Talkin’ In The Green Room With…. Nick Duckart

NickDuckartHeadshotWelcome to a regular, if intermittent feature: Irreverent, lighthearted question & answer sessions with some of South Florida’s best known professionals.

Three-time Carbonell winner Nick Duckart (not exactly his real name) has been a rapping Dominican-American bodega owner in In The Heights, a Palestinian terrorist in Masked, a Polish-American assassin in Assassins, and the Egyptian Pharaoh in Joseph and the…  well you know, and which led an agent to call him “ethnically ambiguous.” He sings, he dances the merengue, he plays a mean game of basketball, owns every episode of I Love Lucy and he spills some secrets here that he doubts will help his attractiveness to the opposite sex including recalling a disastrous nude scene.

My birth name is Nicholas Mitchell Duckardt. But most know me as Nick Duckart…. Yes.. .I took out the “D”… just easier to read.

Hometown: Hialeah, Florida

How long have you lived/worked in South Florida?
I’ve lived in South Florida my whole life (minus a couple of years in NYC). And I have been working here since 2007.

What school did you graduate from/what was your major?
I graduated from New World School of the Arts with a BFA in Music Theatre.

You’ve said that before you did Usnavi in In The Heights that you had not rapped much yourself. How were you able to make it sound smooth?
I have always been a HUGE hip hop fan. I grew up listening to 2pac and Snoop Dog. Nowadays I am into the likes of Drake, and Lil Wayne. I even went through a phase as a kid where I would wear gold chains and throw up the “west coast” gang sign in pictures. I was like… nine years old mind you. But I still love hip hop. And one of the toughest tasks in tackling a role like Usnavi was trying not to be a carbon copy of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s iconic performance. I just tried to find the heartbeat of the music and try to channel the “swagger” of the rappers I have listened to my whole life. I was also an avid fan of the show once it opened on Broadway, and religiously listened to the soundtrack. So I was already somewhat familiar with the score. Not to mention that our music director, Manny Schvartzman, was a godsend.

You’ve shuttled between here and New York. What are the specific challenges of getting a foothold in New York City?
New York City is just daunting. Overall. I’m talking beyond being one of an infinite amount of actors that look and sound just like you; and are just as talented, if not more talented. (And this is an average waiting room for an EPA [Equity Principal Audition] that you woke up at 6 a.m. to go and sign up for. Haha.) But living in the city is challenging. It’s very expensive and can be incredibly inconvenient at times. (Try finding a public bathroom.) I found that the biggest challenge, however, is accepting the fact that I was starting from scratch every time I would go back up to the city. I’m a tiny fish in a HUGE pond.  Not many people know who I am… and sometimes… its ALL about who you know. And my two Carbonells didn’t help… shocking, I know. So I try to network as much as I can and make new friends. Once you feel like you’re in control of that situation, I truly believe the rest falls into place.

You’ve played an ethnically diverse set of roles from a Dominican-American to a Greek-American. What do you do to get into those mindsets, or do they require different mindsets at all?
I love that an agent once referred to me as “ethnically ambiguous”. I take great pride in that. To be honest, I don’t look at any of them differently. It’s all human condition. I find how I relate to each character, do the character study, and go from there. I try to keep them human and relatable, and then do the dialect work. I try to think about what it must be like to live in their shoes. Sometimes a character is so relatable to me that it scares me (Leon Czolgosz in Assassins) and sometimes… it’s such a stretch that I have to go the extra mile (Na’im in Masked). That was a challenge. Can’t say I can relate to being a Palestinian guerilla revolutionary. Haha.

So why do you think it’s called a Green Room? Have you ever been in a green Green Room?
I’ve always wondered that! I have no idea! But I’m cool with it. Most green rooms I’ve been in are grey. “Green Room” has a much better ring to it than “Grey Room”.

What role/play are you dying to do but no one would think of you for?
Jud in Oklahoma. I love playing the villain. Getting in touch with some of the darkness and evil within. Haha. And Jud is one of the most interesting villains in Music theater history. So full of envy and pride, all mixed in one. And he is just an absolute brute. Not the sharpest tool in the shed. So much fun! But I don;t think I physically look like a Jud. He is usually a MAMMOTH of a man, and I’m pretty average-sized. And generally, I think people see me as more “open-hearted” then Jud. Which I guess is okay. I’d rather have that association than “we need an asshole. Oh, I know…let’s call Nick Duckart!”

What show do you wish somebody down here would produce?
Big Love by Charles Mee. I did it in college, and it is one of the most visceral, intellectually-arousing, sensory-overload shows I have ever seen or done. And it is a director’s dream! It’s written to be presented to a director with a clean palate. You can have a ball with it. It’s a “battle of the sexes” sort of play, in which the conflict between man and woman is told through enraged, brooding movement pieces in one scene, an intellectual and sexual power play in another scene, and add in flying ninja stars while delivering a beautiful speech about heartbreak for good measure. It’s just so much fun to do…yes…DO…  ::COUGH::

What show will you be happy never to see again unless it gets you a job?
I can’t answer this because I was in the show and don’t ever want to do it again…. seriously… ever again….

What do you say when someone you like is in a terrible show or does a poor job?
 It depends on how close I am to the person.  If I’m not that close to the person, I will give them a hug and say “great job”. And that’s it. If I am close to this person, I will say “great job” which is then followed by a “what the hell was that?..” It’s really all in the eyes. Haha. No, I don’t know… I try to stay supportive. My friends are my friends. We all work hard at what we do. I would never be rude. I don’t give a shit about a single performance. We all have “off-nights.” Except for Gregg Weiner. He is perfection.

How do you cope when there are more people on stage than in the audience?
That’s what bars are for. You give them the best show you can possibly give, and then buy yourself a beer and contemplate what a career in medicine would be like….

What was your strangest audition story on either side of the table?
Well as an actor, I once went into a casting for a commercial where the casting director walked us into a room where two practically naked people were simulating sex….as a reenactment of what the commercial would be. Needless to say, I walked right out the door. On the other side of the table, I was a reader for an audition in NYC and this one girl came in. She was arguably the rudest human being I have ever seen. Just straight up nasty. It was almost as though she hated us for the opportunity we were giving her. Rolling her eyes, whispering under her breath, etc. And she was just GOD AWFUL! Could not sing or act.  As she left the door, the pianist couldn’t help but say, “God, what a b*tch.”

What is the best/worst costume you wore or forced someone to wear?
It was more a “lack of costume”. I had to get naked during Summer Shorts one year. I won’t do nudity again. The most uncomfortable I have ever been on stage.

What is there about you that most people don’t know (and that you’ll admit publicly)?
I’m kind of an open book. My friends know a lot about me. I have tons of quirks. I own every episode of I Love Lucy on DVD. I have collected close to 1,000 baseball autographs, which I obtained myself. I LOATHE pickles. Oh, here’s a fun one: I had braces for four years as a kid because I used to suck my thumb. And once in a while, as a 28-year-old man, I will wake up and have my thumb in my mouth….. Yep., I’m sure the ladies are just lining up…. Please, ladies, not all at once…

What’s the hardest/easiest part of what you do?
These three words will answer both questions. I LOVE PERFORMING. When I am in a show, I am completely fulfilled. I love storytelling. I love rehearsing. I love making discoveries about my character. I love the camaraderie. When I am performing, I feel complete. That is also the hardest part of what I do. Because when I am not in a show, I don’t know what to do with myself. I get into funks, and every day becomes the day that I go back to school to get a law degree or something. When you love what you do so much, and you find that every experience is temporary and taken away from you after a few weeks, moving on can take its toll on you. In any other career, you work hard and succeed, there is a promotion waiting for you. Not as an actor. You constantly have to prove yourself. It’s emotionally taxing sometimes. And when you love what you do, as much as I do, you live with it… because I don’t want to do anything else. I love being an actor.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Throat coat is a must. Drink lots of water. Get a good physical stretch in there. Make sure to do a strong vocal warm up. And usually I try to ask myself “what would Karen Stephens do?”

What do you do after a show?
I’m a fan of going out for a beer with my cast, or any friends who come to see the show. It’s a great time to vent. Haha.

What was the first show you were involved in and what did you do?
The first show I did was in Hialeah High School. I played Peter in Edward Albee’s A Zoo Story. I was absolutely petrified. But.. that’s how I caught “the acting bug.” That show changed my life forever.

When did you know this was what you wanted to do and why?
I’m going to be completely honest. When I won my first acting award in high school, mixed with the attention I was getting from girls…. I was picked on a lot as a little kid, ok? Give me a break!

What do think has been your best work in the theater to date, and why?
I am my own harshest critic. I don’t like anything I do. But I guess I would say it’s a three-way tie between Usnavi in In The Heights, Rudolpho Garcia in Dr. Radio, and Na’im in Masked. I worked really hard on those roles and was just surrounded by the best supporting casts in those shows. They raised me up and helped me bring those characters to life.

What do you think was your worst, and why didn’t it work?
This one took a second… but I would have to say my take as the Pharoah in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  It isn’t that I thought I was awful, per se. But I was going through a miserable time in my personal life, and it was really taking its toll on me. For the first time ever, I couldn’t just leave it at the stage door.  I was giving audiences a “half-assed” version of what I knew I was capable of.

What was your best experience working in theater?
This is a tie, as well. For one, taking my Usnavi curtain call on opening night. I was taking a curtain call for my dream role and having the audience go absolutely bonkers. And then looking to my left and right knowing that me and my newfound family really created something very special for my community. It was beyond a production for me. It was telling my people’s story, in front of my people. That’s a rare gift for an actor to have. Secondly, I took a workshop with one of my acting heroes…Kevin Spacey…. Need I say more?

What was your worst?
One night during that Summer Shorts performance where I had to get naked, I was supposed to have this very masculine pose to end the show. Well, let’s say that instead of hitting that pose, I slipped on articles of clothing and flew up in the air, only to land hard as all hell onto the deck… naked… in front of the playwright, who flew down to see his play. Want more details? Ask my co-star Lindsey Forgey.

What one role/show would like to do over or just do again?
I would love to play Stephen Bellamy in Farragut North again. That role was a monster of a role, and I was too young and too green to really understand him. He had so much going on, and I just scratched the surface. He was such a rich character. I was just out of school when Joe Adler gave me that role, and I know that I would give the performance that role deserves if I could do it again.

Do you have a different pay-the-bills job? If so, what is it? Do they know about this other life?
I do what most actors do. I work at the voice over studios in South Florida. I’ve worked on Street Teams. I’ve been a server and a host. Sold merchandise at Broadway theatres.  I almost feel they ONLY hire actors.

What’s the weirdest/worst non-theater job you ever had?
I once worked at Circuit City selling TVs. I hated it. I was so bad at it. I didn’t know anything about TVs. I hated customers that would constantly try to talk down the price. I would always get in trouble for not selling enough extended warranties. I used to think, “Oh, well, forgive me for not convincing people to spend an extra thousand dollars on an already overpriced TV”. Ironically, I didn’t get fired…I quit…

Do you have unexpected special talents and skills?
I’m a really good basketball player. I’m also really good at Candy Crush… Does that count?

What is something you’re really bad at?
Riding a bike. Seriously. As in I never learned how to…. Oh, here come those ladies lining up, again….

What would you do if you couldn’t be in theater?
I would have loved to be a professional wrestler. Bret “The Hitman” Hart was a hero of mine as a kid. But nowadays, I would love to be a sports radio talk show host.

What’s your most unforgettable theater experience?
I will never forget watching Once at the Arsht. That show moved me beyond words. I was an emotional wreck. Not even because of the amazing score and great performances. But it was the breathtakingly innovative staging that just overwhelmed me. I was so grateful for the gift we, as theatre folk, had been given.

What show or performance did you not see now or in the past that you wish you had?
I would’ve given anything to have seen Jerry Gulledge’s performance as Don Quixote.

What TV programs do you DVR when you’re working a show?
I’m a Netflix guy. I catch up on my shows by binge watching them. I will say though, I HAVE to watch Sportscenter every day. Even if its at 3 a.m. I’m also really into Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.

Whose music can you not live without?
A local band called Nonpoint. They are just so talented. And I often feel like they are playing the soundtrack to my life.

What performer would you do almost anything to see?
In the past: Mandy Patinkin or John Raitt. Currently: Jefferson Mays or Mark Rylance.

What do you think South Florida theater will look like in five years?
 I think South Florida theater will have continued to grow in its size and its national exposure. I’m hoping more Equity houses will open and thrive beyond anyone’s expectations. Patrons just pouring in and boosting the art form in South Florida.

What could it be?
 It really has the possibility of being a national powerhouse in the theatre scene. It could be one of the cities that actors from all over the country flock to with hopes of being theatre professionals. And I truly believe we are on our way. So many theatres are producing such great work.

Finally, add a question (and answer) you wish I had asked.
Question: What the hell happened to all your hair? Answer: Not all of us can be as good looking as Nick Richberg.

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