You never know when you will stumble across those wonderful moments of opportunity, like I was so fortunate to do” ~ Dame Julie Andrews

Nichole preparing for show

Nichole Conolly preparing for the circus

Love is in the Tent 

After attending a performance of CATS at the Capitol Theatre, I waited at the stage door, as I often do, to congratulate the cast on a great show. Among the cast members I was fortunate to meet that evening was resident choreographer and swing Emma Delmenico. The meeting with Emma was extra special because she was the lady who had portrayed Victoria in the 1999-2001 production of CATS- Run Away to the Circus. 

The tent tour production of CATS had been my very first musical. It was school holidays and we had been staying at my aunty and uncle’s house. Due to unforeseen circumstances my aunty, who loves theatre, was in possession of a spare ticket. I remember my mum and aunt dressing me up in the bridesmaid dress from my parent’s wedding ten years previous.

Throughout the performance the cats mingled with audience and at one point I was eye to eye with Victoria (also known as the white cat). This encounter only added to the magic of the show. I was in love.

 

Some call it fate 

I don’t know if it is fate, but today I have found myself working in the two industries which had been fused together in the first show I saw: musical theatre and circus.

I was never one to be interested in a 9-5 job sitting behind a desk, so when the opportunities arose to work with the world famous Ashton Circus I took them. I first saw them in my hometown of Caloundra when I was 14 and from then I would spend my holidays and whenever I could, learning skills such as how to take tickets, work the concessions, put up and pull down the bigtop and perform. My first role in the ring was holding a piece of paper in my mouth while it was split in half by my boss who cracked a whip right down the middle.

Nichole circus

Nichole during a circus performance

The unconventional conventionalist 

I have become use to my occupation raising eyebrows whether it is mentioned on forms or during conversation. It has become an asset however, a tool used to break the ice in conversation.

When people ask me what I do for work I reply with, “I work in the circus” they then want to know what I do in the show. I suppose it is not the most common occupation so it intrigues others.

Nichole and man

Currently I have a plate spinning act and assist in the magic act. The magician is my adopted grandfather, 4th generation circus performer Gary Grant. I have learnt many things from my grandparents and their daughter Tanya Falagan, an aerialist and former flying trapeze artist with the show. These things not only include perseverance, showmanship and tricks, but also a love of the classics. One of my favourite hobbies is talking about the days of vaudeville, watching videos of past performances and watching movie musicals such as The Music Man and Singin’ in the Rain with Grandpop. My most recent static trapeze routine was performed to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s ‘Pure Imagination’.

Nichole spinning plates

Nichole spinning plates

Accept yourself and you’ll accept others too Growing up knowing I was different but not knowing why was a challenge. When I was diagnosed with aspergers or ASD and anxiety at the age of 19 there were many mixed emotions. Sometimes I found it helpful to have the diagnosis such as when I was studying at TAFE as it allowed me to access support but at other times it was a label that made me feel as though I stood out even more.

One of my favourite quotes is by Dr Seuss: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” 

Sometimes it can be very uncomfortable to stand out but if you are lucky enough to be one of the different ones, why not use it to benefit those around you?

It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap 

My writing career started after Tanya read a letter I had written to my sixteen year old self. I was nervous as I hadn’t really written since high school but she convinced me to attend the local creative writing classes with her. I loved attending classes and I learnt so much in that period of time.

Nichole award

After attending a performance of The Addams Family in 2013 I wrote a review and sent it to a few people. One of those people was a dear friend of mine, theatre performer Katrina Retallick. Trina replied with:

“Wow Nichole, what a great piece of writing! I think you have a career ahead of you in theatre reviewing!”

Nichole with Katrina

Katrina Retallick and daughter with Nichole’s spinning plates

Who would of thought that three years later that this sentiment would become reality? On March 20th, 2016 I was asked by Theatre People editor, Allison Hilbig to create a weekly column to keep the theatre loving community informed about professional musical theatre in Australia.

From someone who would write “reviews” solely to amuse herself, use her social media platforms to post the whereabouts of shows and the goings on of friends and dreamed of working in circus and theatre, to someone who has had articles published, spoken at theatres about inclusive practises and is now celebrating the first birthday of a column in a role that was created for her, it just shows what you can achieve through persistence and self belief.

Speaking publicly allows me to help others 

When I was younger, specialists told my parents that I would never speak and never be independent. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love, patience, willpower and support that my parents and brothers have given me through the years. I often drove them crazy with my love of theatre, the boys even had musicals memorised without watching, due to how often I watched them.

I have recently had the opportunity to speak at conferences and theatres on the benefits of creating inclusive environments and educating theatre staff on how to make the theatre experience more enjoyable for those on the autism spectrum. This is something I want to do more of in the future with theatres and casts.

You are more than what you have become 

As corny as it sounds, my dreams have only been made possible by hard work and the efforts of not only myself but my long suffering family, my parents (of whom have taken to having a display folder full of all the poems and articles I have written on their kitchen table when people visit), my brothers Jason and Timothy, my sister in law Alisha, my beautiful and dear circus family who my love for knows no words thank you for teaching me that the show can not begin until I jump, my musical theatre family; I’m a bagel on a plate of onion rolls but you love me all the same, to Allison who took a chance with me and to Emma and Katrina who among others have always encouraged me even when I couldn’t encourage myself.

Here is to many more years !

Nichole Theatre take two

Nichole (left) outside the theatre

Comments

comments