Welcome to “Who the Folk?!” Every week on Monday we feature a new member of the community as our “Person of the Week.” Last week week we got to know Sam Berenson. This week meet Skyler Nowinski! Know someone we should feature? Nominate them by sending an email to [email protected].
TC Jewfolk: Are you from the Twin Cities?
Skyler: I am originally from Houston Texas; I moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota’s Guthrie Theatre BFA Actor Training Program. The program coordinators held auditions in Houston at that time, which brought it to my attention, and a graduate from my high school I very much admired had attended the program and spoke very highly of his experience. I’ve lived here ever since moving here in 2006: the community here, the support for the arts, and the shocking amount of performance opportunities has made moving pretty unappealing.
TCJ: You’re starring in an upcoming show from the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company. What can you tell us about it?
Skyler: The play New Jerusalem is a courtroom drama of sorts based on an imagining of an actual historical event: the interrogation of Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza in 1656, to determine whether or not his new controversial beliefs would warrant a formal expulsion from the Jewish community in Amsterdam. When I say it, it sounds stale. Luckily, the script is written by David Ives, who is an incredible (incredibly funny) writer, and achieves a very charming and thought provoking script that is intellectually challenging, but in no way didactic. The play ultimately feels like listening to the smartest/funniest people you might know having a very juicy philosophical debate.
TCJ: I was all about Spinoza after studying him in a college philosophy class. Did you know much about him going in, or was this all pretty new to you?
Skyler: I did not have much knowledge about Spinoza going into this process, that is, of the man himself, but the big surprise was to find his ideas so familiar; the observations he made show up in so many places and other philosophies. He is credited with setting the stage for Rationalism, the Enlightenment, and ultimately informing the philosophies we learn about when studying the early history of America, even. The script does a great job of laying his arguments out, clearly and entertainingly.
[Editor’s Note: We’ll have a review of the show itself later in the week.]
TCJ: What’s your favorite way to celebrate Shabbat?
Skyler: To be honest, I am not particularly observant, but I find there is undeniable power in occasionally setting aside the time consciously to light the candles, and experience a ritual that connects me, in action, to my mother, her parents, their parents, and so on to who knows how far back. Even in the face of my own reservations and cynicism, I find it valuable. It helps give time to evaluate what my values actually are, and also helps put my thoughts in perspective: especially in contrast to these family members, aware of how much stronger their convictions were to practice, even in circumstances where it was not easy, or popularly acceptable.
TCJ: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
Skyler: I suppose I have a soft spot for Passover for similar reasons to my last answer. Examining, as a group, a menu that was set up thousands of years in advance is a trip, and the stories and questions we are asked to confront always leads to fascinating discussions and debates on current events and other contemporary concerns. I like that the time is set aside specifically to take stock of our values as a community. And I always forget how much I actually enjoy horseradish.
TCJ: What’s your favorite Jewish food?
Skyler: Gefilte Fish. It’s true. Why? Hard to say: Spinoza’s brand of determinism I have been exposed to by this play would have me believe that my desire for this fish is ‘necessary’ and an expression of my ‘essence’. Basically: I like it because I do. Seems as good a reason as any.
TCJ: What’s your favorite fall activity?
TCJ: What’s your favorite thing to do in the cities (any time of year)?
Skyler: I missed it this last year, but I really get a kick out of the Mayday parade. It’s the first opportunity of the year, I feel, to witness a massive gathering of Twin Citizens deciding to be outside. That in itself is refreshing and uplifting. I’m also a sucker for marching bands, and there’s usually about 10.
TCJ: Give us one more reason why you’re folking awesome!
Skyler: Along with theater, I play in a few bands in town, and will occasionally kill time recording some weird tunes of my own.Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!