5 Questions with Michael Nichols-Pate
Bunbury Players is somewhat uncharacteristically presenting a contemporary play this weekend at Albany Barn. I first became aware of this group, which was founded during lockdown with online presentations of “The Importance of Being Earnest” and Pygmalion,” and caught their most recent in-person production of “Twelfth Night,” which was presented with a cast of all women. “Rabbit Hole” is also a classic of sorts as it is the winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize and the most successful play by David Lindsay-Abaire, currently represented on Broadway as the book and lyrics writer of this year’s Tony Award winner for Best Musical, “Kimberly Akimbo.” I emailed Rabbit Hole’s director Michael Nichols-Pate to find out more about this weekend’s production.
PW: Are you from the Capital Region? Where did you start doing theater?
MN-P: I am from Glens Falls, NY, born and raised! In 2016, however, my husband and I made the jump over to Los Angeles, CA, and lived there until July of 2021, when we decided to move back home. Which we viewed as a blessing as it allowed us to be closer to family and allowed us to get re-involved with theater as our time in LA was spent hunting for anything resembling community theatre or regional theater, and came up clamoring for more. I actually started doing theater in 2005 as a child when I was cast as young Patrick Dennis in the Glens Falls High School production of “Mame.” From that point forward, it became my entire life and one that I never find myself too far away from.
PW: What made you choose “Rabbit Hole,” and what do you bring to the telling of this story?
MN-P: For those unfamiliar with “Rabbit Hole” by David Lindsay-Abaire, it is the story of a family dealing with the aftermath following the tragic passing of their child. On March 1, 2020, right before the shutdown started, I tragically lost my brother in a hiking accident, leading to grief that felt immovable. It was then, in the pandemic shutdown, that I turned to plays and musicals surrounding the concept of grief and loss. This was partly how I stumbled upon “Rabbit Hole” and felt captured by the sense of what I was feeling being portrayed on the page. The primary focus of the play is on Becca (portrayed by Helen Annely), who deals throughout the show with folks comparing their grief and loss to hers. It was one of the few times I saw this portrayed so powerfully. Everyone’s grief is valid, but not everyone’s grief can be easily understood, especially by those who haven’t experienced it. When show selection time came along, I pushed to be given the opportunity because of how powerful I felt the work was and how infrequently we had seen it performed in the Capital Region. I’d like to hope that through my own experience and journey with grief and heartbreak, I would be able to connect with the play. This play has been cathartic and healing, and being able to bring some of my own healing and putting it into the play has been powerful. Mr. Lindsay-Abaire very specifically mentions avoiding resolution, so it will be up to the audience truly how this family moves forward once their viewing is completed.
PW: What have you discovered about the play in rehearsal?
MN-P: This is going to sound so strange, but throughout the rehearsal process, I have discovered that this play is incredibly funny. The playwright makes a special note to lean into the comedy in order to make sure this show doesn’t turn into two hours of trauma. When speaking with the cast I pushed for them to really lean into the comedy and the humor. One of my favorite moments is when the mother of Becca, Nat (portrayed by Carol Charniga), gets a bit too tipsy at a birthday party and prattles on about the Kennedy family curse, something that, through the rehearsal process, we all decided was something she probably regularly does, adding to the overall family dynamic. It was the moments of comedy that breathed life into the show and allow for the audience to truly fall in love with these characters.
PW: What do you love about working with Bunbury and what would you say to a prospective Bunburyist?
MN-P: I think my favorite thing about working with Bunbury is how collaborative the group really is. I have worked with many groups where the creative time sticks to just their own creative area. This whole process has been a joy working alongside the team to really create this world and bring out the story through the non-verbal mediums affiliated with the story. Blocking felt more collaborative with the producer and the set designer in the room to make changes to the design based on what flowed better in the moment. To any prospective Bunburyists looking to get involved, I would say, “Do it; you won’t regret it!” This group started as a group of friends in the pandemic who were saddened by their production of Annie being closed down, deciding to come together to do a Zoom production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. What then was birthed became this incredibly cool group that is committed to putting on full-scale productions with a ticket price being entirely donation-based, allowing for everyone to come be a part of the community. We have had so many folks who have never performed or done tech a day in their life that become a part of our group and fall in love with theater because of it!
PW: What is a play that changed your life, and how?
MN-P: I could start with the obvious: if it weren’t for getting cast in “Mame,” I would never have become involved in theatre as little 11-year-old me would have probably decided it wasn’t for him. However, two shows I’ve seen recently stand out to me as truly life-changing. The first is “Leopoldstadt” by Tom Stoppard. I was immediately drawn to the concept of following a Jewish family living in Austria from 1899 through 1956, exploring the idea of assimilation. What I watched, however, was a 2-hour masterpiece with 26 performers capturing the emotionally taxing journey leading up to the 1956 meeting of the remaining family members following the Holocaust. The set and props were minimal, allowing for the stage to be filled with this powerful story. The second was the recent adaptation of “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Amy Herzog. The show featured an entirely blank stage, no costumes, no props, and no set. Just five chairs and some truly spectacular lighting. I’m always immediately drawn to a more minimalist approach when it comes to theatre because, without the bells and whistles, you truly have to rely on the acting and the story. With this recent adaptation being further bare minimum than we’d usually think, story and character were front and center. I left that theater and immediately started looking for a story that I could work within the same exact way!
“Rabbit Hole” presented by Bunbury Players at Albany Barn from Friday, 10/27, to Sunday, 10/29. Friday & Saturday @ 7pm, Saturday & Sunday @ 2pm.