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Meet Nicole B. Adkins

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole B. Adkins.

Nicole, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I always thought I was going to be an actor when I grew up, so I pursued that dream through my college years. I also did a lot of reading, and writing of stories and plays. I didn’t have any big ideas about being a writer. I just did it because I felt like it. I mentored younger students as well, whenever the opportunity arose.

One summer in college I got a job teaching 5-7-year-olds at a local theatre camp.I helped the kids write and produce their own plays. It was inspiring to see what they could create and remember. I was hooked. After college, I kept teaching, auditioning, and acting when I got work. It was definitely a paycheck to paycheck life.

Eventually, I took a job in commercial real estate that paid better than any job I’d ever had. It was a completely different world; a career track with really long hours. I had no time to make art. I was utterly miserable – felt my soul shrinking. I auditioned for and blessedly landed a job as an actor and teaching artist in a touring theatre company for young audiences. I made a lot less money but never looked back. I decided that a life not making or facilitating the making of art was not the life for me.

I loved touring. It taught me so much about performing, about young people, about flexibility. It was incredible to visit schools where kids had never seen plays, and to see the light of discovery shine in their eyes. Seeing what did and what didn’t resonate with them made me want to write my own plays – create my own worlds for artists to populate and for audiences to experience. I wrote a lot on the road. For the first time, it occurred to me – hey, maybe writing is actually what I want to be doing?

After a couple years of touring, I decided to go to grad school. There was a children’s literature program at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA that really intrigued me. I loved children’s and young adult’s books and was taken with the blooming renaissance in that field. I wanted to harness that energy for Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA).

The stars aligned. About a year into the program, a Playwriting MFA emerged at Hollins. Directors of both programs allowed me to bridge both to create exactly the study experience I’d dreamt of. There I got formal training, began to receive readings, got amazing critiques, had a couple of exciting play development/production opportunities out in the world, began to help others shape and develop their own plays, and realized that yeah – I really did want to be doing this. I wanted to write with, for, and about young people, and I wanted to help young people, artists, and playmakers of all ages and backgrounds develop their voices and share their unique perspectives.

As a creative art form, theatre engages all the senses and requires emotional and mental participation like nothing else. Theatre, participants must work together toward a common purpose. It is a collaboration between artists of different minds – writers, directors and actors yes, but also designers, visual artists, carpenters, electricians, administrators, dancers, musicians, etc., and, most importantly, audience members!

In order to make a piece of theatre that resonates, everyone has to be present. Artists and audience alike have to silence their distractions. In this nascent space, young audiences have the opportunity to connect – to exercise their empathy and imagination. Allowing young people to foray into worlds they are just beginning to imagine – or to see themselves reflected in a character and to identify with that character’s journey is transformative.

Now that I have children, this conviction has multiplied. My kiddos have cemented my sense of purpose and belief that creating and encouraging the creation of art, and the existence of quality theatre experiences for young audiences, is necessary to a deeper and more beautiful life.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Before college (high school and earlier) I had some great acting opportunities. College and life after were a wake-up call.

When you want to be an actor, teachers and professionals in the field will tell you, it’s important to know your type. I had visions of being cast as Medea! Cleopatra! Lady Macbeth! The glamorous tortured women of history and the stage. Trouble is, I’m 5′ (and a half inch) tall. I’m naturally goofy. I often was labeled “cute,” and that was anathema to me. I wanted to be Elizabeth Taylor and I was closer to Elmo.

I auditioned a lot for serious roles and didn’t get them. There were some lean years. The sense of rejection and competition (and lack of a paycheck) was corrosive. I wanted to make art. Work generously with other artists. Not feel like we were working against and in spite of each other.

When I started acting in TYA, I realized I’d really been working against myself. I started getting more work. Oh my gosh, I realized, THIS is ME!!!! I got cast a lot as different kinds of field creatures: Mouse in “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,”Velveteen Rabbit, etc… and then I also got to be in shows like “Yellow Boat,” by David Saar, the true, beautiful story of his courageous artist son who had hemophilia and died of AIDS-related complications after contracting HIV through a blood transfusion. I realized that theatre for young audiences can be some of the fiercest, most groundbreaking work out there.

It also was a somewhat difficult and slow realization for me that maybe the performance side of theatre wasn’t my primary dream. I enjoyed it – but the life of an actor is hard and exhausting, and it started to feel limiting to me. I wanted to wear different hats. Shifting focus at first felt like a weird betrayal of allegiances. But then…it felt like freedom.

Now it’s a question of balance. The gig life has its moments – especially balancing that with motherhood. Sometimes there is a good amount of work and sometimes there isn’t and finding ways to make ends meet and to provide a regular routine for my children while also maintaining the flexibility to work as a theatre artist… is a juggling act.

I’m fortunate that my partner is also an artist. He gets how it is and together, and with friends and family, we make it work. My mom is also an incredible on-going help. I’m truly grateful for my village.

Finally, learning when to ask for help and when say “no thank you” to projects and to set boundaries to protect personal and family time is an ongoing journey. I feel like I’m maybe starting to get a little bit better at that.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
Over the years I have taught classes and workshops to students of various ages at theatres, K-12 schools, and universities. Currently, I am teaching TYA class with a focus on creating new work at Kennesaw State University. I am also core visiting faculty at Hollins University’s summer Playwright’s Lab MFA program where I teach Writing for Young Audiences and Teaching Theatre. I teach playwriting and other related classes and workshops at Alliance Theatre and recently taught The Craft and Business of Playwriting for Young People for Found Stages, a fantastic Atlanta theatre company that brings theatre to its audiences, as opposed to the other way around.

My plays have been performed at/by Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, Hollins University, Mill Mountain Theatre, Studio Roanoke, Elm Street Cultural Arts Center, Creative Drama Children’s Theatre in Winston-Salem, NC, SkyPilot Theatre in Los Angeles, the American International School in Guanghzou China, and other theatres, schools, and museums nationally and abroad.

I am currently in the process of developing “A Sick Day for Amos McGee,” a stage adaptation of the beautiful Caldecott Award-winning picture book of the same name for Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, as part of their inspiring initiative, The Kindness Project. I am working with a fantastic team, including local Atlanta puppet designer and theatre artist Scottie Rowell, Charlotte director Melissa Ohlman-Roberge, Artistic Director of CTC Adam Burke, and many others. This play will travel to Alliance Theatre this May as part of their Toddler Takeover festival and the 2020 TYA/USA Biennial Festival & Conference (One Theatre World), which is meeting this time in Atlanta. I’m pretty thrilled about this.

I have several plays published for young actors through YouthPLAYS press, where I serve as Artistic Associate. I collaborated with Matt Omasta of Utah State University on a book entitled Playwriting and Young Audiences: Collected Wisdom and Practical Advice from the Field (Intellect Press, 2017), which I’ve used as a textbook for some of my classes. The thrust of our book is inclusion and generosity and investigation. We didn’t want it to be a “how to” book, we wanted it to be a conversation starter about the process for an adult of writing plays with, for, and about young people, and about the TYA field.

I am most proud of my collaborations – as an artist, a teacher, and a parent. My work teaching feeds my art and vice versa. Both inform and deepen the other. I love learning from others and discovering new methods for getting out of my own way to partner with inspiration. I love to see that same light of discovery in my students’ eyes and in the eyes of my peers and colleagues. It is one of my greatest joys to work with other people to grow good ideas and stories and more realized selves. For me, that is what life is about.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Resonance. If somebody – anybody – I, a colleague, a student, or an audience member, is experiencing an epiphany, making a connection, or simply truly engaged by a story or a moment, I feel like I’m on the right path.

Success for me is tenacity. Finishing a project – slogging through the difficult parts and letting inspiration carry me through the exciting parts until there is something I have created or helped create. It’s like mowing a lawn. When I can look back at what I’ve accomplished by sticking with it, that’s success. Also, when I’m in the process and forget to stop and look back, that’s success too.

To keep with the yard metaphor (and at the risk of being cliché), I can’t spend a lot of time letting grass grow. I have to keep looking for new plots to tend, new gardens to plant. Maybe that’s a better metaphor: growing a garden. The success is in the joy of planting and then tending what is growing.

Maybe someday I’ll stop and really look around and maybe, hopefully, I’ll see lots of gardens and forests! In the meantime, I’ll just keep tilling and sowing. I think being present and engaged myself, more than anything, that is success.

Also – seeing my students’ accomplishments!! That is the very best of all!! (And food on the table. That’s good too).

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Donna Bise, Chad Runyon, Shannon Ballew

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1 Comment

  1. Elisa Kleven

    February 14, 2019 at 4:55 am

    It’s a joy to read Nicole’s open hearted musings about her art, journey, vision and life. I’m grateful for her insights and transformative magic, . Thanks for a great interview !

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