RED WING — Looking around Red Wing’s Sheldon Theatre during a concert earlier this year by the groundbreaking music act Black Violin, Sean Dowse was gratified by what he saw.
“It was important to bring them in,” Dowse, director of the Sheldon, said of Black Violin. “We expected maybe 100 to 150 people. We got over 300 people. It was really a success. It showed me that this is exactly why we do this. We’re trying to get people to trust the brand of the Sheldon.”
That trust might be one of the biggest achievements of Dowse’s 25 years at the Sheldon. He retires as of Sunday, although he will remain active in the local theater community.
“When I got here, it was the year after the renovation, turning the Sheldon into what it looked like in 1904,” he recalled. That was 1989, shortly after $3.5 million of pubic and private money was spent on the renovation work. It was so long ago, in fact, that more renovation and updating is taking place at the Sheldon this year and next year.
Over those years, though, the jewel box theater has been a magnet for artists and audiences alike, providing Red Wing not only with a community gathering spot, but also with an attraction that draws visitors to town.
“The key for us has been to nurture the local artists,” Dowse said. High school plays, local bands and community theatre are presented at the Sheldon. “Then we bring in national, international artists,” he said. “We try to present, over the course of the year, a variety of stuff. Some years, we’re more successful at getting the right mix.”
If ticket sales are any indication, the mix has been right more often than not lately.
“The response from people before last season was ‘I want to see everything,'” Dowse said, “and that was borne out by sales and turnout.”
That comes after the Great Recession negatively affected the entertainment business for the past six or seven years. “I have a feeling it’s finally turning around,” Dowse said. “That’s really satisfying.”
Bonnie Schock, a former program officer with the Minnesota State Arts Board, has been named as the new director of the Sheldon, and she was on the job this week.