Cordie Nelson is a director in Chicago who is also one of Green Shirt Studio’s newest Meisner acting teachers.
A native of Mississippi, Nelson started acting at the age of 12, attended a performing arts high school, and got her BA in theater at the University of Southern Mississippi. After college, she moved to Chicago, where she’s been focusing on building up her directing career.
She’s recently directed To Bury a Stranger for PRIDE Films and Plays’ LezPlay Weekend and Mia McCullough’s Mickey Cares at The Agency Theater Collective’s Basement Series, and she’s assistant directed The Library for Level II Theater, as well as The Agency Theater Collective’s production of Chagrin Falls under Sommer Austin.
Nelson cut her teeth as an assistant Meisner acting teacher in college, and later studied under both Sommer Austin and Andrew Gallant at Green Shirt Studio and began assistant teaching under them as well.
We recently caught up with Nelson to ask her more about what she likes about Meisner training, directing, the Chicago theater scene and more.
Q: You grew up in Mississippi, which doesn’t seem like a place where there would be much theater culture. How did you get into acting?
A: I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in one of the few cities in the state that does have a theater community. My dad’s a painter and my mom’s a newspaper reporter and our house was filled with my dad’s artwork and his friends’ work. My life has always been right in the center of the artistic community. When you grow up with artists as members of your family, you kind of think that there’s only one way of expressing yourself. But when I found theater, I was like, “This is it. This is how I express myself.”
Q: You said you loved acting when you were a kid, but later you began to doubt yourself. What helped you get over that?
A: When I was introduced to formal training, acting got really hard. I got really hard on myself and had a hard time being vulnerable on stage and I started questioning whether this was something I really wanted to do. That’s when I started getting interested in directing. But it was when I took Meisner in college, actually, that I got back in touch with my love of acting. I think I had been oversaturated with the “right way” to act in high school, and Meisner is about stripping all of that away.
Q: You first started taking Meisner classes when you were in undergrad. What did you love about Meisner classes?
A: I had heard about it and was really excited to take it, and after two classes, I asked my teacher Sean [Boyd] if I could assistant teach it. He said, “Why don’t you finish the class first.” I did and ended up assistant teaching for him for three years. I just couldn’t get enough of it! I love how it’s about you being enough and what’s happening between the two of you is enough.
Q: Why is teaching so fulfilling for you?
A: I love helping people find what’s already there. I love how it’s not about knowing what you’re going to get. I love the surprise. You don’t know where things are going to go, but you know when they’re being honest and when they’re being truthful because it’s beautiful.
Q: What do you like about directing?
A: I love how collaborative it is. I love how I don’t have all of the answers, and you don’t have all of the answers, but together we can find the answers.
Q: What made you want to move to Chicago rather than New York or Los Angeles?
A: People who I know in New York who are trying to make it as actors have to live six people in an apartment because the rents are so high. And in Los Angeles, it’s more about film, which just isn’t my thing. But in Chicago, theater is really accessible and you can actually live off of it. [Plus], the thing I love so much about the Chicago theater scene is how much people encourage you to do everything — acting, stage managing, directing. It’s really collaborative and supportive.
Interested in studying with Cordie? She’ll be teaching Level 2 and Level 3 Meisner classes this summer.