Notable Established Alumni

Successful Theatre and Dance Alumni
from the 1980's and Earlier

Cheryl Downey
Cheryl Downey '66
A Minneapolis native and Richfield High School grad, Cheryl Downey acted in school plays and followed her teacher’s advice: “There are lots of good colleges in Minnesota, but only Gustavus has Mrs. A!” In 1962, Cheryl applied to one college: Gustavus Adolphus College. Mrs. Anderson immediately cast Cheryl in The Miracle Worker. Many plays followed, as well as research in Bangkok, studying Thailand’s dance drama. Cheryl graduated Gustavus in 1966 with English and Theater majors and an Education minor. UCLA awarded her a Chancellor’s Fellowship; she earned her MA (’68) and PhD (’71) in Theater there. Cheryl taught and directed at a high school and then a Community College, but she fell in love with film-making and won a slot in the Assistant Director/Producer Training Program’s two year apprenticeship. Graduating in 1975, she joined the Directors Guild of America and launched her freelance career as an Assistant Director and Production Manager. Soon after joining, she was elected by her peers to their Council. She received the Gustavus First Decade Achievement Award in 1976. A founding member of the Guild’s Women’s Committee, she was repeatedly elected or appointed to the Guild’s National Board, its Training Program, and many other volunteer Guild posts. In 2000, Cheryl was awarded the Directors Guild’s highest honor given to an AD or PM, The Frank Capra Award, for “Distinctive Career Achievement and Service to the Guild.” Cheryl filmed on many locations in this country (including Minnesota for Ice Castles) and abroad, with many star directors and actors: Arthur Penn, Robert Aldrich, Natalie Wood, Bette Davis, Anne Bancroft, Robert Redford, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Ted Danson. The Costume Designers Guild tapped Cheryl’s creative and managerial skills as its Executive Director for the six years before Cheryl retired and married Gustavus Emeritus Professor of English, Larry Owen. Cheryl’s most meaningful productions are her two children, Christopher and Ariel. Christopher attended Gustavus, and Ariel currently studies at Mt. Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles.
Steven Epp
Steven Epp '80
Steve Epp received his B.A. (Theatre) from GAC in 1980. Don Juan Giovanni and Figaro co-creator Steven Epp (in the roles of Sganarelle and Fig) was seen at the American Repertory Theater in the title role of The Miser and in Amerika. He worked with Theatre de la Jeune Lune in 1983 and has played the titles roles in Crusoe, Tartuffe, Hamlet, Gulliver, and The Miser, appeared in The Magic Flute, Twelfth Night, The Seagull, Maria de Buenos Aires, and The Little Prince. He adapted and directed Medea and has collaborated on scripts for Children of Paradise: Shooting a Dream, Three Musketeers, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Magic Flute, Don Juan Giovanni, Figaro, Amerika, and Mefistofele. He holds a degree in theater and history from Gustavus Adolphus College and is the recipient of a 1999 Fox Fellowship. He has also performed with Jeune Lune at La Jolla Playhouse, New Victory Theatre, the Alley Theatre, Actors' Theatre of Louisville, Yale Repertory Theatre, Trinity Repertory Theatre, and Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
David Esbjornson
David Esbjornson '75

David Esbjornson received his B.A. (English/Theatre) from GAC in 1975 and earned his MFA in directing from New York University. David Esbjornson is an award-winning director and producer who has worked throughout the United States in regional theatres and on Broadway, and has established strong and productive relationships with some of the profession’s top playwrights, actors, and companies. Esbjornson is currently the artistic director of Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle, Washington.

For seven years (1992-1999) he was artistic director of New York’s Classic Stage Company, and since leaving that post he has become one of country’s most sought after freelance directors. With a list of production credits steeped in the classics from those years at CSC and as a guest director in such leading regional theatres as the Guthrie Theater, Esbjornson has also established himself as an interpreter of choice for playwrights such as Tony Kushner, Edward Albee, and Arthur Miller.

Esbjornson has staged Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (starring Jimmy Smits, Kirsten Johnson, and Sam Waterston) in Central Park and Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, both at New York’s Joseph Papp Public Theater. Other recent credits include the world premieres of Edward Albee’s Tony Award-winning play The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? on Broadway, Neil Simon’s Rose and Walsh at the Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles, Arthur Miller’s Resurrection Blues at the Guthrie, and Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher’s Tuesdays With Morrie at the Minetta Lane in New York. Among his New York premieres are Edward Albee’s The Play About the Baby, Israel Horowitz’ My Old Lady, and the Tony-nominated The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, by Arthur Miller at the Public Theater and on Broadway (FANY Award for outstanding direction).

Among the world premieres to Esbjornson’s credit are the first production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, and the first staged presentation of Perestroika, both at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco, which received seven Bay Area Theatre Critics’ Awards, including best direction and best production.

Other world premieres include Suzan-Lori Parks’ In the Blood for the Public Theatre, and Part 1 of Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul for the Chelsea Center in London. Recent productions directed by Esbjornson include the Maria Irene Fornes plays Mud and Drowning for the Signature Theatre; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Hedda Gabler, Summer and Smoke and The Great Gatsby for the Guthrie Theater; and the musical Eliot Ness in Cleveland for the Cleveland Play House. Additional credits include the American premiere of Patrick Marber’s Dealer’s Choice at the Long Wharf Theatre (five Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, including best direction and best production); Jose Rivera’s The Street of the Sun for the Mark Taper Forum; Farmyard at New York Theatre Workshop (New Directors Award); Kevin Kling’s Home and Away at Second Stage (Outer Critics Circle nomination); and the world premieres of Larry Kramer’s Just Say No at the WPA Theatre and Reynolds Price’s trilogy New Music for the Cleveland Play House.

Classic Stage Company received the Lucille Lortel Award for Body of Work in 1999 at the end of Esbjornson’s tenure as artistic director. During his time at CSC, he directed many productions for the theatre, including Neal Bell’s Thérèse Raquin (OBIE Award for Outstanding Direction), Beckett’s Endgame (Drama Desk nomination for Best Revival), Ellen McLaughlin’s Iphigenia and Other Daughters (Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Direction), John Osborne’s The Entertainer (Drama League nomination for Best Revival), and Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane (Lucille Lortel Award and Drama League nomination for Best Revival).

Esbjornson has served as a resident director at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference, New Harmony Project, and the Iowa Playwrights Festival. He received a 1989 NEA-TCG Directing Fellowship, and is on the Board of ART/NY.

Dennie Gordon
Dennie Gordon '74

Dennie Gordon graduated from GAC in 1974. After Dennie completed the directing program at Yale's School of Drama, she launched her career with many critically acclaimed productions in New York City.

She first gained recognition in Hollywood when her script for A Hard Rain was chosen by Showtime's Discovery Program. Thanks to Steven Spielberg, a rough cut of her film attracted the attention of George Lucas who donated the film sound mix at Skywalker Ranch. Based on a short story by Andre Dubus, A Hard Rain won dramatic awards at the British Short Film Festival and the Hamptons Film Festival and was later developed into the Oscar nominated In the Bedroom.

A Hard Rain caught the eye of David E. Kelley who enlisted Dennie to direct multiple episodes of his television series including Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal and The Practice.

She has directed over 100 hours of network television including such EMMY AWARD winning series as The Office, 30 Rock, Samantha Who?, Sports Night, Aliens in America, Everybody Hates Chris, Ally McBeal, The Practice, 12 Miles of Bad Road, and HBO's Tracey Takes On, for which she won the DGA Comedy Award.

Her specific episodes have won Best Actor nominations and Emmy Award wins for Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Felicity Huffman, Peter Krause, Calista Flockhart, Dylan McDermott, Ray Walston and James Whitmore.

On the feature side, she directed the teen cult hit Joe Dirt starring David Spade and Christopher Amanda Bynes, Jonathan Walken, and the comedy What a Girl Wants starring Colin Firth, Pryce and Dame Eileen Atkins. Her next film is A Special Relationship shooting in London and Afghanistan. She wrote the screenplay which is adapted from the British bestseller by Douglas Kennedy.

Dennie has filmed motion pictures and television programs in Japan, China, Thailand, Croatia, Bosnia, Germany, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala, French Polynesia, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, Italy, France, Switzerland, Greece, and throughout the UK. Gordon is fluent in German.

Kevin Kling
Kevin Kling '79

Kevin Kling is a commentator for National Public Radio and acclaimed storyteller.

Kling grew up in Osseo, Minnesota and graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1979 with a B. A. in Theatre. He built his reputation in the Twin Cities during the 1990s with his groundbreaking plays 21A and Fear and Loving in Minneapolis. His one-man show Home and Away premiered at Seattle Repertory Theatre and then moved to Second State Theatre (NYC) under the direction of David Esbjornson. Esbjornson, now artistic director of Seattle Rep, commissioned Kling to create a piece with Minneapolis-based accordianist and singer Simone Perrin. How? How? Why? Why was born. As of 2009, Kling and Perrin are in Seattle performing their second collaborative work Breakin' Hearts and Takin' Names.

Kling has also become well known for his regular storytelling contributions to NPR’s All Things Considered. He has recently released yet another CD collection (a boxed set titled Collected Stories of 4 CDs and a DVD) and a book of short stories The Dog Says How.

A prolific writer and vigorous performer, Kling has not been slowed by a birth defect that shriveled his left arm and a motorcycle accident that completely paralyzed his right arm. He is able to play the tuba and is a proud member of the trio Bad Jazz.

Peter Krause
Peter Krause '87

Peter Krause was born in Alexandria, Minnesota. His parents still reside in his hometown of Minneapolis, where he grew up as one of three children. Peter spent his teenage years as an athlete. He was active in gymnastics, specializing on the pommel horse and rings, as well as track and field. In high school, a pole vaulting accident ended his athletic career.

Peter would try acting at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, where he graduated with a degree in English Literature. Following the four years he spent at Gustavus Adolphus College he moved to New York City and completed the prestigious New York University Master of Fine Arts Acting Program.

While in New York City Peter worked as a bartender with Aaron Sorkin. After graduation, Peter moved out to Los Angeles and began work on television and landed a role on Carol Burnett's short-lived comeback comedy Carol & Company (1990) within two months. After the show ended he guest starred on many hit television shows including Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990), Seinfeld (1990), The Drew Carey Show (1995) and If Not For You (1995), with Elizabeth McGovern and Hank Azaria.

In 1995, Peter became a series regular as long-suffering son-in-law Kevin on the hit series, Cybill (1995). His first film was Blood Harvest, a 1987 slasher film starring ukulele player Tiny Tim. Over the next few years he starred in several independent films such as Lovelife (1997) and My Engagement Party (1998). Then, in 1998, Peter made his breakthrough performance in the critically acclaimed Sports Night (1998). For two years he appeared on ABC as Casey McCall but low ratings forced the show to be canceled after two seasons.

In 2000 Peter signed on to star in another critically acclaimed series, this time for HBO called Six Feet Under (2001) for which he is best know as Nate Fisher, the prodigal son who came home to help run the family's funeral business. In December 2006, he played the lead role, Detective Joe Miller, in the Sci Fi Channel miniseries The Lost Room. From 2007 to 2009, Krause portrayed young lawyer Nick George in ABC's drama Dirty Sexy Money alongside veteran actor Donald Sutherland.

In March 2009, Krause was cast as the role of Adam Braverman in the NBC comedy-drama Parenthood. Krause appeared in the 2011 fantasy film Beastly, based on Alex Flinn's 2007 novel of the same name.In 2015, Krause was cast opposite Mireille Enos in the ABC crime drama series, The Catch, produced by Shonda Rhimes.

Peter is still acting on stage in Los Angeles, where he currently resides, honing his craft and directing in several Los Angeles theater companies.

Tim Latta
Tim Latta '80

Tim Latta (Artistic Director) grew up in Kansas and Minnesota, received his B.A. from Gustavus Adolphus College, majoring in theatre and vocal music, and an MFA in Choreography/Design from California Institute of the Arts where he met and began working with percussionist extraordinaire Butch. With various choirs and ensembles he has sung in churches and concert halls throughout Europe and North America. In 1982 he joined Pilobolus Dance Theatre as a choreographer/performer and became a full-time dancer.

He and others in the group migrated from there to the more experimental dance group Momix. Highlights of the Momix touring include collaborating on "Le Divine", a performance honoring the "divine" women of dance. Broadcast worldwide from Pisa the show included Dame Margot Fonteyn, Alicia Markova, Alessandra Ferri and Marge Champion among others. He was also co-choreographer of the Momix/Shadowfax Show, a dance/theatre/music event with the world music group Shadowfax. Out of that tour grew an ongoing collaboration with guitarist G.E. Stinson.

He has also performed for fifteen years with Faustwork Mask Theatre helping to take the show The Mask Messenger into over 5,000 schools and theatres. He was co-founder of the rhythm duo Testi di Bosca with tap dancer Joe Orrach and spent a season as a performing with The Royal Lichtenstein Circus.

He has been a guest artist with Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Iso, The Deutsche Opera, Rob Wood and Dancers and Shawn McConneloug and her Orchestra. He was a featured performer in Nachtmond, with David Shiner, at the Wintergarden Variete' in Berlin, choreographed ALICE for the Lindsay Kemp Company in Barcelona, Spain and played "Bob" in Kevin Kling's Lloyd's Prayer at ACT in Seattle. He was featured performer in "Stelli del Mediterraneo" for RAI Due Television, Italy. He has also choregraphed and performed for numerous commercials, industrial and fashion shows including Issey Miyake, IBM, Lucien Rochat Watches and Kawasaki Motorcycles.

His work has been generously supported over the years by The McKnight Foundation, The Jerome Foundation, The Minnesota Dance Alliance, and The Connecticut Commission for the Arts. He is the founder of Koku Dance Theatre.

Nanci Olesen
Nanci Olesen '81

Nanci Olesen received her B.A. (Theatre) from GAC in 1981. She came up with the idea of a radio show FOR moms and BY moms in the middle of the night, many years ago, while patting her baby back to sleep. She has three kids.

Nanci is an independent radio producer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a member of AIR, Association of Independents in Radio, and her programs can be accessed on the Public Radio Exchange.

For 11 years, MOMbo was a weekly half hour show, first at KFAI (Minneapolis) and then on the Pacifica Radio Network. Nanci has produced four hour long MOMbo specials for Public Radio International, featuring her blend of mom attitude, music, commentaries, interviews, and sound collage. Nanci won a Golden Reel Award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters in 2001.

Nanci works as a mom, a waitress, a performer/musician, a radio commentator and reporter and a freelance writer.

Nanci also has worked as a musician and actor in Twin Cities theaters (Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, Illusion Theatre, and Theatre de la Jeune Lune).

Back to Theatre & Dance Home Page