Tom Isbell

University of Minnesota Duluth/Dept. of Theatre

In the COVID-19 pandemic era performing artists have been challenged to discover new ways to share their gifts with their audiences.  Some solutions, like streaming on social media, did not even exist two decades ago. 

Brett Groehler/UMD

The renaissance of Henrik Ibsen's play "The Enemy of the People" over the last few years has been so pronounced even the New York Times took note of it.

The 1882 script is a tale of what director Tom Isbell calls "the fractious intersection between self-interest and the common good" - or more specifically, between the environment and jobs.

UMD theater professor Tom Isbell was a darling of television producer Burt Metcalf (M*A*S*H) and went on to work in movies with the likes of Anne Bancroft and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Then he left a career most young actors can only dream of ... because of an earthquake.


Author (and UMD professor) Tom Isbell wraps up his young adult Prey trilogy with The Release.  He talks about his inspirations (The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss, the Holocaust) and about the question: how big is our circle of concern?

Mueez Ahmad

For the 12th time (they average this about once every three years)  UMD Theatre is off to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, this time to perform playwright/director Tom Isbell's One River.

©Brett Groehler

Tom Isbell is a bit of an overachiever.

The UMD Theatre professor/director is also a novelist  and playwright .

So when he heard about the One River, Many Stories project,  a year-long community journalism collaboration about the St. Louis River, Isbell says he realized "we tell stories with theatre, too."  And he figured it was "time to get out of our little corner of UMD and play nice with others."

Richard Gardner [via Flickr, modified]

  Chris Harwood talks with Tom Isbell, UMD Professor of Theatre, about character-building.  There is a broad palette of techniques an actor can use to portray the roles they play, from the intensity of Method or Meisner to the approach suggested by Mamet, who Tom paraphrases: "Figure out what you want from the other character in the scene and just memorize your lines." 

Though many available methods are worthy tools, not all will work for every character or style of play.  Listen to see if Chris and Tom can condense what should take years of study into a six-minute master class.

UMD's Tom Isbell takes off his director hat come May ... and usually, he puts on his novelist hat.

But this summer, inspired by the "One River, Many Stories" community-wide journalism project, he's  pulled out his scriptwriting hat (a pirate hat, with a plume, he says) and has begun dramatizing some of the stories for performances in late September of what he calls "documentary theater."

Photo courtesy Eric Le Roux

Fresh off their triumph with Spoon River this fall, UMD students and four staff members, including director Tom Isbell, journied to Paris as part of an exchange program between UMD's School of Fine Arts and the Conservatoire de Lyon.

Social media is all abuzz with the story of  J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, taking actor Alan Rickman aside and confiding to him a secret.  No one else knew what was going to happen in the series, of course, but Rowling knew Rickman needed this piece of information to play his character in the movie adaptation.

So how do the writers of books in a series do it?  Plot it all out in advance like Rowling did? Or, as many authors maintain, do the characters take over and surprise their authors?

Andy Bennett of Renegade Theater Company offers tips on creating an impersonation ... and takes notes on an evolving piece of sketch comedy involving Duluth Mayor Don Ness and UMD Theater professor Tom Isbell as Nice Midwestern Guys.

UMD Department of Theatre

Chris Harwood talks with Tom Isbell, UMD Professor of Theatre, about collaboration in the arts.  What are the dynamics involved negotiating a potential divide between a director's vision and a performer's creativity? When is artistry enhanced by the collaborative process, and when is it diluted? 

Tom Isbell

Tom Isbell, professor of theater at UMD, has a tough life.

Last month he had to accompany two UMD theater students, Kayla Peters and Jayson Speters, to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington D.C.  Then had to help carry home their awards when Kayla and Jayson returned with six of the Festival's fourteen honors.

  You can read more about Kayla and Jason and their honors at this year's KCACTF here.

Actor, playwright, director and UMD theater professor Tom Isbell, it turns out, is an author, too. He talks about his "dark side" and incorporating a lesson into his book that humanity just can't seem to master. Published by Harper Collins.

Sam Taylor-Wood

The death of comedian, actor and philanthropist Robin Williams has left the world reeling.  Monday night at 6pm, Community Conversations will focus on depression and identity.  Are you a human being or a human "doing," and how does that make you feel?  Plus information about help for depression sufferers and their families right here in the Twin Ports.