Theatre Student’s Performance Earns Callback from Prestigious University

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Nikki Iyer

Presley Nicholson (11) collaborates with director Cambria Graff and backstage sound members during the mic check. During this time, backstage crew members were able to test the sound of the microphones, in order to find the perfect balance in volume. Behind Nicholson, actors wait their turn to test their microphones. In the production Nicholson played Katherine Plumber, a desperate journalist who writes the story of the “newsies”.

Nikki Iyer, Feature Editor

Despite only 8-20 students receiving callbacks from the University of Michigan, Senior theater student Presley Nicholson still managed to be one of the select few to get a callback.

Throughout her theater career at SJHHS theatre, she has held countless lead roles in musicals and plays . In her junior year, Nicholson played Katherine Plumber in Newsies, Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, and would have played Kate Mullins in their canceled spring musical. Nicholson made her first theater debut in 7th grade when she played Marty in Grease at a local kids theater company.

As a child, Nicholson enjoyed watching old movie musicals including  Singing in the Rain and Casa Blanca. She says these films inspired her to delve into  musical theater, and use it as a potential career. 

“I was inspired by how they were so entertaining, and they gave me and my family so much joy. That’s why I wanted to do theater, to bring other people joy.” While she would watch the movie musicals she would think, “What I would give to be able to do that. That’s all I wanted to do, I wanted to be up there like the people I was watching in these musicals. Then I figured out, ‘wait I can do that. ‘This is a career that people do.’”

Nicholson is of gratitude towards SJH’s theater program, and theater director Cambria Graff for all of the opportunities she provides.

“I really can’t say enough about our department and Mrs. Graff. She is such a role model and she is just amazing. She does it all. She is so ambitious and there is no way that the department is what it is without her. . .  [She has been] almost like a second mother and that’s just been really amazing to have that influence on me and my peers in my four years at SJH,” said Nicholson.

Not only are we blessed with this amazing prestigious theater company at SJH but the seniors and the entire cast were so welcoming to me and I just found like a second family”

— Nicholson

Nicholson attended a small private school for middle school, so entering high school she knew only one other student. However, she says the entire theater department welcomed her with open arms when she arrived.

“Not only are we blessed with this amazing prestigious theater company at SJH but the seniors and the entire cast were so welcoming to me and I just found like a second family . . . It was so cool and I will always remember that,” said Nicholson.

After applying to numerous theater schools across the nation, Nicholson is beginning to understand just how competitive the acceptance process is.

“This year I applied to theater programs across the country. The process for applying to MT [musical theater] programs is not like any other process. You have to audition to get into these programs and they’re very competitive. They take around eight to twenty students,” said Nicholson.

First, students are required to send in pre-screens, which include a variety of video performances. Nicholson says that most commonly a pre-screen will include two songs, two monologues, and a self-choreographed dance video of the student. From there, colleges will choose to accept the student, and begin the callback process, or deny the student.

“I’m very blessed to say that I got a call back to the University of Michigan MT program which is number one in the country, and what that entails is I moved a step further in the process so now I get to go in for the live audition. It’s over zoom this year, but now I do my audition in front of the panel of faculty at Michigan,” said Nicholson.

I’m very blessed to say that I got a call back to the University of Michigan MT program which is number one in the country, and what that entails is I moved a step further in the process so now I get to go in for the live audition”

— Nicholson

From there, she will be accepted or denied to join their program. Currently, almost every weekend Nicholson is performing at a virtual audition for different programs. Some notable schools she also applied to are Penn State, Point Park University, the University of Cincinnati, and USC.

“I’ve applied to quite a bit just because I need to cast a wide net because they’re extremely competitive,” said Nicholson.

With so many performances may come stress and nerves. Even though Nicholson has been performing since 7th grade, like most performers, anxiety still kicks in.

“Just being in the moment and being present and taking breaths is what has helped me manage my stress. I still get extremely nervous but I’m working on it,” said Nicholson. 

As a way to better prepare herself and manage anxieties Nicholson has a pre-audition routine, where she has a glass of water beside her, practices her songs four times each, and walks around her house listening to music with headphones. “I’ve learned to use my nerves to make me perform better. I use the adrenaline to give me motivation and some energy,” said Nicholson.

Nicholson thanks the theater program for every opportunity it has offered her, and hopes to utilize her past experiences in future careers. Like many theater students, Nicholson hopes to one day stand on a Broadway stage and is confident she wants to be in the performing realm, especially as a working actress.