We sat down with Nick Mayo, a Central Texas native and the director of The Drowsy Chaperone, to discuss his life, career and the process of bringing this five-time Tony Award-winning musical to life on the stage.
Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you first become involved in theatre?
My name is Nicholas Porter Mayo, I was born in San Antonio but raised in New Braunfels on the banks of the Guadalupe River. During the “off season” there were very few people who liver near us and I used to escape into my imagination. During the “tourist season” I would entertain the people floating the river with a performance in my backyard. I would do monologues, Shakespeare, sign show tunes…I would get in a canoe after each “show” to collect tips. It was a whole production! I was mostly rewarded with warm beer and cigarettes, but it was the start of what has become an exciting career!
When I was 15 I moved to Michigan to attend Interlochen Arts Academy to study classical theatre and ecology and then studied classical theatre at Juilliard (Group 35).
Can you talk more about your professional work? How did you get into that?
Well, after I graduated from Juilliard I began acting in New York. I worked in regional theatre, Off-Broadway and Broadway. Some of my favorite projects have been South Pacific, The Ritz, Henry IV (part 1) and Platonov, directed by John Stix. I now also teach classes, workshops and serve as a guest instructor and director at The Interlochen Arts Academy, The Juilliard School, The North East School of the Arts, The Kennedy Center, The Schubert Organization…I’m the head of acting for the Texas Arts Project, The College Audition Program and the associate producer of Summer Stock here in Austin at The Long Center.
What makes you excited about The Drowsy Chaperone? What is it about this piece that speaks to you as a director?
This play is…fun. It’s hysterical. It’s playful. It’s just a joy to work on. It has an improvisational element in the writing that I find fascinating and exciting to work with, and the writing is smart; sharp; it’s a satire. It’s a piece that really requires strong actors, singers and movers and we absolutely have that in this cast.
There are so many elements to creating, performing and staging musicals – how have you tackled all these moving pieces in rehearsal? Can you walk us through the process of taking the script and music from page to stage?
Personally, I tackle a musical the same way I tackle Shakespeare, Chekov, Moliere, Ibsen or O’Neil…identify the story you are telling and what the individual characters want. Set the actors up to explore these elements in a safe and playful rehearsal room and then, for me as the director, get out of the way!
What has been your favorite moment in working on this production? Any particularly amazing or funny moments from rehearsal you can share?
Honestly, my favorite part of this process has been working with these actors. These incredible, talented actors. I’m blown away by their talent and perseverance. They are a funny, weird, kind, talented, creative group of fun-seekers who are doing a beautiful job with this work. I can’t wait to watch them grow in their careers and artistry.
A particular moment that has stuck with me was our first run through. The whole cast was aggressively making each other laugh and trying to inspire one another to push the boundaries of their talent. It was just super cool to watch!
What do you hope audiences feel when they see this work? What are you hoping they take away from it?
I really hope audiences come and leave feeling joyful and a sense of lightness. I hope they feel they have had a small break from the heaviness of our current culture and have stepped into a world that was happy, colorful and vibrant.
Do you have any words of wisdom you would like to share for aspiring (musical) theatre artists?
Obtain sturdy technique through your chosen training program. Know your craft. Know the history of your craft. You must start from the beginning. Read books, travel, take history classes, learn a different language, invest in meaningful friendships, talk to your grandparents, fall in love, become politically active, make tons of mistake and live. Live a rich life and don’t be boring.
The Drowsy Chaperone
December 6-10, 2017
B. Iden Payne Theatre