It's official! Frank Nickel has been appointed Executive Director for Rosebud Centre of the Arts (for details, click here). Born and raised in British Columbia, Frank received a B.F.A. in Theatre from Simon Fraser University. He comes to Rosebud after spending the past 10 + years working at Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre, most recently as General Manager. Since 2004, Nickel has produced over 65 productions in Vancouver, co-founded two theatre companies (Genus Theatre and District 13 Presents), serves on the board for The Royal Canadian Theatre Company, and improvises with The Panic Squad. In 2015, Nickel received the John Hobday Award for Arts Management from Canada Council for the Arts.
In regards to theatre, it sounds like you've done it all! Let’s have a list of all the roles you’ve filled over the years. Go!
(In your brain say these as fast as possible like a tongue-twister) Sound designer, lighting designer, props buyer, carpenter, producer, actor, bartender, painter, welder, seat repair technician, front-of-house manager, box office, ticket ripper, volunteer coordinator, costume sewer, airport driver, usher, stage manager, running crew, quick-change assistant, projection designer, vacuum cleaning expert, production manager, IT guy who sorta-knows-what-he-is-doing-but-some-of-the-time-makes-it-worse, poster putter upper, board member, and… General Manager.
When did you first discover your passion for theatre?
I was in Grade 11 drama and my teacher did a half semester on improv games and I fell in love with the theatre then and there. The idea that you could say or do anything and whatever you did was “correct” blew my high-school brain wide open. In university, I realized that within the crazy world of improv there is a detailed framework of rules that make it work. The freedom within the form is what keeps me captivated as an artist and arts administrator.
What’s a project you’re proud of?
In early 2012, Pacific Theatre joined forces with the Arts Club Theatre and Bard on the Beach to be the lead proponent to outfit a new 44,000 sq ft theatre and production hub in Vancouver’s Olympic Village. The prospect of building a new 'state of the art' theatre was daunting and thrilling at the same time. As Budget Chair of the 12 million dollar project for the first 8 months (at that point the project became too expensive for Pacific Theatre to keep participating in), I learned more about capital projects, financing, partnership building, costing, and governance than any M.B.A. program could have given me.
During this time I managed to connect with the Head of Lighting at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (the largest non-profit theatre organization in North America) to arrange a private backstage tour of the Thomas Theatre, a 'state of the art' flexible venue (thrust, arena, avenue) that can accommodate between 270-360 seats depending on the configuration. With automated traps, lifts under the stage, and electronic fly systems in the grid, I was in theatre geek bliss for 2 hours. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of amazing theatres in North America, but this is my favorite so far. Looking back at that point in my career, I’ve realized a personal bucket list item for me will be to build a new purpose built theatre space that helps move an organization into the next phase of its life.
You’ve co-founded two theatre companies of your own (all while managing Pacific Theatre). Can you tell us a little about them?
I started Genus Theatre right after I graduated from SFU. Myself and five other classmates were inspired by sketch comedy and Saturday Night Live’s use of short films, so it seemed only logical to start a company, write everything from scratch, and invite our friends and family to a makeshift venue to see what we had come up with. Six original shows later, we knew we had something special. But as with most things in life, life started to demand more of us. Genus is still alive, but all the original members have since moved on. In 2015, I co-founded my second company with my best friend, Mark Vandenberg, (District 13 Presents) so we could produce one of his original musical parodies in the Vancouver Fringe Festival. And it worked! Hunger Games: The Musical was a hit at the Fringe, selling out 6 of our 8 shows and garnering some decent critical acclaim. The following year we produced Catching Fire: The Musical and we are on the wait list for the 2017 Fringe Festival to hopefully finish off the trilogy. Mark and our good friend Rick Colhoun (founding member of Hokus Pick) are collaborating on our next passion-parody-project, Die Hard: The Musical. Who knows where that will go, but it is a ton of fun to be in the rehearsal room and work with a bunch of talented producers and musical theatre actors to bring these parodies to life. Does it count as work when you end up laughing 80% of the time? Here’s our poster from the first show just for fun.
What’s your “must-have” morning ritual?
Venti Americano from the 'Bucks with a splash of cream and 1 sugar. I have been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but unless I do a full-on brunch I tend to skip right to lunch after my Americano.
My wife and I have several we’re enthusiastic to share, in no particular order: Sherlock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Crown, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Stranger Things, The OA, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Downton Abby, & Marco Polo.
What do you do to unwind?
I split my time between reading non-fiction and playing computer games. At the moment I’m reading Team of Teams, an autobiography about General Stanley McChrystal’s military career and playing Sid Meier’s Civilization VI on my PC.
What’s a dream on your bucket list?
I want to live in London for the better part of a year at some point in my life and immerse myself in the theatre and culture of the UK.
What’s the greatest obstacle facing Theatre in 2017?
Now that’s a loaded question! The theatre has faced many challenges for many years, but more recently, so much entertainment and arts are available online or in movie theatres. The Met - Live! at Cineplex for example. It’s world-class entertainment for $11 at your local cinema. And these kinds of options are becoming very important competitors to those who present live performances. Just as newspapers are challenged by the existence of online news, so are theatres and opera companies and ballet companies, particularly those in midsized cities, competing with the very large, famous organizations whose art is now available to people electronically. As a result we have a generation of children who are coming out of high school without the kind of hands-on background in the arts that I and many of my friends and peers had. As these children grow up and go to university and get married and have disposable incomes, they would typically become our subscribers and donors and board members, but instead it's trending that a significant majority of them won’t be there for us and for the arts in general. It’s a big area of discussion for arts leaders in North America and something that needs to be addressed at the local school level. If you try and address the issue by marketing to twenty-somethings who have had no connection to the live performing arts throughout their formative years, it’s most likely already too late.
What are you most looking forward to, in the shift from Vancouver to Rosebud?
I’m looking forward to a lot of things, like way less traffic and a slightly slower pace of life. But the biggest thing I’m looking forward to is a reset of life in general. Some people have a mid-life crisis and they buy a convertible. I’m looking forward to a mid-life reset: a new province, a new home, a new job, and new community. I didn’t think I would be that guy, but the more I think about what’s exciting about this transition, it’s the overall newness of everything. Oh, and I want to get a dog.
Lastly, what’s Frank Nickel’s motto?
I have a few snappy quotes that I like to remind myself of every now and then: