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FACES OF TWIN CITIES THEATRE: Actor-Playwright Nissa Nordland Morgan

Actor-Playwright Nissa Nordland Morgan (she/hers).

How do you describe the theatre work that you do?

I am an actor, writer, producer, sound designer and musician. I am the Artistic Director of the Twin Cities Horror Festival; produce new original work as Special When Lit; company member of Theatre Pro Rata; member of the Playwright Cabal; associate producer of the webseries Noodle Pie Island; and an alum mainstage cast member/writer of the Brave New Workshop.

Twin Cities Horror Festival artistic director (and actor, and playwright) Nissa Nordland Morgan. Photo by Phen Grant.

Where and how did you train for what you do today?

I attended Southwest Minnesota State University and received a BA in Theatre Arts, with a secondary focus on writing.

What are 3 words that describe you as an artist?

Original, dynamic, unicorn.

What’s the last performance that you were in/worked on/wrote/etc?

Acted In: By the Bog of Cats (Theatre Pro Rata, March 2023)
Wrote: Stabby Stab Stab (Twin Cities Horror Festival XI, 2022)

A promotional photo for Special When Lit’s 2017 production of The Fae. Photo by Phen Grant.

How did you become involved in theatre?

My dad showed me the Zeffirelli Hamlet when I was 8 years old, and I loved it. Soon after, I was introduced to Romeo & Juliet, and started acting out all the parts with my Barbie dolls.

Though I wanted to perform, I was a shy kid and often bullied at school. My junior year of high school, I hesitantly signed up for a Beginning Acting class, and that year was cast as Mary Warren in The Crucible. Acting allowed me to be someone else on stage and I loved it, so much so, that I decided to make theatre my major.

I keep doing theatre because I have never lost that first love spark. I am drawn to live performance as it has a special magic, it’s exhilarating and challenging and terrifying and beautiful and risky and temporary – like dreams: it can all fade away, so you need to enjoy it while you can.

What does theatre mean to you?

Theatre is an amazing way to tell stories and create community, not just for artists, but for audiences, even if only for one performance. It creates a shared language of feeling, even when the story is outside of someone’s life experience.

Theatre is visceral and oddly tangible. It’s cheesy, but I can’t imagine life without it. Creating with artists that rev my mental engine is just exhilarating, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Tell us about a favorite experience in the performing arts. Why was it meaningful?

I wrote a Minnesota Fringe play called Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy, and I got to play Gabrielle. Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor were two of my childhood icons; I grew up loving Xena: Warrior Princess. The first time Ariel and I stepped on stage in our Xena & Gabby costumes, the audience cheered, and I almost melted into a joy puddle. It was utterly surreal.

The fact that so many people loved the play, fans and newbies alike, meant the world to me. I’m still grateful to everyone that came out to it, and any show I’ve written and had performed (The Fae, Incarnate, Finger Lickin’ Good, Stabby Stab Stab).

Nissa Nordland Morgan and Kayla Dvorak Feld in a promotional photo for Nordland Morgan’s play Stabby Stab Stab, produced by Special When Lit and The Winding Sheet Outfit. Photo by Dan Norman.

Tell us about someone who had a profound impact on you as the artist that you are today.

I have been lucky to have had some amazing teachers in my life that had a deep impact on me as an artist. I want to Oscar list them all, but as I must select one, I will honor my recently departed Professor, Dr. William Hezlep.

Doc never waived in his support for me as an actor and writer. He even believed in my dream to perform Hamlet, à la Sarah Bernhardt – which at the time, many people scoffed at. Doc cast me as Laura in The Glass Menagerie, one of my dream roles. He was a director who focused on organic spontaneity in scenes, and the flow of relationships as they unfurled in the moment on stage.

One night, we were rehearsing the Gentlemen Caller scene, where there’s a power outage that forces Laura and the Gentleman Caller to use candles. We were running the scene, sitting on the stage around a lit candelabra, when all of a sudden, the stage and house lights went out. We paused, but soon heard Doc’s voice from the back of the house yell, “Keep going!” So we did. And we were sucked into this tender, intimate scene, spontaneously lit only by flames, surrounded by darkness.

I felt the lines ache in my chest that night. It’s a moment I wish I could bottle.

After Doc retired, he became like a surrogate grandfather to me, cheering me on from a far. Late October 2022, I heard he was in the hospital and reached out to his daughter. She told Doc that I sent my love, and he told her to tell me “Continue to write what you feel is right”. I was in the middle of a sold-out run of my newest play Stabby Stab Stab at the Twin Cities Horror Festival. A few days later, on October 26th, he passed away.

What is an upcoming performance that excites you, with which you are NOT involved?

I am stoked to see many Minnesota Fringe productions from folks like Lauren Anderson, Heather Meyer, Duck Washington, Rev Matt Kessen, Mike Fotis, Brad Erickson, The Shrieking Harpies, Ariel Pinkerton, to name a few.

I am also excited to see Keith Hovis‘ new musical The Boy Wonder at the History Theatre, directed by Laura Leffler this fall!

Nissa Nordland Morgan in Theatre Pro Rata’s The Convent of Pleasure by Heather Meyer. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis.

What’s up next for you, creatively?

I am performing in It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Stupidity at the Brave New Workshop from June 23-25. Special When Lit and The Winding Sheet Outfit are remounting my play Stabby Stab Stab at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. I am writing a new play for Twin Cities Horror Festival XII called Kin, which will be directed by Kayla Dvorak Feld, and feature myself, Tara Lucchino, and Shanan Custer.

I am very excited about the entire TCHF line up this year – bring on spooky season!

Follow Nissa Nordland Morgan Online


Instagram – @SpecialWhenLitTheatre; @horrorunicorn_Nissa

Twin Cities Arts Reader