Some might say Benjamin J. Nelson ’11 harbors his vast creative energy in his flowing blond hair. The origins of Nelson’s indomitable spirit remain uncertain, but their effect is undeniable. The enthusiastic Nelson has been an active member of the campus theater and music scene in his time at Harvard; he has served in multiple positions as both a performer and organizer.
As a board member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players, Nelson has been in six consecutive productions. He has served as president and treasurer of the organization, and he produced a show in the fall. Joshua R. McTaggart ’13, a Crimson arts comper, wrote of Nelson in an email, “I’ve worked with Ben in a few capacities since last fall ... One word describes Ben: eccentricity. As a producer, [Nelson’s] enthusiasm for the arts helped make ‘Ruddigore’ an enjoyable project. His boundless energy, his funny quips, and his love of margaritas made the whole experience both fun and artistically successful.” Of Nelson’s acting, McTaggart shared, “Never before has someone given characters so much energy and excitement. As Von Eisenstein in ‘Die Fledermaus,’ he was a hysterical caricature of a brilliant cad—drunk, womanizing, and over the top.”
Perhaps Nelson’s most remarkable contribution to the arts at Harvard is his involvement with the Harvard Krokodiloes (Kroks). Nelson remembers seeing the Kroks for the first time during his prefrosh weekend: “They were so polished and so confident, and I wanted to be one of them,” he says. A few months later, Nelson’s was given a spot in the group. Now a senior, Nelson serves as music director. He had creative ideas for the development of the group, and succeeded in making these visions a tangible reality.
Members of the Krokodiloes are thankful for Nelson’s leadership and energy. Fellow Krokodiloe Jesse Wong ’12 says that “[Nelson] has shaped the ragtag and misbehaving group of cut-ups that we are into a respectable and reputable performing force on campus. He has a great sense of what makes up exciting programs and a great drive for getting things done.” Senior Kevin Chow ’11 echoed these positive sentiments in an email. “[Nelson] is, simply put, ambitious—ambitious beyond belief.” Nelson undertook the unprecedented challenge of making the Kroks learn a completely new repertoire in time for the 65th anniversary concert. Through an immense effort and outreach to old music directors, Nelson accomplished his goal. “Ben pulled it off. He heckled arrangers to finish arranging in time so that we would have enough time to learn the music, he ran tight rehearsals to make sure that we were efficient at learning the music, he was even tyrannical at times, and he demanded only the best from us. I think it goes without saying that all the Kroks have a great deal of respect for him for pulling this feat off. As a graduating senior, I am extremely happy and honored to have sung in the group that he led,” writes Chow.
Though Nelson’s talents do not stop at singing and acting—he’s served as a ringer in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra and Bach Society Orchestra on trumpet and has directed musicals—he cites the Krokodiloes as the most influential part of his Harvard career. “The Kroks and [the Gilbert & Sullivan Players] have been the most formative activities, but the Kroks have dominated my experience the past couple of years … You see these people every day, and you even spend 10 weeks with the same guys every day over the summer. It is formative and takes over your life, but in an absolutely incredible way,” he says.
After Harvard, Nelson plans to continue his involvement in the arts. “I think I want to do something in the entertainment industry, or the production side of film. I don’t really have a definitive idea, but I have a lot of leads that I am following.” Though ambitious, his humility comes through most in his gratitude to Harvard. “I was not the same person that I am today when I first showed up on campus, and, I think, mostly for the better,” he says. He is thankful for the unique opportunities the College has afforded him. “I’m from South Dakota, and before I came here I’d only been to Canada. And now I’ve been to 16 countries and sang at Carnegie Hall.”
—Staff writer Soyoung Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.