By Molly Nagappala | Photographed by Valerie Tobias
For Susan Nanning-Sorenson, the finished play is not the only thing. She believes her peripatetic childhood as an Air Force brat contributed to “a very open view of the world,” which eventually informed a teaching and directing philosophy that emphasizes the importance of process over the end product.
As a young mother and wife, Nanning-Sorenson found a way to be a work-at-home mom by running a small business making and selling dolls. “I’m very artistic and I like to create things, and I’ve always enjoyed working with fabric and costumes.” When the family relocated to Madison for her husband’s job, she closed the business and began working with local churches and community theater groups. Before long, she sought to professionalize her directing skills, so she completed her master’s degree in fine arts, in acting, at UW-Madison. At that same time Nanning-Sorenson founded First Act Children’s Theatre.
And artistic director and director of operations at the children’s theatre are not the only hats Nanning-Sorenson wears. She is also a senior instructor at Edgewood College in the Theater Education department and frequently writes her own scripts—original and adapted—for her company to perform. A self-proclaimed former misfit, she also finds joy in drawing a shy child out of his shell or allowing an oddball kid a safe place to learn and express herself creatively.
This child development-centered mission is what Nanning-Sorenson believes sets First Act apart from other youth theater companies. “We work together as a team to create something, but the something isn’t everything. It’s how we get there that’s the focus.”