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.

Denzel Belin

Improviser, actor, writer, and director.

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

I am from Seattle, Washington, and I started seriously diving into the world of theater in 10thgrade. Seattle was an amazing place to start acting and Seattle Children’s Theater made for some amazing summers where I performed in HAIR and Avenue Q. I came to the Bold North to attend St. Olaf College where I got degrees in Theater and American Studies and a concentration in Media Studies. At Olaf is where I found my love for all sides of the theater world, particularly in directing and improv. When I graduated, I did a summer internship at Mixed Blood Theater, started auditioning in the Cities, and took an intensive at HUGE Theater. That fall, I continued taking classes at HUGE and I fell madly in love with the world of improv. I am very fortunate to have been cast in quite a few shows within my first year studying at HUGE and now I have been a lead teacher at HUGE for over a year. I also along the way found community with Blackout Improv and The Theater of Public Policy. I also now have the best split-career between working with MPR News and as a mainstage cast member of The Brave New Workshop. So many of the opportunities that I have encountered have resulted through a combination of connections, working hard, and luck. The reason I have thrived and know that I will continue to do so is because of the communities I have here. I feel so very fortunate for them. 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A pilot, then a lawyer, then a Broadway star a la Sutton Foster, and now, my long-term goal is to serve as the Artistic Director of a medium to large sized theater. 

What’s the best part of your job?

Right now, where I am in my life, I love having the combination of being able to pursue my art and have financial stability. As a relatively young person who doesn’t have family money to fall back on, having my own financial support is very key. This isn’t a dig at those who have that, and I am happy for people who have family that are able to support their dreams in that way, but lord knows it helps to be able to take gigs and not worry about how much they are going to pay you and comparing it to time commitment it asks of you.

I also love being in the world of both my degrees. The world of news and journalism with such a strong local focus really excites me and I love bringing my skills and expertise to help make the ship of MPR News run as efficiently as I can. I travel across to river after my shifts with MPR and into the world of The Brave New Workshop. We discuss, write, test things, edit, preview, rehearse, and perform! The heavy involvement and trust that is needed for The Brave New Workshop is something that attracts me to it and makes me thrilled to be a part of it all every day I get to go in. Its like family; some times are better than other, but in my heart, I love it fiercely.

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

When I told my mom that I was going to major in it! Through high school, theater and performing became something I was not only getting better at, but something that made me happy. I wanted to chase that happiness and the thought of being able to work professionally in something that made me happy. I remember talking with my mom about what were my steps in colleges were going to be, and when I expressed these sentiments, she told me she supported that fully. My mother sacrificed so much for me and her joy in giving me the things that she never was allotted in life; I pursue my passion strongly in honor of her. She is the first person I will thank if I ever win some glitzy award.  

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

How much I am intrigued by all sides of it! I may be writing a sketch and at the same time be wondering how beer and wine sales affects the sustainability of a theater. I can be producing an improv show and in rehearsal bounce between giving notes, thinking about marketing, and making sure I am doing what I can for the product to succeed. This led to my strong desire for transparency in the projects and work I do, whether it is MPR, The Brave New Workshop, or another of my pursuits. I truly believe that no one truly benefits in the world of working by hiding things from others. Sure it may be for survival or self-preservation reasons, but that does become a block in one’s ability to grow and flourish, which is my hope that all people are able to do with their work. 

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

For one year, I worked in the costume shop at St. Olaf. One day, I messed something up badly and as a fragile sophomore, I was devastated. The costume designer, Aimee Jillson (one of the best people I ever had as a supervisor) came up to me and said something to the effect of, “I don’t need you to cry over it, I need you to fix it”. This didn’t come with malice, but rather the idea that owning up to your mistakes and doing actual work to fix them is more productive that mulling in sad feelings. She didn’t question the fact that I was upset; she gave me the trust to do better, and I did. This idea has stayed with me and has allowed me to go after things not fearing if I make a mistake or not, because if I do, I know I am capable of owning up to it and putting in effort to remedy it, learn from it, and continue my journey.

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

The Bluest Eye at the Guthrie. I never thought I would see something so moving, so emotionally done, and so diverse on the Thrust and yet, it happened. This is the direction we need to continue to move in for our large regional theaters in the U.S.

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

Any three people from my Blackout family – that’s not a cop out, I just love them all that much!

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

It’s hard, it always will be hard, and it is worth it. I don’t like to shy away from the realities of the work, and doing anything in an administrative capacity for the arts community takes a special blend of people and technical skills. If you are in it, I hope you have the trust and the support to truly flourish, and if you don’t, email me and let’s talk – community is so much more powerful than I ever thought it could be. 

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

Heck yes I do! At MPR, I have a banana hook to hold bunches, some oatmeal in case I need something to munch on, and a jar of crunchy peanut butter for a wonderful dose of protein (which is especially useful when I go to the gym at 6 a.m.).

At The Brave New Workshop, no snacks right now, but I keep various dishes there in case I need to run to Target and grab something during long tech rehearsals.