In the Spotlight: Brian Sheldon

Written by on February 15, 2024



The RadioRadioXLand theater scene has literally evolved over the last little while. By and large, things onstage were pretty much monochrome back in the day, regardless of what show was being done. Now, we’ve got every kind of people coming from every kind of background, geographical region, and living situation. Even with this infusion of outside talent, we need to give the nod to those homegrown folks who grew up in the scene and work like terriers to keep it going.

Brian Sheldon is one of those locals. He got hooked while attending Schenectady HS and discovered directing while at Russell Sage, and he hasn’t looked back. In 2023, Sheldon had one of the best years in Capital Region theater: He directed Stephen Adly Giurgis’ The Motherfucker with The Hat for Harbinger at Albany Civic Theater to universal acclaim and saw his own play Custom Cuts produced (again via Harbinger) at the Albany Barn.

But Sheldon is not resting on his laurels: He’s back at Albany Civic Theater directing Tracy Letts’ The Minutes, which premieres this weekend with a cast that (from a RadioRadioXLand standpoint) can definitely be considered “all-star.” He’s also Executive Director of Sand Lake Center for the Arts, which offers any number of arts-related programs to the communities around their Averill Park location; this includes resident performers Circle Theater Players’ production of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers, which also premieres this weekend.

Brian was kind enough to step In The Spotlight to talk about all the theater in his life, and why we should experience all of it.

In 2023, you directed one of the best plays of the year in The Motherfucker with The Hat and saw your own play Custom Cuts come to the stage. At the end of the year, did you look back at all that and think, “How do I top that???

I don’t look at it as topping anything. Each production — whether I’m producing, acting in or directing — is special and another opportunity to share my love for storytelling. Mofo gave me a wonderful opportunity to work in a piece that a lot of companies wouldn’t have taken a chance on, with some really great actors that I hadn’t worked with until then. Custom Cuts is, however, in a world all its own. That truly was the most unnerving and beautiful experience. I really must give our theater community the biggest shout out. When Cuts premiered and was met with so much acceptance, I could feel the community as a whole put its arms around me & grip me in a great big bear hug.

Your first offering to 2024 is Tracy Letts’ The Minutes at Albany Civic Theater. How did this show come to you, and what do you think of Letts as a playwright?

I saw The Minutes in NYC and instantly fell in love with it. My wife leaned over and whispered, “You want to direct this, don’t you?” And my reply was simply, “Uh huh.” Fast forward to submission season and it was the only play I submitted, and only at ACT. I’m a Letts fan through and through. I believe August: Osage County to be the greatest written play in the last 30 years. Letts creates vivid characters full of nuance and depth. Actors love playing them, and the audience loves watching them.

The Minutes really intrigued me because I’ve lived in small towns just like the one in the play, where all the drama in town government came from the fact that the stakes were so small. But there’s more to this meeting – and this play – than just run-of-the-mill, Robert’s Rules of Order governance, isn’t there?

There certainly is, and while I can’t give anything away, I will say that this play holds the perfect-sized mirror up to us. Not only as theater goers but as theater makers as well. The play focuses on the mundane and flips the script by the end, leaving everyone to think about their role in society.

How hard was this show to cast? Given the final cast list, you certainly had a wealth of riches to choose from.

The room was full of talent on both nights of auditions. I could’ve cast the play three times over. When looking at who auditioned as a whole, I was moved by how many directors were in the room. This could certainly scare other directors, but I looked at it as an opportunity to exploit the talent into what I believe to be a very important piece of theater. I knew that with the handful of actors I was going with, there would be trust from Moment One — both ways!

While you’re putting all this together, you’re also Executive Director of Sand Lake Center for the Arts, which is one of the most unique arts groups I’ve encountered. How did you get involved with SLCA?

I was volunteering as an usher there for a few years and learned that the position was coming open. My predecessor, Debra Roy created a flourishing culture that I wanted to be part of. I interviewed and preached my brand of art and what I thought SLCA could achieve going forward. I’m in my 7th year at the helm and loving it!

Before we talk about the latest dramatic offering at SLCA, let’s talk about all the other services you offer, because it’s really a one-stop shop for so many things, isn’t it?

SLCA is such a unique place. We offer so much more than a theatrical experience. We have a music program, producing more than 8 concerts a year; a vibrant visual gallery that features (mostly) local artists who, for the most part, are presenting for the first time; an after-school arts program, summer art camps, community workshops and classes, and so much more!

The first production by Circle Theatre Players is Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers. It’s been a while since we’ve seen this show in the area. Can you tell me about this rendition and some of the people in it?

Neil Simon continues to be a celebrated playwright in theater, and SLCA is honored to continue to offer his work to the public. Lost in Yonkers won the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for drama and in my opinion is Neil Simon’s best play. It focuses on young Jay and Arty, whose mother has just passed away from cancer and is brought to their grandmother’s doorstep so that their father can travel to look for work. Their grandmother is not someone who would be described as a loving or caring individual; in fact, she is quite the opposite. Her life has been hard, and she has made the lives of her children just as hard. The grandmother role is played by Judi Merriam, who embodies the role with professionalism and grace. Judi‘s portrayal is also a complete opposite of who she is as a person, which makes her performance that much more difficult and captivating. During auditions, the director Maureen Aumand asked me how I felt about her casting two sets of young men to play the brothers, to which I replied, “Let’s do it.” This decision has been difficult due to scheduling conflicts, school conflicts, and the fact that four boys have to share the roles, but all four have done so swimmingly. And because of Maureen‘s decision to cast an additional set of boys to play the roles, two young actors are being featured in leading roles in their community.

And there’s another show coming in April in Steven Carl McCasland’s Little Wars, which kind of rings the same woman-centric bells as another great show from last year, Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists.

I’m not familiar with The Revolutionists, but what I can tell you is that McCasland’s play is gripping and unique. The ensemble that has been created by co-directors Valerie Kavanaugh and Sue Frost is going to knock the socks off of audiences. The subject matter is something to behold as these characters battle things like war, rape and the glass ceiling that all women are still struggling to break through.

If there’s one thing that stands out for you about Capital Region theater, please take a second and ring its praises.

I’m often asked what I like about Capital Region theater and I am always quick to correct someone in saying I do not like Capital Region theater; I love Capital Region theater! We have been given a gift here, and I do not want to squander that gift. The magnitude of talent that all of our stages put forth is mind-boggling to me. No matter where you’re going whether it be Albany Civic Theater, Schenectady Light Opera Company, Sand Lake Center for the Arts, or Harbinger. You’re getting top-notch productions every time. Then, when you take into consideration the time, work and effort that our friend Jean-Remy Monnay has put forth to create, harness and perfect the Black Theater Troupe of Upstate New York, and what that has done for actors of color in our area, you begin to have an even greater respect for the community as a whole. I remember a time when there were a handful of POC performers in the entire area, and now companies are helming productions that feature 90% to 100% people of color. It’s a true Renaissance in our area that I hope will just continue to spread.

The Minutes plays at Albany Civic Theater from February 16 thru March 3. Go to for times and tickets.

Lost in Yonkers plays at Sand Lake Center for the Arts from February 16 through February 25. Go to for times and tickets.



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