By Bill Hirschman
Travelling in the national tour of a popular Broadway show means moving to a different hotel room in a different city nearly every week, not always sure what city that is, maintaining relationships with loved ones from afar, striving to keep the show fresh when you’ve done the material hundreds and hundreds of times.
And then, what they never tell you, are about bats divebombing the performance.
Hialeah native Nick Duckart tells the bat story about a stop in Ottawa, Canada, one scrapbook moment from his 19 months with the tour of Come From Away, the uplifting musical about how the people of Newfoundland hosted 7,000 people when 38 planes were diverted during the 9/11 tragedy.
But it’s all worth it, even after having been involved with the production as a member of a cast playing many different roles in a tightly choreographed ensemble piece since the tour’s first rehearsals in New York City in August 2018.
Duckart plays Kevin, half of a gay couple on board, and Ali, a Muslim master chef whom others avoid, as well as other characters in the award-winning musical. He won a Carbonell Award as Usnavi in Actors’ Playhouse’s In The Heights and has worked extensively in nearly every major company in the region.
During a phone Q&A while appearing in Austin last month, Duckart discussed the joys and challenges of being on the road with the show coming to the Kravis Center March 31-April 5 and the Broward Center April 7-19.
What is it like being on the road so long?
Every once in a while we’ll go through a stretch of consecutive one-week engagements, and that basically means that our day off is a travel day. So we’re on a plane or on a bus. We’re having to deal with TSA and making sure that our bags are under 50 pounds. All that sort of stuff. And the stresses of that combined with oftentimes sleeping in hotels that are maybe not as nice as we’d like them to be, sleeping on beds that are not as comfortable as we’d like them to be…. That’s why we love when we have extended visits (that stay in a city two to four weeks). We get to experience an actual day off in these cities, a full day off. And those most come very few and far between.
Most producers restrict acting contracts on tour a year more or less to keep the production fresh. You are coming up on two years and have just signed a new contract.
This is the longest gig I’ve ever had…. It’s definitely an experience that when I was acting in South Florida that I’d never really thought I would have. It is kind of crazy and then awesome.
One, this show is very detail oriented, and so once you that you’ve learned it, you become very valuable to stay in it. And then also, out of the original twelve onstage principals from the very beginning, nine of us have stayed. It’s a testament to the culture here. Everybody is so happy being a part of this show, being a part of this company, sharing this incredible story across North America. I’m not just saying it; it’s 100 percent truth: It really is just the best gig anyone ever had. So, we’re not that much of a hurry to leave yet. As long as they’re willing to keep us.
When you have done the show hundreds of times, how do you keep it fresh for an audience who has never seen it, or has loved it on Broadway?
One, every, every single one of us in the acting company, we are fully bought into this show, meaning we know how special this story is. We know how the audience is going to connect with it because we were the audience once that connected with this show…. It gives us the motivation to make sure that we do the best version of Come From Away because the show deserves it, the people of Gander, Newfoundland, deserve it. So we really try to make it count.
Also, we are performing this show in front of people who are seeing Come From Away for the first time, but also seeing us individually as actors for the first time. So I want to do the best performance I can give every night because there are people in this audience who’ve never seen me do a show before and I am making the first impression every night.
But it can’t be easy every night.
You know, as soon as that that first downbeat happens, it becomes like… there are moments where I’m offstage and my back hurts. I’m tired of leaping up last night and my body is aching. (And then the music starts). And it comes back, like, oh, look, I got my blood pumping. It’s like a heartbeat. It really drives throughout the entire show.
(The show itself and a strong camaraderie inspire us) to do the best performance every night…. When you work for a great team that supports you and loves you and takes care of you and really is about making sure that your family life is okay before your professional life is okay, you’re more motivated to do your best every night.
But as professional actors, how do you and your wife Mariand Torres, who had a similar run as Elphaba in the national tour of Wicked, balance the security of the current work with the need to look ahead for a long-term career?
I don’t personally feel that sort of pressure (or saying) okay, I need to start thinking about the next job or I’m getting bored and I need to leave. Because I’m not getting bored. I still love doing the show every night. So in that sense, I’m not seeking out other creative opportunities because I’m feeling artistically unfulfilled or anything like that. (But) the thing that becomes a topic of conversation between me and my wife is what do we want our long term goals to be? I am not one of these sort of career-driven people who (say) “Career or bust. I don’t have time for anything else.” I have other goals in my personal life that I want to achieve. (I want to make) sure that whatever decision I make in my career will be beneficial to my personal life (as well). I need to have a perfect balance.
A key is married life, but it must be tough to maintain, even though she has a few weeks free at the moment to stay with you on the road.
Yeah, she was on tour with Wicked. And then she just closed an incredible, incredible production of Fun Home at Kansas City Rep. And now she has a bit of a break and then she’ll be starting production of the (Broadway-bound) musical called Lempicka directed by Rachel Chavkin who just won the Tony for Hadestown. at La Jolla (Playhouse), which is where Come From Away started.
The hardest part about being on tour is the distance and the time spent away from our loved ones. Mariand and I had a goal of at least no more than three weeks without seeing each other. She was on tour. And when I was on tour, it was very difficult because we were quite literally chasing each other around the country across the continent. Like one time I flew from Ottawa to San Francisco (where she was performing) spent 20 hours in San Francisco and then flew back to Ottawa for the show that night. It is crazy.
But, you know, these are the things that now are starting to settle a little more. We’ve gotten used to the rhythm. We’ve been doing this now for two years. So we’ve gotten to understand how this works. And we’ve done a really great job of really utilizing the time that we do have available to us and our schedules have worked out beautifully. So she’s with me right now. And last week my tour was in Kansas City and last week was her closing week doing Fun Home at Kansas City. So we get to spend a whole week both working in the same city. And then she got to come with me to Austin. And we have a vacation planned in March. And then after that, in May, I’m going to get to go see her (at La Jolla) in San Diego and then she’s going to stay there throughout the summer. So we have finally have one location that I can go visit her.
And Lucy, your Chihuahua-Daschund?
She’s just happy to be traveling. She travels better than anybody. She loves it, man. She’s with Mariand because we (in Come From Away) travel every week. So we kind of figured it would be a lot easier to kind of keep Lucy in one single place for a longer time (rather than) having to put her on a plane every week.
What is the upside of the travel, especially when you have a day off?
You know, I’m a Florida boy, so I only know like flatland, beautiful beaches, warm weather. But I’ve got to have the opportunity because we toured around the country, North America and Canada, to go on some really gorgeous hikes. You know, I went to the Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park and all these incredible national parks with lots of mountains and they’re all covered in snow. And I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would get to experience stuff like that and that I would get to see some of these beautiful, beautiful mountain ranges. And like a kid from Hialeah isn’t supposed to be up here.
Do you have a permanent home?
We live in Queens, and that’s our legal address. But we find situations (when both are on the road and when you must estimate) how long we’re going to be away from the house, whether or not we rent it out or just leave it there. We just we realized that neither one of us had been there in quite a while. I don’t think I’ve been there since Christmas.
You seem to celebrate the travel by photographing every venue you play from the stage, looking out to the empty audience chamber.
That’s a fun part to us because you know we don’t get to see the stage until our soundcheck on Tuesday before the show. It’s always quite a treat when we go on stage and we just see every beautiful venue. I don’t mean to knock anybody but my first ever show professionally was Everything Will Be Different at Mad Cat at the (tiny) Light Box theater they had downtown (in Miami). And that, to me, was the most glorious thing I had ever seen. Now I look out onstage and go holy crap at 3,000 feet seats and look how ornate this all is, and, (I say) oh, my God, oh, my God, pinch me. I think I’m dreaming. That’s why I try I try to take as many photos as I can. And then also my mom demands that I send her those photos. Personally, I think she’s trying to creating like a scrapbook.
The Saenger in New Orleans, it’s stunning .The National Arts Center in Ottawa. It’s beautiful. The Fox Theatre in Atlanta. The Fox Theatre in St. Louis is beautiful. The Fifth Avenue is stunning. I mean, there are just so, so many like the one I’m playing right now, the best music hall in Austin. It is gorgeous. Every, every venue that we’ve played has been just incredible and beautiful in its own way. Des Moines: There’s no balcony. It’s just like 2,700 seats straight shot all the way back. and multi-colored seats, green and red and get like black and yellow. I’ve never seen anything like that. Every theater has its own personality. It’s really cool. And when I used to watch shows at the Arsht Center, you could dream about playing on stage and looking out at that massive centerpiece up there. You know, it’s so gorgeous.
What’s it like playing before hometown crowds, such as at the Arsht last year, someplace that you used to attend as an audience member?
When we were in Miami, that was such a beautiful experience for me. So many people from every chapter of my life came to see the show and (we had) the opportunity to catch up with everybody and reminisce about our individual moments together.
And at the risk of sounding sort of pretentious or ridiculous, I feel like that in my living this dream, there is a victory as well for everybody in my life, every person, every character in this story. That’s fully what I expect to happen now when we come back to Florida, there’s going to be sort of a celebration for all of us. And I hope that everybody feels that way, too.
To read a review of the tour when it came to the Arsht Center, click here.
To read earlier interviews with Duckart, click here and here.
Come From Away plays at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Boulevard, West Palm Beach, as part of the Kravis on Broadway series March 31-April 5. Visit www.kravis.org or call (561) 832-7469. Then it moves to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Broadway Across America-Fort Lauderdale. April 7-1. Visit BrowardCenter.org or call (954) 462-0222