Sheila Regan: Artist of stage and page

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Sheila Regan strode through T’s Place sporting a short skirt, tall boots and look of determination.


It was the Daily Planet‘s fourth birthday party last April, and Regan was heading outside for a smoke. Surrounded by silver-haired print media veterans, the 32-year-old writer made a fierce first impression. 


Now who, I wondered, is this?


I soon connected Regan with her byline, which often appears in the Planet as well publications such as The Circle and City Pages.


It wasn’t until last week, though, that we finally chatted face-to-face. At her suggestion, we met at the Green Mill in Uptown. It’s a neighborhood Regan knows well, as she and her four siblings grew up near Lake Calhoun and she lived in Uptown as an adult.


Regan splits almost all her energy between two complementary passions: theater and journalism. She constantly sees new plays, writes incisive show reviews and creates her own theatrical works. She teaches theater to children, and writes stories on other topics like the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, the Latino achievement gap and the State Fair.


“That pretty much takes up all my time,” she said.


She does make room to see friends, she added. But otherwise she’s booked.


“I play the violin, but I hardly ever play it. I do yoga, but I hardly ever do it,” she said. “And sometimes I exercise — when I feel like it.”


She grinned, pleased with her priorities.


Of her two main loves, Regan found theater first. After she graduated from South High School, she studied dramatic arts and dance at Macalaster College in St. Paul. Right after she finished there, she moved to Bloomington for Indiana University’s three-year MFA program in acting.


After graduation she moved to Chicago, where she started working a number of acting jobs all at once, including theater for young adults. One of her gigs was playing wandering characters in the winter carnival at Navy Pier, a tourist attraction along Lake Michigan. She did six-hour shifts as a fairy princess, waving gift box and Patch the Pirate dog.


Alas, Regan does not have any pictures of herself from this era — or at least not any she would turn over for publication with this profile.


Regan eventually moved back to the Twin Cities to take a full-time position as the educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo in St. Paul. It was then, she said, that she was interviewed by a Planet writer about the Latino theater company.


She was impressed with the kinds of stories the Planet covers, and she started reading regularly.


“The idea was that anyone could be a writer, that anyone could write a story,” she said. “So I decided to give it a try.”


She created a Daily Planet account and login to post her first story, a theater review. She remembers being very excited when Associate Editor Jay Gabler emailed to say they were publishing her piece.


Encouraged, she began attending the weekly writers’ groups in St. Paul, where she workshopped emerging stories with past and present Planet contributors such as  Deb Pleasants, Julia Nekessa Opoti, Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva and Editor Mary Turck.


“I learned a lot from Mary and from those women,” she said.


Regan quickly climbed the learning curve and received new and more challenging assignments. As her reporting interests and skills bloomed, her full-time position at the theater was cut. So, as a matter of necessity, she resumed her freelancing lifestyle from Chicago — though she now had journalism skills to sell, too.


“Since then, there’s been a couple of months where I’ve been twiddling my thumbs,” she said. “But for the most part I have more stuff to do than I have time.”


She sometimes misses having a full-time employee’s access to paid vacation and health insurance. But, she said, she likes being able to set her own schedule, sleep in until noon and write until the wee morning hours.


On these matters (and as it turns out, many others), Regan and I agreed. The conversation went on long after the recorder stopped running. We talked about the defining traits of our profession (like other journalists, we’re total “nerds,” as she puts it, for ferreting out closely guarded information). The libations flowed, and it soon it was too late to get any more writing done that night.


I’ve since realized that since we’re both trying to make our living as journalists, we might be able to help one another navigate this professional maze.


That is, of course, if the hard-working Regan can squeeze it in.