Nancy Sellin has appeared on Broadway and off-Broadway and now, given the proximity of Broadway and 4th Street in the Duke City, she’s off-Broadway once again.
This time, it’s as the director of the “killer comedy Dinner with the Boys” at The Adobe Theater, 9813 4th NW, just two blocks north of Alameda Boulevard (NM 528).
If you like movies like “Good Fellas” or “The Godfather,” “Dinner with the Boys” might be just right for you: Set in New Jersey, it follows two pals — kind of like at Italian “Odd Couple” — who are now at odds with “the family.” While reflecting on their days of glory and preparing puttanesca for their dinner guests, they must escape danger themselves — or maybe this meal could literally be their last supper.
“It’s a spoof on The Sopranos,” is another way to look at it, Sellin says, admitting she never saw an episode of that series.
Dan Lauria — you may remember him as Kevin Arnold’s father in “The Wonder Years” — wrote the play and starred in it on Broadway, where its run ended in 2015.
Sellin likes to laugh, as will Adobe patrons watching this play.
Nothing comes closer to Sellin’s heart than the “roar of the grease paint, the smell of the crowd.” (Yes, that’s twisted around, but she’ll laugh when she reads this.)
For 11 years, Sellin spent a lot of time teaching theater arts to special education students at Rio Rancho High School, which was a perfect combination for someone who enjoys acting and is a strong believer in education.
Born in Tacoma, she recalls being a “very shy youngster, as most actors are, it seems like.”
While in elementary school, her “career” started, as she started doing “record pantomimes.
“I played the accordion and I tap-danced, so I performed for people at Ft. Lewis and everywhere,” she said. “A lot of disabled people, I performed for — and that started my love of performing in front of an audience.”
Back then, the 1960s, “I just wanted to do what I love,” and although she didn’t have any heroes on the stage or screen, she admires everything the legendary Meryl Streep does.
She’s not shy anymore, nor is she beholden to her age: “I earned every year; it’s fine. I’m still active and still bright and shining,” she said, with a laugh.
She finished high school and her college education in Alaska, where her father “opened up three Safeway stores (initially) and ended up opening up five.
“I found my niche up there at Alaska Methodist University,” she continued. “I changed my major from business, which I hated, to teaching — because there was no real acting program.”
A professor there inspired her with three words: “Follow your heart.”
“He was right, but my first inclination was to be a teacher,” she said. “Of course, I wanted to perform, but everybody said, ‘Hey, you can’t make any money at that.’”
Sellin served in the Peace Corps from 1965-67; her “intimate journey as a peace Corps volunteer during the 1960s in Libya, West Africa,” is detailed in her self-published “Avoid Mosquitoes and Other Impossibilities” (2009).
“I didn’t keep notes, I didn’t keep a journal,” she said of her book, which she wrote four decades after she was there.
“When I wrote the book, it flew out of me. I didn’t realize until then how intensely it affected my life.”
It’s all worked out well: “I’m a born teacher. I think that’s just one of those things I just do; if I can do something, I can teach it — and that has been true my whole life.
“And the second is an actor … I loved moving to New York,” she continued. “Once I did all the community theater, I realized I don’t really know how to act. I know how to imitate, but I don’t know how to act.
“So I said to my husband, ‘I think it’s time we move to New York, so I can be an actor,’ because I had put him, through to get his master’s.
“I attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts — at a very old age. I was 28 when I went there, and that’s an old age to start acting. I studied two years there — and got a Broadway show immediately out of school.”
Too old, eh?
“I did many, many regional plays — about two decades inside and outside New York. Acting was my thing.”
A second marriage and a new son pre-empted acting, “So I turned to directing. … I made a living doing it for 20 years, which is pretty good for having a late start.”
When 9/11 happened, she was in New York City, about a mile from Ground Zero.
“My home was violated; I was violated,” she recalled. I seemed to be fine. … When something like that happens, your mind clutter goes away and you become very centered.”
She was teaching theater to developmentally disabled students there, but, “Six months later, I fell apart.”
A visit to her sister, living in Albuquerque, gave her a new outlook and goal: “I thought to myself, when I retire, I’m going to move here.
“Two years later (2003), New York became a different place.”
And off she was to the Land of Enchantment, soon finding a teaching job at Rio Rancho High School.
“I courted Rio Rancho High School before I came here; I heard it was a good school,” she recalled. “I worked for 11 years here; I created the drama program and after a couple years, the head teacher said, ‘Since you’ve done theater, why don’t you do theater?’
“I said, ‘I don’t know if I want to do that again.’ She talked me into it; it was the best thing that ever happened.
“I loved it. I made a theater out of my classroom. It was so much fun and, of course, it blended my two loves: teaching and theater, teaching and directing.
“It was wonderful to see the growth and the beauty of these people — just so real and so genuine,” she added. “That’s what I admire, people that are genuine.”
After she retired from RRHS, she involved herself with The Adobe Theater and Albuquerque Little Theatre, as well as a community theater group in the East Mountains.
“It’s all volunteer,” she said, forsaking a fatter wallet.
“I’m doing what I love, and that’s worth any amount of money to me,” she said. “I said, ‘If I don’t love it anymore, I won’t do it.’”
And that love for the craft is what you’ll see when Sellin’s behind the scenes, as she is at The Adobe Theater soon.
Sellin thinks people, many of whom have been following community theater on Zoom productions, will be happy to see live theater.
“This is our first show love since COVID,” she said, although it will also be streamed for those hesitant to get out.
In early December, Sellin will don her director’s hat again, overseeing the Christmas-theme play “Greetings.”
That show runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., Dec. 2-19.
For more on “Dinner with the Boys” and “Greetings,” visit adobetheater.org.
Longtime local theater advocate, high school teacher dies
Cibola High School students no doubt shed a tear when they read of the recent passing of Joan Kent, who died three days after turning 93 years of age.
In 1964, Kent and her family moved to Corrales, where she donated her time to community theatre in the village, as well as its library, until she received her master’s in education at the University of New Mexico.
She followed that by teaching English and drama, first at West Mesa High School and later at Cibola, where the school’s theater was named in her honor.
A celebration of her life was held Oct. 9 in the Joan Kent Theatre there; a fund for a drama scholarship in her name is at https://gofundme/ea09b1be.
More local threatre opportunities
There is only one weekend remaining to see the Rio Rancho Community Theatre Group’s production of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Our Town.”
Tickets can be purchased online at rr-cc.org/buy-tickets or by stopping by Pet Foods Gone Wild, 2415 Southern Blvd., or at the box office, 4311 Sara Road, starting two hours prior to curtain on performance days.
Rio Rancho Players and Avix Art are following the Public Health Order (renewed Sept 15).
Performances are Friday, Oct. 15, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 16, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and students.