Nicholsen to make main-stage directorial debut with 'Jewel'
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
J.D. Nicholsen is no stranger to Blyth Festival audiences, as he made his first appearance on the Memorial Hall stage over 20 years ago, but with this year’s Jewel, he’s directing here for the first time.
Nicholsen was due to direct his first Festival show in the 2020 season, which was eventually cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now he’ll direct Rebecca Auerbach as Marjorie in Jewel, an actor with whom he has a long creative partnership.
The two have worked together on many Blyth Festival plays, including Dear Johnny Deere, Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning and others, while being part of the creative process and writing songs together on collectives like The Pigeon King. So, it only made sense that they would work together once more with Jewel as part of the Blyth Festival’s inaugural Harvest Stage season.
Nicholsen has a bit of directorial experience, co-directing some pieces and helming some smaller shows, as well as directing a dance piece in the 1990s, but Jewel will mark a milestone in his theatre career.
After years of acting and performing, Nicholsen said he expressed an interest in directing at the Blyth Festival about four years ago. The opportunity arrived last year, but the season cancellation due to the pandemic put a stop to that and Nicholsen’s directorial debut was put on hold.
Directing Jewel, he said, feels like a good fit. When he first read the play, Nicholsen said he fell in love with it instantly. He says the story has tremendous depth and despite its heavy subject matter, he finds it to be a rather hopeful play.
Every actor is very different, Nicholsen said, so to work with Auerbach, with whom he has so much history, should be a great advantage in making his directorial debut. In an interview with The Citizen, Auerbach agreed, saying that she could see that Nicholsen was a natural director, even when they were simply acting together.
Nicholsen said that what Marjorie goes through on stage in Jewel, while not universal, evokes a feeling most of the audience will have experienced over the course of their lives. As a director, Nicholson said he wants to be able to provide Auerbach an opportunity to go anywhere and do anything to help tell Marjorie’s story.
For someone with such a lengthy history with the Blyth Festival, Nicholsen says being part of the inaugural run of shows on the Harvest Stage is special for him. Though he is no stranger to outdoor theatre - performing with companies like British Columbia’s Caravan Farm Theatre and the 4th Line Theatre near Peterborough - he feels the Harvest Stage will open up many new possibilities for the Blyth Festival in the years to come.
The experience of outdoor theatre, he said, can be very magical and visceral, he said, and the Harvest Stage should be a real boon for the Festival.
When it comes to Jewel and the role he’ll play in getting it on stage, Nicholsen wants to help audience members find hope in Marjorie’s story. Finding hope by making your way through challenging situations, he said, can really help to connect people and he wants Jewel to communicate that kind of story to Blyth Festival audiences.
Jewel will be the final play to premiere at the Festival this season, beginning on Wednesday, Sept. 22 and officially ending the season on Sunday, Oct. 3.