Professor/Actor Makes ‘Art for Social Justice’ and Fun

Kailene Nye, Reporter

Dr. Alicia Nordstrom, professor of psychology and chair of the psychology department is a fairly well accomplished actress on both stage and screen.

The clinical psychologist found her passion for theatre and acting during middle school.

“I took a drama class and I just really fell in love with it,” she said.

She said she acted in her first major play  as a high school freshman when she was cast as the lead in “Who’s Life Is It Anyway?” which tells the story of a woman who was paralyzed from a spinal cord injury and wanted to take her own life.

After that, Nordstrom said, she put a pause on acting during college and graduate school. She decided to get back into it when she joined the faculty in 2004.

“Once I kind of got established as a professor, I was like you know, I really want to bring that back into my life and I found that there is a really big theatre community here that does comedies and dramas and musicals. My second year that I was here, or I think it was the summer after my first year, I auditioned for local shows, and I’ve kind of been hooked ever since,” she explained.

Nordstrom has also done work in film and television. She played in local short films such as “Pitchfork,” whose directors won a best film makers award, and “Catcophany,” a piece in which she and her cat were cast. She is awaiting filming on another production later this fall.  She has also done  professional commercials.

Nordstrom was cast as an extra for the Amazon Prime show “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” For that role, she drove to Brooklyn, where she was up from seven in the morning to one the next morning shooting the same scene over and over again.

“It was such hard work, and it just made me realize that it is not as glamorous as it appears. For me, I was done at one in the morning. I had to get a hotel because I’m in Brooklyn and it’s one in the morning, but they [the main actors] have to show up for work the next day and start all over again, hair and makeup and things like that. So it was a really amazing experience because I got to see how real TV works,” she said.

Nordstrom said “Drowning Ophelia,” “Wonder of The World,” and “Our Town” are among her favorite plays, but “The Voice Project,” which she made with students, is the project she cherishes most.

Nordstrom had several groups of her students students interview people from stigmatized groups and write stories about them.  Volunteer writers later turned those stories into  theatrical pieces performed on campus.  The last installment of “The Voices Project” was performed at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival in New York City.

“That’s [The Voices Project] so near and dear to me because it’s like art for social justice. It’s art that captures real-life stories to try and destigmatize or eradicate stereotypes of people who are really misunderstood. That’s just a beautiful project that I hope will continue to evolve,” she said.

Nordstrom added that psychology is a perfect compliment to her passion for acting.

“I think the two go hand-in-hand a lot because with every role that I play, I’m so interested in that person’s identity and motivations and coping strategies and challenges. So I feel like I use my psychology brain a lot when it comes to theatre,” she said.

There are two things she said she loves about acting, the social opportunities it provides and the way it acts as a catharsis for emotions she doesn’t have a chance to express in everyday life.

“I love that process of crawling into the skin and mind of another person and trying to become them and think about them. It’s a way that I can be opposite, in some ways, of who I really am. So, if I get a character that’s really angry and gets to yell like I’m not a yeller at all. Nowhere in my life do I yell, so to get to go on stage and do that is really fun and if I’m having a rough day it’s a great place to put that emotion.”

She said theatre has also led her to meaningful relationships with others of like mind.

“I feel like it’s so important for me to act with other people who have the same values as me, who see theatre as fun and a release and entertainment, that are not super dramatic about, you know, ‘I’m going to be an actor.’ It’s about the love of doing it. So when I’m in a cast like that, which has been most of the casts that I’m in, I love building relationships with the other actors,” she said.

Nordstrom said those relationships help free her to embrace her roles. When she played a character in “Drowning Ophelia” who had to break down and cry on stage, she found the experience therapeutic.

“I had to go on stage, and go to this really dark place and just cry on stage over and over again. I found that that was really cathartic for me because that’s not something I really do very often either, so I had this emotional release place to put the emotions I carry around every day and channel them,” she said.

Nordstrom said one thing she has taken away from acting is its ability to allow her to step out of her own brain for a short time.

“A lot of people are like, ‘How do you do that on top of working? It’s so much to do,’ and to me it’s not work. It’s this ability to step out of the stress of my own life, even though I love being a college professor. As I go through my day and I go from meetings to classes and I’m a parent, so I do parenting things, I have the part of my life where I have things I have to do in order and then I get to play rehearsal and I get to be this totally different person.”

She said she feels acting helps her to grow because she experiences the lives of other people through the characters she plays.

“I take a piece of them with me back into my life, and so I grow as a person with every new character that I am because I walk in their shoes for usually six weeks at a time. So I feel like it makes me a better person to act and do these roles,” Nordstrom said.