Ask an Admin: Isabel Nelson


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

Isabel Nelson

Artistic Director of Transatlantic Love Affair


Tell us a little about yourself and your path to your current position.
I've always known I've wanted to do theater, which means I've always found ways to be involved. In elementary school, this meant photocopying one acts from compilations in the library, casting my friends (and myself as the princess), and putting on plays for the school. In middle (Marcy Open!) and high school (Minneapolis South!), this meant auditioning for EVERYTHING (even if it didn't always mean getting cast) and spending hours and hours most weeks in rehearsal. And in college (Macalester!), it meant majoring in the department, doing as many shows as I could, and practically living in the theater building.

After college, I spent some time in the Cities, NYC, and Uganda before landing at the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA), which is a physical theater school based in the Lecoq pedagogy. I wanted to learn how to be involved with the kinds of companies and artists I'd seen and been inspired by in the Cities (Jeune Lune, Live Action Set, and Jon Ferguson, to name a few), and going to physical theater school seemed like the best way to do that. But even more than giving me the tools and vocabulary to create work and collaborate in the physical theater world, LISPA pushed me to think about who I was as artist, the kind of stories I wanted to tell, and how to tell them.

And so, when I returned to the Twin Cities in late 2009 with no clue of how one went about creating their own work "in the real world," I applied to Fringe. I got in through the lottery, and that first production, Ballad of the Pale Fisherman, marks the genesis of Transatlantic Love Affair.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Eight-year-old me would say: "An actress. Also an international spy. Also a socialite. Also a diplomat."

What’s the best part of your job?
Collaborating with incredible, joyful, talented artists to make something none of us could do on our own. Pushing the bounds of my own humanity, growing all the time.

When did you know you wanted to work in theatre?
When I saw my first play, which was Much Ado About Nothing, at the tender age of seven. I still have a freeze-frame in my mind of the moment when I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.

What has surprised you most about your work/working in theatre?
Honestly, especially with that first production of Ballad, I had no idea if audiences would come along for the ride with us, let alone respond as strongly as they did. Doing a movement-based play with no sets or props felt like a huge risk artistically our first time out, and though I knew both the form and the content were deeply meaningful and inspiring for *me*, I didn't know or feel I could expect that others would feel the same way. In this way, the support from audiences and artists alike over the years (and especially at the outset) has been deeply humbling, and something I never expected or anticipated.

Who gave you the best advice you’ve ever received, and what was that advice?
I have been fortunate to have some truly remarkable mentors and friends, and to be surrounded by many wonderful and talented women in the theater who have given so generously of themselves and their advice.... so much so that now I am unable to come up with one piece of advice that rises above the rest! If one comes to me, however, I'll let you know. :)

What’s the best/your favorite production you’ve seen in the Twin Cities in the last year?
There is always so much good work, and I get to see so little of it... But the one that comes to mind is The Bluest Eye at the Guthrie. It was masterful on every level, and such an important piece of work. It cracked me wide open.

You’re stuck on a desert island. Which three theatre-makers would you want to be stuck with?
Oh, this one's hard! I'm going to go with theatre-makers I don't know personally (because I can't choose just three from the folks I know!) - Emma Rice, Mark Rylance, and Lileana Blain-Cruz. I admire them all deeply as artists and would love to hang out with them and pick their brains - AND from what I hear, they're all really lovely, generous, kind, smart, and fun human beings.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to work in theatre administration/your position?
You're still an artist even if you're not in production. Make time for the life that feeds the work. This can mean allowing time for friends, for walks in the woods, for reading books, for family... and can also necessarily mean making time for the less fun but very necessary life elements (like day- or non-artistic-jobs) that pay the bills, and enable art in another way.

Do you keep snacks in your desk/work area? What are they?
Yes! Some kind of chocolate or chewy fruity candy whenever possible. I have a serious sweet tooth.

Headshot of Theresa J.  Beckhusen
Theresa J. Beckhusen

Theresa J. Beckhusen is a writer and editor. Her work has been published in American TheatrePasteEverything Sondheim, The Sondheim Review, and others.