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COLLEGIATE THEATRICS: Vanderbilt University's Nick Mecikalski

With the end of semester quickly approaching, even college actors are immersing themselves in study in preparation for finals - and Vanderbilt University's Nick Mecikalski is certainly no exception.

But, somehow, Nick managed the time to answer our questions and to give us a glimpse into his theatrical life on the Nashville campus of Vanderbilt University, a place he's made quite the name for himself in productions as varied as Metamorphoses, Titus Andronicus, Much Ado About Nothing and Wit.

Here's your opportunity to get to know the Madison, Alabama, native so that when you next see him onstage, you'll have some insight into what makes the young actor (and member of the Class of 2016) tick.

So, how's your college theater career going? Has it lived up to its advance hype? VUTheatre has proved far easier to "break into" that I had envisioned college theatre being. I had always imagined college theatre as a microcosm of the real world - merciless and unforgiving and nearly impossible to actually get involved in (maybe because at some bigger schools that's closer to the case). Luckily, at Vanderbilt it's been far more welcoming and accessible than that, and from the outset I've been able to get involved in theatre to the degree I want and try my hand at several different positions on a show - actor, stage manager, director, playwright. Now that I'm a senior and have been involved extensively in theatre all four years, I'm able to create some of my own opportunities.

What's your favorite part of studying at your Vanderbilt? The endless combinations of courses of study... I'm a Theatre major and Computer Science minor, and I've had friends who double-major in Theatre and Neuroscience, Neuroscience and Japanese, Physics and Creative Writing... the flexibility of the Vanderbilt general education requirements make such diverse combinations of majors possible. While I do expect to go into theatre as a career after graduation, I feel that the liberal arts education and the Computer Science foundation I've received have been invaluable, both for my life as a job-seeker and my life as an artist. Art has to be about something...and I find "aboutness" in every class I walk into.

Have your plans for the future changed since you arrived in Nashville? Yes - I'm planning on diving all the way into a career in the theatre (specifically playwriting) now. As a freshman choosing an academic track, the prospect of such an unstable career path scared me, and I was convinced that theatre could only be secondary to a "real" major that would get me the kind of salary that a Vanderbilt degree is known for. Leaving college just to earn a crappy paycheck would have been a waste of an exceptional degree! But, of course, life is not measured in dollars. After shopping around for "real" majors for a few semesters, I knew that I really couldn't do any of those as extensively as I did theatre and still be happy. I don't at all regret the "shopping around" process - it led me to pursue the Computer Science minor that I'm very much enjoying, and now I have a little bit of knowledge about a lot of different fields, all of which feed back into my playwriting, directing, and acting. But I do regret the time I didn't take theatre as seriously as I should have, simply because it sits on the lists of "Least Lucrative Majors" (or even "Most Useless Majors"). Those lists need to die.

What collegiate theatrical moment looms largest in your mind? Last semester and the summer before, I actually took a leave of absence from Vanderbilt to study with the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, Connecticut. It's a very intensive program - 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 14 weeks - of classes covering all areas of theatrical creation. At the end of the program, my 31-person ensemble collectively devised a full-length play to be performed for the public. It was a whirlwind of an experience that resulted in a production that had been unimaginable to any of us at the start of the process and couldn't have been formed by any other group of people. As NTI continually demonstrated to us, we need not (and should not) wait for others to give us theatrical opportunities; with the right work ethic, we can, at any moment, create our own.

What advice would you offer to high school students considering making the plunge? When deciding on a major, a career path, or really anything that's on a large scale, you're going to hit a lot of moments of "I don't know." You've been conditioned to fear these moments, or to be ashamed of your directionlessness. Don't feel that way. Instead, dive into them eagerly. There's infinite possibility in the "I don't know," and if you treat those moments with excitement, with curiosity, with exploration, then you're going to learn something no matter what, and you're going to get one step closer to an "I know," whether you know it or not. Take pride in your "I don't know"-ness.

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis