Welcome to Ask an Admin, a series in which we talk with theatre administrators and theatre-makers working in Minnesota to learn about their backgrounds, their jobs, and what snacks they keep in their desks.

Tosaka Thao

Communications Associate at Guthrie Theater

Tell us a little about yourself and your path to your current position.

Tosaka Thao. Communications Associate at the Guthrie Theater. He, Him, His, They, Their, Ninja. Average Trash talker. College. Proverbial 3rd Wheel. My zodiac sign is a stop sign because I don’t mess with that. 

I grew up in Minneapolis. I attended Roosevelt High School and graduated as part of their first International Baccalaureate (IB) class and Homecoming king runner-up (not over it). I graduated from St. Olaf College a few years ago with (count 'em!) two majors! I paid a crazy amount of money for someone to tell me to read Shakespeare...and then I didn’t read Shakespeare. My other major was in Race & Ethnic Studies, which in layman's terms is Sociology without the statistics, or as my former TRIO adviser would say: American History. I was sort of on an educator track throughout college, but my heart wasn't in it. I figured if my heart wasn't in it, I shouldn't be in a position to influence or direct others—I still need a bit of guidance. Shout out to educators. I’ve been at the Guthrie for a while now, and it's pretty dope. 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

The Green Power Ranger. News anchor. President. Writer. Fireman. Mulan. Malcolm X. Potato farmer. In that order.

What’s the best part of your job?

Every day is different. My closest friends will attest to how random I can be, and I relish in the varying days I have. There hasn’t been a day where I wake up dreading to go to work. My team is cool, and my former team in the Box Office will always have my heart. I am very much a novice when it comes to the stage. I’m surrounded by people with limitless creativity and intellect. I truly admire the art form and the amount of effort required to pull something off day after day. I love learning from those who have been molded and empowered by it. 

When did you know you wanted to work in theatre/the arts?

I never knew. I still don’t know. I’ve been at the Guthrie for over three years. Thanks to my schools, I’ve been coming here since I was child. I dabbled in theater in high school and a wide variety of arts (as much as anyone who needs their art credit does, to be honest). Most people in the arts knew that’s what they wanted to go into when they were children or developing as adults; they knew when to take the plunge. I just kinda fell into it, and I’m still floating. Who knows where I’ll be five years from now? Maybe I go into the fire academy. Maybe I become a warrior princess. Maybe I open up a Vietnamese restaurant called Viet-nom-nom. Maybe I pursue that dream of being a potato farmer. But for the meantime I know that I like where I am. Even if I didn’t work here, I would look fondly upon this place for the amazing stories I’ve heard (both onstage and off) and the tremendous people behind them. 

What has surprised you most about your work/working in theatre/the arts?

Yo, I am amazed by how people from the suburbs do not know how to drive in the cities, I swear!!! I’m joking. Not really.

This is most likely because of where I work but there’s still a little glee in going past the prop shop or scene shop. I would encourage everyone to take one of our backstage tours. The Guthrie is super cool in that every show is built from the ground up on location. You can’t say that about most places. It’s pretty rad to see the costumes being created here. And the team building the sets are so cool and jazzed about what they do! Shout out to the squad working on Props too. I mean I was shocked to find out how much work went into putting a basketball on stage. I always think of how awesome that must be for the kids who take part in our summer camps. So awesome.

Who gave you the best advice you’ve ever received, and what was that advice?

"If your hair care budget ain’t gotta comma on it, you’re doin’ it wrong." – Confucius

I’m kidding. But again, not really. Shout out to Confucius. 

I'm not confident this was advice at the time; I'm also pretty confident there was a scolding in front of it too. I had an advisor (who I believe would prefer to stay nameless) tell me something I try to use every day. I don’t remember what they said word for word but this was the gist of it:

“It’s not hard to be a good person. But I would encourage this: Do not treat people the way you would like to be treated. When you treat someone the way you would like to be treated, you have already thought of yourself before the other; you will often overlook something the other person needs. Learn to detach from yourself. People are not a means to an end but an end in themselves. Listen to them and treat them the way they deserve to be treated. I can get so much more out of life by meeting someone where they are instead of assuming that’s where we are. Also, if you deserve to get scolded, best believe me Tosaka, I will scold you. Now kick rocks, I got another meeting.”

Something like that. I don’t know. I dig it. Shout out to my TRIO advisor! 

What’s the best/your favorite production you’ve seen in the Twin Cities in the last year? 

A few months ago I saw a show by the Hmong Minnesota Student Association of the University of Minnesota called Broken: Hlub Yus Tus Kheej(Love Yourself). It was during their heritage day celebration on campus or something... There were many technical difficulties... it was very cold in the auditorium... it was very long... but those students put on a show that had a conversation about systemic patriarchy and mental health in a community that doesn’t have those conversations. I am very proud of the discourse young people like my nephew are actively engaging in. 

You’re stuck on a desert island. Which three theatre-makers would you want to be stuck with (living or dead)?

First of all, what did I do to deserve being stuck on a desert island? Secondly, isn’t “desert island” a paradox? Lastly: Brian Tyree Henry, B.D. Wong, Sammy Davis Jr. 

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to work in arts administration/your position?

I don't feel super right offering advice. Just because I know there are many I work with who grew up with the stage and have worked their entire lives to be on or around it. That wasn't me. I really like to write so I appreciate feedback and collaboration. I would say to anyone who is floating around like me: be a sponge. Listen and absorb everything. There is a rich history in the arts, take the good and the bad. Question everything. Learn from it, mimic it, adapt it, recreate it, own it. Learn to take criticism and evolve. Develop a thick skin but remember to moisturize spiritually. Then again I don’t know, who am I to say?

Do you keep snacks in your desk/work area? What are they?

Holy cow yes. This is a good reminder I need to restock. I’m a big fan of tea. Girl Scout cookies. Those M&M's with the pretzels in 'em. That stuff you put in water to flavor it so you don't go drinkin' soda. Crackers. Gum. Oreos. A jar of Nutella for the hard days. Asian stuff.