Southeast Missouri State University alumnus Tim Nicolai of Jackson, Missouri, is appearing in the Broadway production of “The Glass Menagerie” which is in its last week that runs through May 21 at the Belasco Theatre in New York City.
Nicolai, who graduated from Southeast in 2005 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting and directing, is the understudy for the part of Jim. The cast includes Sally Field and Joe Mantello and is directed by Sam Gold.
He came to Southeast after being very involved in drama in high school. His parents loved Shakespeare, theatre and culture, he said, and encouraged him to get involved with acting.
“Tim is one of the most talented acting students I have ever had the privilege to costume,” said Rhonda Weller-Stilson, director of the Earl and Margie Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “His work in Guys and Dolls, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Picasso at the Lapine Agile at Southeast was outstanding. He excelled in both comedy and drama. His portrayal of Bottom still makes me smile. On top of his acting abilities, he is kind and smart. We are so proud of his accomplishments. He deserves much success.”
After graduating from Southeast, Nicolai said, “I had convinced myself at the time that I didn’t have a decent shot as an actor, and for some reason thought directing would be a more ‘feasible’ path.”
He laughs at that notion, now, realizing “it’s just as difficult to become a director.”
He got his feet wet as an assistant director with the Olney Theatre Center near Washington, D.C., and went on to work for the next few years as a director or assistant director at regional theatres including Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
Nicolai’s first exposure to New York City acting was when he worked as a casting assistant in New Jersey.
“I found myself surprised that actors from places like Juilliard, which are held as the golden standard, were on par with talented actors from elsewhere in the nation,” said Nicolai.
“An exceptional actor at Southeast, for instance, could absolutely compete in New York, which I had never fully comprehended,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t know any actors who had gone to New York City, though now there are many actors from Southeast” there.
Nicolai said he was overweight for most of his teenage and adult life. While he was at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, he decided to try out acting again. He lost over 100 pounds from 2004 to 2008.
In the summer of 2008, Nicolai returned to New Jersey and played the title role in “Richard II” with the Next Stage Ensemble at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. This opened up more opportunities for him, and he was able to work consistently until moving to Brooklyn in 2010.
Nicolai found that most of the actors he was impressed by came from three graduate programs – New York University (NYU), Yale and Julliard. With this ambition, he decided to pursue graduate school.
“I didn’t make the cut my first time around, but was accepted to NYU Graduate Acting on my second try,” he said. “They take a class of 16 from nearly 1,000 auditionees.”
Nicolai graduated from NYU in 2015. The Public Theater offered him a couple of understudy opportunities doing Shakespeare in the Park – “The Tempest” and “Cymbeline.” Following that show, he appeared on television in “Madam Secretary” and “Z: The Beginning of Everything.”
He also was in “Plenty” by David Hare at The Public with Rachel Weisz and Corey Stoll last fall before he was cast in “The Glass Menagerie.”
“My education at Southeast, more than anything, was about opportunity as the program was growing,” he said. “I would also credit Dr. Kenn Stilson and Rhonda Weller-Stilson with drastically expanding the theatre curriculum, and adding a variety of classes that were deeply helpful to me that hadn’t existed before.”
He said they also had connections that led him to the Huron Playhouse in Ohio, a summer theatre where Nicolai worked for three years, playing significant roles and assistant directing.
“Basically, it gave me a great foundation — and the biggest part of that foundation was simply knowledge and opportunity,” he said.
Dr. Kenn Stilson, chair of Southeast’s Conservatory of Theatre and Dance, said Nicolai is a talented actor with a bright future.
“Tim was one of our leading actors throughout his time at Southeast. He played many principal roles for us, and he was extraordinarily versatile in various genres–comedies, dramas, musicals, Shakespeare, and so on. He also had outstanding potential as a director,” Stilson said. “I always knew Tim was going to ‘make it.’ He was surrounded by a talented core of actors in our program at that time, and he always rose to the top.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Tim Nicolai. He’s putting to practice everything we teach in the Conservatory, and we use him as a successful example of what it takes to forge a career in this industry,” he added. “Tim’s going to have a long and wonderful career, and, to use a Southeast phrase, I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
Nicolai says his next venture will be to write and produce a fundraiser reading for the ACLU in June.