Upstream Arts Leadership Team
Teaching Artists and Administrative Staff
Nikki Abramson, Teaching Artist | Director, Theatre Educator, Actor, Writer edNikki held a M Ed. (Masters in K12 Education) from Bethel University where she specialized in incorporating theatre arts into the classroom. Her passion lay at the intersection of theatre, education, and inspiring students to develop themselves. As a person with relatively hidden physical disabilities, Nikki loved the inclusion Upstream Arts brings and wishes UA could be in more places at more times. She worked as a teaching artist around town, worked with youth theatre and taught mostly in community education programs including Artistry. She also worked as a director for Hillcrest Community School in Bloomington and Eden Prairie Players. Nikki performed with an improv troupe, Comedy Combats, at Mugshots in Bloomington. She is the author of the books I Choose Hope in which she addresses issues of disability and adoption, and Hope for Today, as well as a contributor for 5 anthologies. She co-wrote, performed, and toured her play, “Beyond Limits,” about her life-long battles and which premiered at Fringe 2016 and 2017. Nikki worked with Upstream Arts since 2014 and has LOVED the opportunity to play every day at work.
We honor and miss our friend and colleague Nikki, who passed away in March 2020. Her memory and legacy will continue to live in our work.
Christian Bardin, Teaching Artist Apprentice | Actor/Director, Musician
Christian (she/her and they/them) originally hails from Houston, Texas. They’ve called the Twin Cities home since graduating from Ken Washington’s BFA program at the U in 2011 and have acted professionally in the Twin Cities since 2009. She believes the best work in any discipline comes at the intersection of great risk, great craft, and great love. Favorite “art jobs” are ones where she gets to use her powers for good, including relationships with CornerHouse’s Forensic Interview trainings, Pillsbury House + Theatre’s Breaking Ice workshops, and traditional performance work with the Jungle Theater, Minnesota Opera, Guthrie Theater, The Moving Company, Park Square Theatre, and Sandbox Theatre. Christian is proud to have co-directed the devised work The Nature Crown and to have assisted on the regional premiere of Redwood at the Jungle. Their first full-length album of original music is entitled Shorts – here’s a preview. Christian has been working with Upstream Arts since 2020.
Brian Bose, Teaching Artist | Actor-Singer-Dancer, Choreographer/Director, Creative Consultant
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Brian revels as a multidimensional storyteller. He received a Double B.A. in Theatre & Dance from UC San Diego in 2015. After studying Dance Pedagogy, Brian has also developed into an International Teaching Artist. He has taught Movement for Actors & Musical Theater at the La Jolla Playhouse’s Young Performer’s Workshop, instructed as a Resident Guest Teacher/Choreographer at the Francis Parker School, and taught Modern & Jazz in Germany for the Patricia Rincon Dance Collective Europe Teaching Tour. The San Diego Union Tribune considers Brian one of the “Faces to watch” in Arts. You may have seen him create roles in The Lorax (CTC), In The Heights (Ordway), DJ Latinidad’s Latino Dance Party, and Safe at Home (Mixed Blood). He also teaches various BFA and adult classes at the Guthrie, including his opus: the Slay Workshop. Brian wants to be of service, helping others break free from the hypnosis of fear so they can realize both their visions and the fact that they have a gift to give to the world. Most importantly, just as the eloquent Bobby McFerrin once said, Brian wants everyone to know that “It’s alright to have butterflies in your stomach, just make sure that they are flying in formation!” He is incredibly honored to be an Upstream Arts Teaching Artist since January, 2017. For more: http://theboseshow.com
Jay Eisenberg, Teaching Artist Apprentice, | Actor, Director, Facilitator
Jay Owen Eisenberg is a Minneapolis-based actor, educator, director, and facilitator. Before landing in the upper Midwest, Jay called Los Angeles and New York City home until 2015. Jay’s dual backgrounds in sex education and theatre have supported him in designing and implementing dynamic and inclusive curriculum in Health and Wellness for young performers ages 10 through 25. He teaches with Penumbra Theatre’s RACE Workshop and Summer Institute programs, the University of Minnesota, Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, Children’s Theatre Company, and the Performing Institute of Minnesota, among others. Here in the Twin Cities, Jay has performed at regionally and nationally acclaimed theaters including Penumbra Theater, Theater Latte Da, the Jungle Theater, Pillsbury House + Theatre, Mixed Blood Theater, Open Eye Figure Theater, Red Eye Theater, and more, and he is a regular collaborator with the Playwrights’ Center. In 2017, he was the recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant. Jay holds a BFA in Acting from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (Experimental Theater Wing), and he is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association. Jay has been working with Upstream Arts since 2020.
Tena May Gallivan, Teaching Artist | Actor, Dancer, Voice Over Artist
After asking if Upstream Arts was hiring for two years, and realizing that no one ever left, Tena May Gallivan felt so strongly that she belonged there, she asked if she could volunteer, just to be a part of this amazing organization. Fortunately, this eventually did lead to a Teaching Artist position, and she counts it as one of the best decisions she has ever made (after deciding that tube tops weren’t for her). Tena May comes from a theatrical family, made her stage debut at age 4, and hasn’t looked back since. She has been fortunate enough to work at many local theaters throughout the years, most notably The Guthrie Theatre, Chanhassen Dinner Theater, Park Square Theater, Theatre In The Round, Na Fianna Irish Theater (with whom she won “Best Actress” at the Acting Irish International Theatre Festival) and The History Theater. Tena May was a member of The Comedy Troupe for many years and toured the Twin Cities as well as the state, spreading cheer to all. She is also a national Voice Over Artist who has been heard around the country, with clients such as Subaru, Tresemme, Target, Nordstrom, Macy’s, General Mills and Petsmart. She has even been seen on TV and the big screen! Tena May is a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists and serves on the local board. In non-acting related news, Tena May teaches strength training, fitness and dance (mostly because if she is teaching, she has to be there and can’t roll over, hit the snooze alarm and tell herself she’ll do it later. Which, of course, she won’t). Tena May has been working with Upstream Arts since 2012.
Skailer Huffman Teaching Artist Apprentice | Actor, Singer, Dancer
Skailer is an Eden Prairie High School graduate of 2017. She also went through 2 years of Transition Program, where she was a participant in the Upstream Arts program. She grew up loving music such as Donny Osmond, Abba, and many more who influence her artistry today. She has experience in acting since 7th grade, joined crew in high school, and has been part of a musical theater camp in Chanhassen. She has been working with Upstream Arts since 2019.
Haley Lerner, Teaching Artist | Actor
Haley graduated from the University of Minnesota in December 2013, with a degree in Theatre Arts, Child Psychology, and Youth Studies. Since starting at Upstream Arts, she has found many opportunities as an actor and youth worker in the Twin Cities area. Along with performing in several productions at the University of Minnesota, Haley has worked with local theatre companies such as Theatre Novi Most and The Moving Company. When Haley isn’t on the stage or in a classroom, she can be found in the yoga studio or in the kitchen trying out new recipes! Haley has been working with Upstream Arts since 2012.
Abigail Magalee, Teaching Artist | Choreographer, Dancer
Nora Montañez, Teaching Artist Apprentice | Singer, Playwright, Educator, Community Advocate
Nora Montañez is a Peruvian-born artist, singer, educator, playwright and community advocate. Nora was raised in Paterson, NJ and holds a BFA from Florida Atlantic University. In Minneapolis, Nora has worked with The Guthrie Theater, Children’s Theatre Company, The Playwright Center, Theatre Latte Da, Jungle Theater, Theatre Mu, Mixed Blood, and many others. In Chicago, Nora has worked with Congo Square, Chicago Dramatist, Teatro Vista and Court Theatre. Nora is a Breaking Ice Company Member with Pillsbury House Theatre, a part of Penumbra Theatre’s Race Workshop, has taught with Interact, OnStage and the MPS school system including being a 2018 Next Step Grant recipient. Nora is also the Founder of the Alliance of Latinx Minnesota Artists (ALMA), which facilitates alliances among the spectrum of Minnesotan Latinx artists. Nora has been working with Upstream Arts since 2020.
Atim Opoka, Teaching Artist | Artist, Composer, Actor
Atim is unique, bold and versatile performer who studied Vocal Performance at McNally Smith College of Music. As an actress & improvisor, Atim has worked with metro Theatre companies Smartmouth Comedy Co., Sandbox Theatre, Lyric Arts, Chameleon Theatre Circle. As a Musician, Atim writes and performs original material and regularly performs as a backup vocalist for local bands. Atim Teaches Music, Acting, and Comedy with Children’s Theatre Company, Stages, Lyric Arts, Climb Theatre, and Ashland Productions.
Akiko Ostlund, Teaching Artist | Dancer, Poet, Puppeteer, Performing Artist, Collage Artist, Curator, Activist
Akiko Ostlund is a dancer, poet, puppeteer, performing artist, collage artist, curator, and activist. She began dancing as a tribal fusion belly dancer and cross-studies many dance forms such as salsa, bachata, hula, and tutting. She is also a student of Ragamala school and has trained in the classical Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam since 2014. She often collaborates with puppeteers in various projects includes Barebones Halloween Extravaganza, Mayday Parade, and Puppet Cabaret as well as projects with individual puppeteers. All of her works focus on community and reflect her voice as an immigrant woman of color. She is heavily invested in connecting with poc youth in her community. As a curator she regularly visits local high school showcases to familiarize herself with the new generation, and presents young artists in the shows she curates.
Lindsey Samples, Principal Teaching Artist | Director, Actor
Lindsey is a director, actor, and educator having worked with many theater companies, schools, and organizations including Pillsbury House Theatre, Children’s Theatre Company, Mixed Blood, Ten Thousand Things, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, 59E59 Off-Broadway, 20% Theatre Company, SteppingStone Theatre, Stages Theatre Company, Global Empowerment Theatre, Unit Collective, Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, Bedlam Theatre, Upright Egg, Savage Umbrella, and Off-Leash Area. Lindsey holds a B.A. in Theater from Loyola University Chicago and an M.Ed. in Youth Development Leadership from the University of Minnesota. She has been working with Upstream Arts since 2010.
Chavonn Williams Shen, Teaching Artist Apprentice | Writer
Chavonn Williams Shen is a Minneapolis native and educator. She was a Best of the Net Award finalist, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a fellow through the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. Her poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in: Yemassee, the Los Angeles Review, Permafrost Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. Chavonn has been working with Upstream Arts since 2020.
Ladan Siraji, Teaching Artist Apprentice | Actor, Writer, Educator
Ladan Siraji is a current college student working on a degree in Child Psychology. Ladan has been an active member of the theatre world both behind the scenes and on the stage since childhood. Her passion in teaching through the arts started in college working with a social justice theatre troupe. She has gotten the opportunity to write stories for the Children’s Theatre focusing on the Somali experience along with opportunities to teach for Children’s Theatre Company and the History Theatre. Ladan’s passions for social justice and theatre are tied to her experiences as a Somali- American and voicing the experiences of her community. She has been working with Upstream Arts since 2020.
Elle Thoni, Development and Communications Assistant | Rewilding Playwright, Performance Maker, Public Art Producer
Elle is thrilled to be a part of Upstream Arts as the Development and Communications Assistant. They are a playwright, performance-maker, public artist, producer, and arts organizer of Anglo-Norse Settler descent working in/with the Upper Mississippi watershed on Dakota land. Elle draws on theatre’s mythic roots to tell stories about how our sense of belonging, identity, and loss are changing with our climate. Elle readily collaborates with movement-based performers, musicians, and makers of all sorts under the banner of WILD CONSPIRACY to construct lush, multi-layered performances that audiences want to live in. Their work has been supported by The Jerome Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. You can learn more and say hello at ellethoni.com
Chitra Vairavan, Teaching Artist Apprentice | Dancer, Choreographer, Performance Artist, Director
Chitra Vairavan (she/her/hers) born in Milwaukee, WI and community-grown as an artist in Minneapolis, MN on occupied Dakota land. Vairavan is a contemporary dancer/choreographer and performance artist of Tamil/South Indian-American descent. She dances to heal and creates dance and performance art to help heal others. Her dance and creative work have been featured throughout the Twin Cities since 2004. Vairavan’s artistic focus is on her BIPOC-centered creative liberation practice, currently in the form of a collective called The Vibrants aka Womxn of Color Reimagining Ecosystems and through workshops. She embarks on her journey with Upstream Arts in 2020. For more please visit: www.chitravairavan.com
Emily Zimmer, Teaching Artist | Theater Artist
Emily has brought critical literacy into classrooms using theatre, writing and storytelling as part of the Neighborhood Bridges Program since 2003. She has adapted skills to serve early learners as part of the Early Bridges Program and she has led classes for many other organizations including History Theatre, InterAct, SteppingStone, Heart of the Beast and the Guthrie. Emily helped mentor 8-13 year old playwrights and actors as Artistic Director of the Chicago Avenue Project at Pillsbury House Theatre for five years. She co-creates Drag Story Hour performances with Pedro Lander and is proud that the pair just released their first storybook for children, Ze!. Her original performances have been seen at Open Eye Figure Theatre, Intermedia Arts, Pillsbury House Theatre and she regularly performs the work of other artists as an actor. She holds a BA in Dramatic Arts from Macalester College and studied the art of clowning with Pierre Byeland in Locarno, Switzerland. She has been working with Upstream Arts since 2019.