Wendy Sielaff isn’t acting when she interacts with patients at Kellogg Eye Center, but she believes it is her experience on the stage since high school that helps her make the people she serves more comfortable.
Sielaff, an outpatient clerk at U-M for the past seven years, says involvement in community theater has made her more outgoing and able to engage in conversation with people she does not know.
“It’s a kind of friendly, idle chit-chat that helps put patients at ease,” Sielaff says. “Sometimes patients appreciate when someone says something nice and friendly or offers a cute anecdote.”
By day Sielaff greets patients in the Ophthalmology Clinic at Kellogg. By night she performs, serves on the stage crew or runs the show at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. This month Sielaff is directing the Broadway and feature film success, “Chicago.” She says Civic decided more than a year ago to produce the show, quite a while after its successful run on Broadway, but well before the movie version became a box office smash.
“We would just like to thank Hollywood for all of the hype,” she says with a laugh. “All of a sudden Chicago’ became hot, and we already had it.”
The Sept. 11-14 production is the fourth Sielaff has directed for Civic. “It’s so wonderful to see your vision come to life on the stage,” she says.
Sielaff acknowledges her approach to directing is not conventional. She prides herself on creating a work that is out of the ordinary, from the uniqueness of sets designed by sophisticated CAD equipment, to the casting of people who aren’t necessarily everyone else’s vision of a character.
“That’s something I really like to do, to cast the underdog or do something that’s not expected,” she says. “It’s fun for the community because this is community theater for heaven’s sake, it’s not Broadway.”
At the same time, Sielaff says the level of professionalism in the cast and crew, many of whom are faculty, staff or students at U-M, is outstanding. Sielaff says she often finds herself recruiting people through her work at the University.
“You’re always on the lookout for somebody who would like to become involved in theater,” she says. “My lighting designer is an astrophysicist here (at U-M). My producer is a lawyer—a prosecuting attorney. It’s such a broad walk of people who come together with the same common bond of theater. You think: How can you have anything in common with these people? But you put us in a theater on a stage, in a rehearsal studio, and we’re all one.”