The Rep’s Rising Stars: Students get new opportunities in relaunched Rep

Nicholas Prior and Matthew Carter
Nicholas Prior and Matthew Carter

The Rep’s Rising Stars: Students get new opportunities in relaunched Rep

calendar icon09 Aug 2018    user iconBy Kathe Andersen

Meet two of the Rep’s inaugural season stars as we learn what their experience was like in the Nebraska Repertory Theatre.

Nicholas Prior

“In theatre, there are types, which are like an ideal thing,” said senior theatre performance major Nicholas Prior. “The leading man look is your Prince Charming. Do I look like a leading man? No. I’m what’s called a character actor, and there’s a little bit of a narrative where it’s hard to get work as a character actor.”

But Prior received reassurance from professional Equity actor Peej Mele, who played both Nicky and Trekkie Monster in “Avenue Q.”

“It was refreshing for Peej coming in and saying, ‘I’m a character actor, and I’m still working on a regular basis.’ He was just a bundle of joy at all times—incredible, professional, kind.”

Prior stayed busy this season, too, with multiple roles in Nebraska Repertory Theatre productions. He was a member of The Twenty in “Abigail/1702.” In “Avenue Q,” he played Rod, the closeted Republican investment banker. For “The Lord of the Flies,” he was the music director, drum captain, fight captain, as well as a member of the percussion ensemble and understudy for Piggy and the Naval Officer. He also appeared in “The Holiday Cabaret.” He has also been cast as Gabriel in this season’s “An Act of God,” which opens in September.

“It’s really good as a senior because I’m getting all these nice things as I’m heading out the door,” Prior said. “I think I have benefitted from it greatly.”

One of the benefits of the newly revised Nebraska Rep for students is that they have the opportunity to join the Equity Membership Candidacy program to help them join the Actors Equity Association union. They earn one point for every week of rehearsal or performance. When they reach 25 points, they can join Equity.

“I am six points away from my card,” Prior said, after earning 19 points for his Rep shows this year.

He said joining the union can be important for actors.

“By going union, you get access to special auditions,” he said. “Every single Broadway show is an Equity Principle Audition. Equity people would get the first priority, and then Equity membership candidates would get second priority. If you’re non-union, there’s a high chance you won’t be seen that day. It’s not how you get seen, but it makes it a lot easier.”

Prior, who is originally from Sioux City, Iowa, has many reasons that he loves theatre.

“I think acting is one of the only true forms of immortality because we go up there, we’re on stage, and you know, we make somebody feel something,”

Prior said. Prior has loved his experience with the Nebraska Rep.

“For me, it’s been great. I’ve been having a great old time with it,” he said. “I think we’re doing higher quality shows for Lincoln’s environment. The design elements for every single show have skyrocketed. I’m glad the Rep is back because I think Lincoln and Omaha are soon going to become kind of an artist hub in the Midwest.”

Matthew Carter

Matthew Carter wasn’t sure, at first, if he would get the role of Princeton in the Nebraska Repertory Theatre’s “Avenue Q.”

He auditioned for the role, but then Rep Artistic Director Andy Park also held auditions for Equity actors in New York for the role. He had a nerve-wracking wait until he heard a few weeks later he got a callback audition.

“I go in for that callback, and that evening, I think, I found out I got the role, and it was just like a swell of excitement and nervousness at the same time,” Carter said. “Because this would be my first production, really, at the theatre school. I needed to showcase the best of me.”

Carter is a junior music major in the Glenn Korff School of Music from Kearney, Nebraska. He first heard about the new changes for the Nebraska Rep when he worked at Crane River Theater Company in Kearney during the summer.

“I worked with people who went to the Johnny Carson School, and they just kept telling me, ‘Hey, you should audition for some of the mainstage shows,’” he said. “That summer really awakened this feeling of wanting to get more involved, not only just in the music school, but in the theatre school as well.”

In addition to playing Princeton in “Avenue Q,” Carter also performed in “The Holiday Cabaret” and The Rep’s Rising Stars showcase.

To prepare for his role in “Avenue Q,” Carter had to perfect puppeteering, which was new to him.

“That was a completely new experience,” he said. “It’s just getting a feel of the puppet, and it’s just adding another layer of acting. Just focusing on the most minute details and repetition—repetition was key for me. I would go into the bathrooms, and I would just stare at myself in the mirrors working lines with my puppet, making sure the head was down and making sure my thumb was the only thing that’s moving so his head is not bobbing up and down.”

In addition to his leading role in “Avenue Q,” Carter also had a solo performance during the University Singers performance of Philip Glass’s “Father Death Blues” during the Celebration of Philip Glass concert at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in April, where Glass was present.

“The amount of opportunities that we have in our performing arts program stuns me,” Carter said. “It helps so much in the learning process, and it makes me not only a better performer, but a better person.”

While working on “Avenue Q,” Carter said he benefitted from working alongside the professional Equity actors.

“They were so reassuring and very knowledgeable and comforting,” he said. “Because I learned so much from them, and I can say that they were my friends. I could joke around with them, and we as a cast would do things like go out to eat or go to the mall.”

He had a moment of clarity during “Avenue Q” one evening during rehearsal. The cast and production team were all there, and during a break, everyone was talking to each other about ideas and feedback on the show.

“I just paused, and I looked around, and it just reaffirmed in my head that what I was doing was right,” Carter said. “To see all of this effort and all of this thought and motivation that everyone is putting into the show is really beautiful. And that was a game changer for me. It motivated me even more to keep practicing with my puppet to make sure everything is good because everyone’s putting in so much to it, so much of them, so much of their hearts into this show. I’m so honored to have been a part of it.”