Sticking to the script - Michael Nicholson talks about building successful brands in theatre
After he successfully landed the coveted role as Stringbean in the television drama, Royal Palm Estate, actor-director Michael Nicholson became a household name in Jamaica.
“Being a part of that production and playing the character created by distinguished playwright/director Lennie Little-White did a lot for my career, so I cannot take credit because he helped me become Stringbean,” Nicholson told The Gleaner.
Nicholson became a visible star having transitioned from radio (where he was part of the serial drama, Wrong Move, on RJR) to screen. His character on TV helped persons put a face to the voice but soon made viewers label him a comedian.
He said, “Sadly, I am not a comedian; I keep having to tell people that I could not do comedic stand up to save my life and that I leave that to people like Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley, who I have the greatest respect for because I could not stand up in front of people and make them laugh, I need a script.”
Decades later, he adds, “People actually come to the theatre expecting to see Stringbean, not an actor playing an entirely different type of character; after watching that, the feedback is usually one of amazement that I can take on other roles or play a certain part without breaking character.”
Although Nicholson has made other stage appearances in comical productions like Oliver’s Posse, Oliver at Large, Sarge in Charge and Bashment Granny 2, he notes there is a difference between an individual that can truthfully wear the title of comedian and one who is an actor – a lot of the dialogue is scripted versus natural.
“I am happy people think that I am a comedian, it doesn’t bother me as being Stringbean (a character named as a comedic masterpiece) helped with adding value to my overall brand – Stringbeans is not done yet, there is more to come – and what started as an investment, eventually paid off,” said the actor-director who is an advocate for the collaborative process in theatre.
Stage actors say the lines that are set down for them but he revealed that sometimes a brilliant ad lib in a single take develops into the line or becomes part of a script because it adds to the character or the complete element of surprise and entertainment.
He shared, “A lot of the content I had to do, involved heartache and pain, and I reacted accordingly to the script and the sets have always been fun. If you are passionate about your work and most importantly can earn from it then stick to that script…the script that you can make a career out of. I watched as my own peers Glen ‘Titus’ Campbell pursued their dreams and earned who I must congratulate on recently earning an order of distinction for his work in theatre.”
That epiphany, he says, happened during his Royal Palm Estate years, the minute Stringbean became a force to reckon with and my work was taken seriously, the brand therefore had value and it still has a backing for which I am forever grateful.
“Every character that I have played since then has either been extremely funny or extremely serious so I go across the gamut in terms of performance. I have paid my dues of being a young actor in the business; now I am doing what I love and I get paid for it and there is nothing like doing a job where you get paid.”
Other notable stage and screen productions that Nicholson appeared include, the 2004-movie One Love alongside Ky-mani Marley and Idris Elba and TV dramas Me and Mi Kru and Real Friends, the educational series A Graders as well as numerous pantomimes, some of which were recording or showing simultaneously or did not allow for Nicholson to take a break.
“It is always nice to be doing a production knowing that there is one waiting as soon as the other finish. I am preparing to do Young and Wreckless now getting into rehearsals for that while several projects are in the pipeline. So speaking of pressure, it is not an issue because it is not considered simply as work.”
He is a member of the cast for the riveting gospel stage play, Pit to Pulpit, which was extended by popular demand from its original closing date of September 1, to the end of the month and will take on the role of Joe Brown, replacing actor Stede ‘Jooky Jam’ Flash, who was previously named as the actor playing the character for Jamstage Production’s latest version of Young and Wreckless.
“When you are under pressure specifically related to time, the actor tends to learn the script faster; it is a lesson instilled from the early days of drama school.”