Getting to Know...Nashville Children's Theatre's ERNIE NOLAN
Since taking over the reins as executive artistic director at Nashville's Children's Theatre, Ernie Nolan has been, to put it succinctly, rather busy. Taking on his dream job at NCT has meant a lot of meetings, countless introductions and the day-to-day responsibilities of overseeing the artistic growth of the nation's oldest theater for young audiences, which includes putting together his first season - the 2017-18 shows - that will give loyal NCT supporters a chance to get to know him even better.
We were finally able to track him down and ask him to help our readers learn more about him via our Getting to Know... feature while he was on a trip to Ireland where he represented NCT at an international conference on theater for younger audiences. In fact, Nolan's been so peripatetic since settling down in Nashville and starting his job on February 1, that he answered our queries from the airport in Belfast...
Where are you from originally? I was born and raised in the Detroit area. Just like Eminem, I know 8 Mile oh so well!
Where did you go to school? For undergraduate I went to the University of Michigan Musical Theatre Program. My incredibly talented classmates included now Broadway stars Gavin Creel and Celia Keenan Bolger. For graduate school I went to The Theatre School at DePaul University for my MFA in Directing. The Theatre School takes two people a year out of a pool of national applicants. I still wonder how I got in.
What brought you to Nashville? My DREAM job! Being Executive Artistic Director of Nashville Children's Theatre.
What's been your biggest challenge since taking the job at NCT? Honestly, it's been meeting as many people as I possibly can as quickly as I can. Also, learning as much as I can about this amazing city. As I've been meeting people, I have been blown away about how EVERYONE I meet, from someone at the gas station to folks in the NCT lobby, has a story about NCT. It has touched so many generations of audiences in the city. But that makes so much sense since it is the oldest professional theatre for young people in the United States.
What has been your initial impression of the Nashville theater community? I have been really inspired by its passion and dedication to art as well as the sense of community.
Theatrically speaking, what sets Nashville apart from other cities in which you have lived and worked? I would totally say those artists from the previous question! There is a heart and chutzpah that the theatre makers in this town possess. It's very special.
What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure at NCT? I don't want to give all my surprises away, but I think you'll see that I'm really excited about Nashville audiences seeing themselves on stage. Whereas everyone has a story about NCT, I hope everyone feels like they see their story AT NCT. I'm hoping to extend programming to the very young, children ages 0-4. Yes, 0! I'm also in the beginning stages of creating our own new works incubator, so Nashville audiences will be the first to see world premiere productions.
Now for some fun...What was your first introduction to live theater? I believe it was seeing the opera of Hansel and Gretel at Michigan Opera Theatre. Apparently, the witch was played by a male actor in drag. When he entered, according to my father, I exclaimed, "Daddy, that's a man witch!" Perhaps this was really the beginning of my love of RuPaul's Drag Race?
What are your favorite shows? For all of the modern shows that I love I'm a total sucker for Gypsy and The Music Man. The stage play and film of Auntie Mame is also a personal favorite. I can watch Rosalind Russell any day!
What musical best exemplifies your life story? A lot of opportunities in my career have reminded me of 42nd Street. The "Opening Doors" song from Merrily We Roll Aloong plays in my head during the day all the time.
Who would you like to play you in the onstage version of your life? I had to "phone a friend" or two for this one. One mentioned Alfie Boe, the British singer and actor. Another wondered if the love child of Norbert Leo Butz and Christopher Sieber was out there somewhere. I knew another was just being nice when he said Jake Gyllenhall, now the world knows he can sing.
About Ernie Nolan Ernie Nolan, an award-winning director and playwright based in Chicago, was named as the new artistic director of Nashville Children's Theatre, beginning February 1, 2017. Nolan succeeds Scot Copeland, NCT Producing Artistic Director for 31 years, who died unexpectedly in February, 2016.
"I am thrilled beyond measure to declare Ernie Nolan NCT's next artistic director," said Jamie Eskind, NCT Board Chair. "Ernie is an artist of the highest caliber and an esteemed leader in the field of theatre for young audiences. His inspired vision, collaborative spirit, and investment in what is special about NCT are the precise combination of abilities required to lead NCT into the future."
"I am incredibly honored to be a part of NCT's rich history of exceptional theatre for young people," said Nolan. "I feel so lucky to be able to call an organization with such talented artists, top notch staff, and dedicated board my new home. I look forward to serving the children, families, and teachers of Nashville with programming that reflects Nashville's amazing community and bring stories to life that both inspire emotional discovery and ignite a fierce passion for the arts."
Nolan, in 2014, was the recipient of the Illinois Theatre Association's Award for Excellence in Theatre for Young Audiences. As former Artistic Director of Emerald City Theatre, he helped create The Little Theatre, the nation's first performance space dedicated exclusively to interactive and immersive theatrical experiences for early theatre goers ages five and under.
Nolan's work as a playwright has been featured both nationally and internationally. He has adapted and directed such storybook favorites as If You Give a Cat a Cupcake, If You Take a Mouse to School, Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and The Adventures of Doctor Dolittle. His work at The Broadway Playhouse includes A Charlie Brown Christmas, Fancy Nancy The Musical, Pinkalicious, The Cat in the Hat, Cinderella, Charlotte's Web, and the world premiere of Hansel and Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat, written in collaboration with GRAMMY-nominated recording artist Justin Roberts.
As resident artist of The Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, Nolan directed and choreographed world premieres by such Tony-nominated artists as Willy and Rob Reale, Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, and Bill Russell and Henry Krieger. For Chicago Playworks he has directed The BFG, The Giver, The Witches, A Wrinkle in Time, Number the Stars, The Day John Henry Came to School, Peter Pan and Wendy and The Kid Who Ran for President. In March 2012, Ernie made his Off-Broadway debut as a choreographer with Lucky Duck at the New Victory Theatre.
Nolan is currently the International Representative for TYA USA to ASSITEJ, a global theatre for young audiences service organization. With his appointment at NCT, he is leaving his position as Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies at The Theatre School. He is a graduate of both the University of Michigan Musical Theatre Program (BFA Musical Theatre) and The Theatre School at DePaul University (MFA Directing).
The process of identifying a new artistic director for NCT began in early 2016. Frank Parsons, of the Center for Nonprofit Management, worked with NCT to conduct the search. The NCT Board of Trustees approved Nolan's appointment unanimously in late November.
"We looked long and hard and were extremely deliberate in our search for a new artistic director," Craige Hoover, chair of the search committee, explained. "We were determined to find all of the qualities we wanted in one candidate and we believe we have that in Ernie."
About Nashville Children's Theatre Nashville Children's Theatre is a professional theatre company providing the children, families and educators of Middle Tennessee with extraordinary shared theatrical experiences that inspire imagination, develop creativity, and build community. NCT was founded in 1931 by the Junior League of Nashville and is recognized as the oldest professional children's theater in the country. A national leader in professional theater arts and education programs for young people, NCT was ranked by TIME magazine as one of the top five children's theaters in the country.