In Conversation With Playwright Nick Mecikalski

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Maggie Brown, Contributor

Bob Jones alum and Vanderbilt graduate Nick Mecikalski recently opened his first show at The Tank, a venue in New York City. Reviewed by The New York Times and Culture Catch, Really Really Gorgeous is a stunning exploration of the apocalypse and absurdism. It’s been a long road to becoming a debut playwright; Nick sat down with the Patriot Pages staff to talk about his story.

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to write, and how did you get into theater? 

A: Writing and theatre have both been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I played a lot of ensemble roles in a lot of community theatre musicals as a kid, and some of the earliest stories I wrote were Star Wars fan fiction series. (Part of me still wants to write a Star Wars novel one day….) It wasn’t until I took Advanced Production Drama at Bob Jones, however, that I even considered connecting the two interests and writing plays; credit goes to Bob Jones’s drama director Mr. Craft for giving me that idea. Thank you, Mr. Craft! And even though I fell in love with playwriting in high school, I didn’t let myself commit to it as a career until about halfway through college. I remember this moment pretty clearly, actually — I came back from Sophomore year fall break to learn that I had failed not one but two Computer Science exams (I was trying to double major in Theatre and Computer Science because I had somehow convinced myself that I just loved coding), and as I was debating whether to put the energy into freaking out about this, I realized that, if Computer Science were anything resembling my passion, I wouldn’t be deciding whether to worry about it at all. I would just be worried! So, I sort of quietly changed my career path for good while walking between classes that day… and I haven’t looked back!

Q: How did you get from Madison, AL to New York City? 

A: In my senior year of college, I won a playwriting competition held by an organization called the National Theatre for Student Artists. The prize was an Off-Broadway production of my winning play in New York City, to take place the summer after I graduated. This was supposed to be my “passport” to NYC… but after months of work rewriting the show, I got the news that the production had fallen through. I was devastated! My dreams ruined! But with the production no longer happening, I had a summer to fill, and I reached out to the woman who had been my dramaturg on my ill-fated Off-Broadway show. She worked at Roundabout Theatre Company in NYC (one of the largest nonprofit theatres in the country), where I ended up applying for a summer internship in the Artistic Office. I got the job (!), and after my summer as an intern, I ended up getting hired back as a full-time assistant in Roundabout’s Artistic Office, where I worked for two and a half years before leaving this past summer to pursue my playwriting career full-time. It wasn’t the path I’d planned for, but it turned out better than I could have hoped!

Q: Recently, you debuted a play called Really Really Gorgeous, an exploration of climate change and totalitarianism. What is it like watching your work go through that process and end up on the stage? 

A: I think a lot of people assume that when it comes to theatre, the playwright has the ultimate say over what goes up on stage, but this isn’t the case at all — and I’m glad it’s not! One of my playwriting instructors likened the process of putting up a show to a relay race. While the play is being written, the playwright, of course, is the one running with the baton. Once rehearsals start, the playwright passes the baton to the director, who in turn passes it to the cast, crew, and stage manager once the show opens. Of course, everyone is still collaborating at all stages of the process, but one of the most exciting parts of staging a play for me is passing it off to the other members of the team and watching it become THEIR show as the weeks go on.

Q: What experiences, ideas, and pieces of media inspired you to create Really Really Gorgeous? 

A: Really Really Gorgeous emerged out of the question — what happens when climate change becomes personal? That’s the scariest part of climate change, after all… the promise that one day the changes that the planet is going through will affect the trajectories of our individual lives. Will we be able to follow the same dreams? Have the same careers? Live in the same places? Be with the same people? Really Really Gorgeous is a highly personal (and purposely over-the-top) story of how climate change might pierce through the center of a relationship and corrupt the love that two people have for each other.

Q: What has been your biggest compromise/sacrifice as a writer? 

A: An interesting question! I feel like the expected answer is that, to get noticed in the industry, I’ve had to write what “sells” rather than what I’m passionate about. But this hasn’t proven true at all. Everything I’ve written so far I’ve made my own, whether it’s an original story or based on a prompt someone else has given me. What I have had to sacrifice, though, are all those things that so many artists like myself have given up to become freelancers: a salaried, full-time job with benefits; a predictable schedule; and lots of time. But! It’s all doable. I have a great part-time job tutoring the ACT and SAT, I’m on Obamacare (if you want to know anything about Obamacare, I’m your guy — I know way too much at this point), and I am very intentional about how I use each hour in the day. It’s a lifestyle that gets very tiring, but it’s a good, fulfilled kind of tiring. Most of the time.

Q: What advice would you give to a young person hoping to go into writing/theater? 

A: I think the thing that has most helped me navigate the theatre industry (and all my jobs, really) is learning how to take constructive criticism in a constructive way. I’m still learning this, of course — I don’t know if I’ll ever be perfect at it. But criticism is such a foundational part of the experience of being a writer and an artist of any kind, and to ever improve in the craft (not to mention build strong relationships in the field), it’s imperative to know how to identify when feedback is (and isn’t) useful, make adjustments appropriately, and not “catastrophize” a less-than-positive response to your work. No successful writer became successful by getting praised at every step of their careers. I’ve come to actually take pride in the “bad reviews” I get from my friends and colleagues (and actual reviewers). As much as I love and want positive feedback, criticism is often what makes me feel like a real playwright.

Q: What’s next for your career as a playwright? 

A: I recently had a reading at Roundabout Theatre Company here in NYC of a play of mine called Bad Star — a dark comedy about a woman who slowly realizes that she has, perhaps, been a “bad person” her entire life. I’m in the process of figuring out how this play might have a life beyond this reading…stay tuned! I’ve also been commissioned by a Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University (my alma mater) to write a play based on Dante’s Purgatory, which I’m super excited about. We’re going to have a reading of that play this April (2020) back in the theatre where I used to do all my college shows… quite the full circle!