As a classroom residency creator, I design lessons for self-contained special education classrooms. I am developing this work as an extension of The Rose Theater’s Every Single Child programing. I also serve as a TYA accessibility consultant for Trike Theatre and Bay Area Children’s Theatre. Finally, I am a playwright and director. In 2018, I co-wrote, directed, and produced The Doll Maker’s Gift which made its premiere at The Rose Theater. This new musical featured a New York based artistic team as my collaborators and played to over 10,000 theater patrons.
I also serve as executive artistic director of Circle Theatre Inc, an organization for people of all abilities. Under my leadership, Circle Theatre has staged many productions for young audiences. The first one, My Broken Doll, was co-commissioned with the Institute for Holocaust Education and adapted by Nashville Executive Artistic Director Ernie Nolan. I also work to creatively stage classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas, utilizing shadow interpreting to include artists of all abilities. This is my small contribution to move the field towards full inclusion.
What areas of interest have you cultivated and/or discovered during your fellowship?
I am most interested in creating new work with and for individuals with disabilities or neuro diverse audiences. I want to enable individuals with different abilities to more authentically engage in all facets of the TYA experience. To be clear, I don’t want to exclusively create work about disability, but I ultimately want to lead a TYA institution that can authentically include artists with or without disability in the fabric of their existing mission. Prior to this fellowship, I was trying to hide my disability. The fellowship made me realize I can embrace it and make it part of who I am when I interview for positions.
Also, I have discovered my love for consulting in the areas of TYA and accessibility. Pre-Covid, TYA leaders would call and request guidance. As the pandemic has continued, some theaters have requested to engage me in a more formal capacity. Consulting will now be part of my artistic future. I would love to consult with your organization! If you would like to consult with me, I can be reached at Francis.Sillau@gmail.com
Any future dreams, plans, or endeavors in progress related to these explorations?
I am currently working in collaboration with producer Deborah Denenberg (Dodger Productions and Big League Productions) on an adaptation based on the work of Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer.
I am also developing a TYA piece based on a household name that cannot be mentioned until the underlying rights have been secured.
My ultimate goal is to be the artistic director of a TYA company. Sadly, I do not see myself represented in the field. I have cerebral palsy (CP), and I walk with crutches. TYA artists with disabilities are working in the field, but from my vantage point, none of them serve as artistic director within a TYA company. In my opinion, the decision makers (boards/committees) have not yet recognized the importance of this diversity in our field. It is time for artists with disabilities to be represented in the artistic director position.
What advice would you give to folks who are new to the TYA field and don’t know where to start getting involved?
When newcomers ask me how they can get involved, I tell them to find a way to create their own work and take charge of their own destiny as much as they can. Get involved in the TYA company in their community.
From your perspective as an “emerging leader”, what do you hope to see in the future of TYA?
I want to see leadership opportunities for artists with disabilities besides just accessibility directors. I want to see artistic director and director of play development opportunities for artists with disabilities. I want to see more people like me in top artistic positions.
Is there anything else you would like the field to know about you or your fellowship experience?
I want to thank my fellow fellows and the TYA/USA staff, especially Programming Manager Rachel Lee and Executive Director Jonathan Shmidt Chapman, for an incredible experience.
Where can the field best connect with you and your work beyond TYA/USA?
People can connect with me through my website www.fransillau.com or at the Rose Theater at Frans@rosetheater.org
More about Fran
20/21 Emerging Leaders in TYA Fellow
Mr. Sillau serves as the Accessibility Coordinator at The Omaha Theater Company (The Rose), where he organizes educational opportunities for students with disabilities and ensures that every individual who passes through the doors of The Rose can access all programing equally. He also directs mainstage productions at the Rose, and some of his credits include Shrek: The Musical TYA, Go, Dog, Go!, and Hanna’s Suitcase. Mr. Sillau is also a writer. He recently co-wrote the book (with EllaRose Chary) of The Doll Maler’s Gift. Sillau also served as co-producer of the project, which had its world premiere in February of 2019. The Omaha World Herold said “Families should flock to this one.” Sillau serves as Executive Artistic Director of Circle Theatre, a company dedicated to creating theater that includes artists with disabilities.(www.circletheatreomaha.org). Circle Theatre has produced several TYA plays. Under Sillau’s leadership, the Circle co-commissioned My Broken Doll, a play based on the life of holocaust survivor Beatrice Karp, adapted by Ernie Nolan, and Over the River, a play about friendship by Ellen Struve. Both plays are currently touring the state of Nebraska. In December of 2016, Sillau directed a regional premiere of A Charlie Brown Christmas. This particular production incorporated American Sign Language, Shadow Interpreting, Audio Description, as well as actors with various physical and developmental disabilities. Sillau is currently developing a new play based on Leley Orr’s The People on the Corner and Jimmy Hawkins’s It’s a Wonderful Life for Kids. Sillau is a former Aurand Harris Fellowship recipient and a former winner of The Access Grant from The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He served as a Teaching Artist Fellow for VSA: The International Association for Arts and Disability and is a frequent contractor for The Kennedy Center. He is often called upon to facilitate on the subject of theater and disability, and has conducted workshops on theater and inclusion in Iowa, Nebraska, Kentucky, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Florida, Tennessee, New York State, Washington State, Connecticut, and at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. He holds an MFA in Directing and Inclusion from Goddard College. His professional activities can be found at www.Fransillau.com.