Welcome to Ask an Admin, a series in which we talk with theatre administrators and theatre-makers working in Minnesota to learn about their backgrounds, their jobs, and what snacks they keep in their desks.

Shalee Coleman

Freelance Director and House Manager for Lyric Arts

Tell us a little about yourself and your path to your current position.

I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. Then I moved to Minnesota and graduated from Hamline University in 2013, spending one of my semesters at the National Theatre Institute (NTI) in Waterford, Connecticut. Immediately after graduating, I started trying to freelance direct and in the meantime worked as a paralegal and a receptionist for about five years before quitting the day job thing to freelance direct full time. I have been a freelance director for about seven years and am a new House Manager at Lyric Arts.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a model/figure skater/ice cream truck driver. I must be a total disappointment to my younger self now. 

What’s the best part of your job?

My favorite part of directing is helping an actor come to an epiphany about their character's actions, emotion, or motivation. Those moments feel like unlocking a new level that brings us closer to accessing the complete truth of not only the character, but themes of the show.

When did you know you wanted to work in theatre/the arts?

When I was in high school I was completely over-involved, I did IB, freshman mentoring, choir, show choir, forensics, and theatre. I would show up at school at 6am and not leave until 7pm. When I was going to college I decided to pick the thing that made the most sense to continue with, and I chose theatre. I don't even really know why though because my high school theatre director was terrible. It just made sense at the time. Then while in college after my first poli-sci class, I changed my major from pre-law to theatre. That got me closer, too. NTI helped. So did some key internships and directing opportunities in town. It wasn't one moment, it was several small decisions, both logical and illogical. 

What has surprised you most about your work/working in theatre/the arts?

My feelings about working in the arts constantly change day to day. One day I can feel completely fulfilled, the next day I want to quit. One week I can create something that inspires me, then the next week I feel like nothing I do is worth seeing. Some days I have hope that I can advance, other days I feel permanently stuck at an arbitrary level. I never feel consistently one way, I never feel content. Which as an artist sometimes feels like a blessing (to constantly reinvent and reevaluate if this is the right industry/time/move/work), but it can also feel painful. 

Who gave you the best advice you’ve ever received, and what was that advice?

A rising tide lifts all boats. Envy is a poison, but this mantra is the antidote. If you find yourself comparing yourself to other artists, colleagues, and close friends, try to reorient your mind to being proud of them instead. Support their dreams and cheer them on, you never know how that choice can change you both extrinsically and intrinsically. 

What’s the best/your favorite production you’ve seen in the last year? 

This is coming right up on the one-year mark, but Indecent at the Guthrie was just hands down one of the most beautiful and important pieces of art I have seen in a really long time. 

You’re stuck on a desert island. Which three theatre-makers would you want to be stuck with (living or dead)?

This is a mean question because like a MILLION come to mind immediately. Hm. First choice would be Jessica Thienes (formerly Smith), because she in an incredible collaborator and fight director. And look, I'm thinking practically too, she is a martial artist and hunter, who would keep us safe and fed. I would also say Hillary Olson. She is an awesome mover, actor, and genius photographer. We have been friends forever and love to collaborate. She also happens to be a green thumb, so we would be well stocked with fruit, veggies, and coffee from her WWOOFing (Working Weekends On Organic Farms) experience. And lastly, I would probably say the folx at Transatlantic Love Affair. I just adore their work and would love to know them better and collaborate or even just watch them work.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to work in arts administration/your position?

I would say get acquainted with rejection, long hours, failure, and stress. I hate experiencing these things, but they are significant teachers. Aside from that: work hard, meet people, and keep creating. It’s hard work.

Do you keep snacks in your desk/work area? What are they?

Ugh, I am SO BAD at keeping food nearby. When I'm doing theatre work, I kind of sever my brain/body connection for a few hours, so that when I come up for air I am often hungry, dehydrated, and have to go to the bathroom really badly, all those things at once. I am trying to be better. Currently, while working with the high school cast of Beauty and the Beast at Southwest (shout out, y'all work your music, and take care of yourselves!), I try to keep a Lunchable, clementines, and trail mix nearby. I don't often hit that low bar, though.