Collaboration is a universal key to success. This is a necessary skill for people of all ages. Whether you’re in work or school, completing a group project, putting on a play, or working with colleagues, you need to be able to successfully communicate and listen to the needs of each person contributing. This can be a challenge for many, including myself and my students, across a variety of settings. I recently had the opportunity to interview one of the most collaborative and creative personalities I’ve ever seen. Nick Blaemire has done so much–singing, writing, directing, acting–all the things my students want to do. Most recently, he starred in the Off-Broadway production of Tick, Tick…Boom! and The SpongeBob Musical, and released his album Ampersand this past February. We got into how the arts shape you as a kid and as an adult, how all of these mediums impact one’s daily life, and collaborating with others. Enjoy!
StageSLP: Which came first for you, music or theatre?
Nick: Theatre, definitely. I didn’t really find my way into music until i was 13 or 14.
S: What got you into theatre?
N: My parents, at first. They started me in theater classes when I was 3. But it meant everything to me. I was a sponge for it — the way I could disappear in telling a story, and disappear in the same way when I was watching one. Later, as I learned more about it, I learned how much life affirming energy existed there — and how the stories I was telling or watching were deepening my understanding of what it means to be a human.
S: What got you into singing?
N: My parents, again, loved musicals, and played them in the house when I was growing up. I remember around 11 or 12 wanting to be the Phantom of the Opera, because he was the cross-section of my two favorite things (and still two of my favorite things): musicals and comic books. But I didn’t really learn how to sing until I was a teenager, and didn’t learn how to sing well until my late teens. It takes a while for your voice, and your sense of style, to develop.
S: How do you overcome anxiety when you audition for or go onstage for a show every night?
N: It is still a battle, every time. When it comes to doing a show onstage, it gets easier because you have so many chances at it. But auditions are a constant challenge to see if I can get out of my own way and enjoy the act of playing someone else. I do a lot of stretching and breathing calmly, listening to pump up music beforehand, or a podcast if I need the opposite energy, and just trying to remember to keep my feet on the ground and focus on the character I’m talking or singing to. I keep in mind that the opinions of the people watching aren’t more important than the chance to really lose myself for a few minutes, or in the case of a show, a few hours. It’s a gift.
S: Were you involved in theatre in school or other activities?
N: I played baseball and football in high school, but I migrated full time to theater by the time I was a senior. I found I was getting my team mentalities from being in a cast, and the collaborative nature of theater suited me more than the almost military mentality that sports can have.
S: Did you have to keep your friends and your theatre friends separate?
N: No way! If they’re real friends, they don’t care what you do.
S: Did you ever feel like you didn’t fit in for any reason? How did you find your way into making friends?
N: Always. I still do, even though I really have found a community here in New York. But the reason I transferred schools between middle and high school was because I was getting made fun of so much in middle school. I just didn’t know how to be “cool,” and I’m still not exactly sure what that is. What I have gotten better at is being myself, and when I started being honest with myself about the way I wanted to spend time, friends just kind of showed off. I think I was giving off a more comfortable energy.
S: How do you go in and out of a character’s mindset?
N: It’s kind of an invisible portal, because when I’m onstage I feel like I’m half myself and half somebody else. I’m the pilot in the cockpit of the plane, navigating the machine of me in a technical sense, and then I’m trying my best to believe the lines that I’ve been hired to say emotionally. So it’s a balance — but when I’m onstage I’m not thinking about the rest of my life, the things I have to do when I get offstage, the people in my life, the outside world, unless it’s useful to telling the story. So in that way I really do leave my life for those couple hours. Then I get offstage, and by the time I’m in my dressing room and I check my phone, I’m back.
S: You’ve also been on the creative side of a musical. What did you learn from that experience?
N: So much. It’s taught me about how hard it is to make one of these things. From the production side, to the promotional side, to the side I love most, which is just telling a clear and compelling story. So many details, so many personalities and so many potential pitfalls must be navigated. But nothing feels better than when a moment works. I’m completely addicted to it, and it’s made me a much calmer, deeper, more curious person every time I get to work on a new show.
S: How much of you do you bring to a character, and how much of your characters are what the writers wrote?
N: I’m not sure you can put a percentage on it. It’s different for every character. Your job as an actor is to figure out where every line comes from, why the character would say it, and to make it sound like you’re thinking of it in that moment onstage for the first time (even though you said or sang the same lines last night). It really is like the writing is a cup of water, and the actor is the sponge who soaks it up (no SpongeBob pun intended). But as I said, it’s to a different degree each time. In Spongebob, all I had to do was say the lines in the voice I created for Plankton, and a lot of the work took care of itself. In TICK TICK…BOOM!, which is a very naturalistic, sparse musical about Jonathan Larson, who wrote RENT, it was much more about me figuring out how to connect myself to every single line — even the ones that took me to an uncomfortable place.
S: You get to collaborate with a lot of other people. How do you pick who you work with, and how do you make sure you’re not the one doing all the work?
N: That’s hard. It’s all about who comes into your life, and how you feel when you’re with them. I’ve worked with people I was friends with first, like James Gardiner (who I wrote GLORY DAYS with), and people I’ve met in professional situations and found friendships with later, like Kyle Jarrow (who I write a lot of TV stuff with). I’ve also had some unsuccessful collaborations, where I made a snap judgment about someone being right for me who ultimately wasn’t. There’s truly no way to know. My advice would be to take a second, or even a weekend to really think about a collaboration before you commit to it; usually they last for a few years at least. Be as careful with your time as you can. It’s kind of like dating; at some point, you just have to jump!
S: When you were little, did you know this was what you were going to be?
N: I didn’t know but I hoped. And I’m still hoping. It’s an everyday battle to stay in this business. It’s a hard, weird business. The art is what gets me through, and I’m so happy I committed to it.
S: What advice would you give to your elementary school self?
N: Calm down. It’s gonna be all right.
S: Do you have a favorite song to perform that you’ve written or that you like? Also, do you have a song that gives you energy?
N: I love the song “She’s You,” which I wrote about my wife Ana. It has a ton of energy, and every time I sing it, it reminds me of all the things I love about her.
S: So far, what’s your most memorable music related or theatrical experience, either as an audience member or performer?
N: As a performer, it was doing TICK, TICK… BOOM! Off-Broadway this fall. I was emotionally moved and transported every time I did that show. And exhausted by it, but fulfilled in a way that nothing else has ever matched. As an audience member, the thing I loved deeply was a play by Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins called An Octoroon. It’s an adaptation of an old civil war play about race, updated for 2016. And the echoes of how we’re still dealing with all the same things, and how important it is to accept each other, rang very true. It was also an exceptional visual production, with some amazing moments I’ll never forget. That’s the power of theater: to create an indentation in your brain, and your heart, that forever changes the way you see the world.
S: How do you take care of your voice when your singing or performing eight shows a week?
N: The best thing I can say about vocal health is to find a great voice teacher, see them as often as you can. During a time when you’re singing a lot, be very careful about dairy, peanut butter, chocolate, mint, tomato sauce, and other acidic coagulants. Drink a ton of water and tea, stretch, massage your face. Remember that your voice is a muscle, so like an athlete, you need to treat it like one. Be good to it, and it’ll be good to you.
S: I throw out weekly challenges to my students to encourage them to try new things–what would you challenge them to do?
N: Take a shot in the dark and write something. A play, an essay, a journal entry, a short film. You’ll be so surprised how many thoughts and feelings you have inside you, and how good it feels to get them down on the page. And even if you don’t want to be a writer, or don’t think you are one, it’s important to remember that you can create anytime you want. You don’t have to wait for someone to give you the opportunity.
I had Nick takeover this post’s challenge, and I can’t wait to see you all complete it. This was such a fun and honest interview, and I can’t thank him enough for it. Let’s use this as an example of a successful collaborative effort. I have been following his career for some time now, and his music is on regular rotation. I can’t wait to see what his next moves are. If I’m lucky, it’ll be seeing him as Plankton in SpongeBob The Musical.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP