Kate Nowlin: Stories With Dimension

Photo Sarah Whiting

Kate Nowlin, actress, writer, and producer, is used to being in the company of powerful Minnesota women. Her grandmother was the third woman elected into the Minnesota state legislature and her aunt was the first woman director of Hennepin County Community Corrections. Born and raised in St. Paul, as a young child Nowlin was drawn to the arts. She performed at The Children’s Theater, then followed her acting passion at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She attended the Yale School of Drama for her masters degree. 

Nowlin was writer, actor, and producer for the 2016 film “Blood Stripe.” Says Nowlin: “It’s one of the oldest stories — the warrior’s return. Only this time the warrior is a woman. It’s an examination of some of the struggles our veterans face on their return home and the reintegration into civilian life.”

The film was based at Camp Vermillion in Northern Minnesota. “There is a significant veteran population on the Iron Range,” says Nowlin, who co-created the movie with her husband. “We wanted to tell the story of a female veteran because they make up the fastest growing segment of our veteran population. Over three million women have served in our post-9/11 wars, and I felt there was ample room to contribute a story about a female warrior. 

“The more I learned about the desire to serve and sacrifice for one’s country, the less relevant the issue of gender became,” she adds. “A soldier is a soldier is a soldier. In our story, our Sergeant is a Marine first — dealing with the impact of war and the resultant traumas she has experienced. The gaze is also on our larger society, and how this warrior returns home to a society which may not quite know how to recognize her as a service member, nor recognize her service.” 

Strong Origins

Growing up, “feminist” was not part of the vocabulary. “I come from a line of strong women,” Nowlin says. “I was surrounded by women who were not afraid of occupying traditionally male spaces, and men who supported them in doing that. From my oldest sister insisting on playing football and baseball in elementary school, to my grandmother who was elected to Congress when most women were not working outside the home, to my other grandmother who was a biologist. 

“Honestly, we didn’t talk about feminism. Maybe we took it for granted. I had these examples of women on all sides of me who took action and spoke their minds with strength, never second guessing their place in doing so.”

Next Up: A St. Paul Series

Uninspired by the roles she was offered as an actress, and specifically the way women were portrayed, Nowlin is writing her own stories. She is seeking to portray women with more dimensions. 

A recent grant from the Knight Foundation is enabling her to write an episodic series that came from an idea created with her childhood friend Annelise Christ. “Lemon Shark” will be shot this winter and spring in St. Paul.

“The primary location will be my former elementary school. The main focus of the series is around a science and music teacher, the staff, and students of an elementary school,” says Nowlin. “In broad strokes, the series is a meditation on endangerment and love.”

Nowlin is working on a recurring role in a new CBS series, “$1,” scheduled to begin streaming on August 30.

She is also about to embark on The Public Theater’s first national tour of its Mobile Unit with the Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Sweat,” written by Lynn Nottage, about the deindustrialization of America. 

Nowlin will tour 18 communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The cast will perform the play in union halls, VFWs, schools, and community centers. 

The goal is to “catalyze conversations around national themes.”