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Volume 26, Number 2 — February 2019

Nick Piper does "what he loves every day'

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | January 30, 2018

Almost everyone's job descriptions include wording similar to "duties to be named later." Nick Piper at Barter Theatre has first-hand experience with what "duties to be named later" can actually mean.

"I've done just about everything at Barter over the years. I came as an intern in 1990, while I was still in college. I've done everything from cleaning toilets to building scenery to house managing. I was a founding member of Barter's First Light Theatre (now the Barter Players). I was a founding member of the resident acting company. I directed shows, and I am the director of the Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights," Piper says.

An associate director's job description is to be a jack-of-all-trades. In addition to his other duties, he helps Rick Rose with season selection, casting, strategizing, planning for the future of Barter "and anything else that needs to get done."

Piper studied theater at the University of Tennessee. He was an intern at Barter and then moved to New York for a few years. He's been back at Barter since 2002.

"My parents were both involved in the theater when I was young. They met doing a play in college. I used to watch them do plays at local community theaters in Chicago. I grew up loving theater, so I guess I've always had the theater bug. My first play was "The Hobbit' when I was 10 years old. I was third gnome from the left, and I loved it.

"My parents gave me a love of theater. Rex Partington gave me my first job in the professional theater at Barter. Rick Rose gave me a life in the theater. He has showed a lot of faith in me, given me a lot of opportunities and continues to challenge me and help me grow as an artist. John Hardy taught me the sacrifice and discipline it takes to be an artist, and about theater as service. And I'm lucky enough to work with an inspired group of artists who influence and mentor me on a daily basis," he says.

Piper's schedule is intense and not very flexible. "One of the greatest things about a life in the theater is that part of the job is to challenge yourself every day. Every moment I'm on stage or in rehearsal is a challenge to discover more about a moment or a character or an audience. Every day, every show is different," Piper says.

To wind down from those stresses, he spends time with his family. His wife, Wendy, is an artist-in-residence for Barter's Project REAL. Project REAL's teaching artists assist educators by utilizing theater techniques and integrating the student's life experiences into the curriculum. This process helps provide lasting knowledge through a transformative educational program, which measurably improves learning and allows students to take responsibility for their own education and shape their communities, now and in the future. They have two daughters, Lucy and Maggie.
As involved as he is in a production, he says individual contributions have to weave together to carry out the director's vision. "Each person who works here plays an integral part of making each show happen, every day. From box office, to marketing to maintenance, to the actors onstage — everybody has to be on their game to bring high quality theater all year around."

He's had many favorite productions throughout his career. Some were fun. Others he enjoyed because they offered personal growth. Some were favorites because of the company growth and collaboration. And some remind him of why he loves theater.

"We did a play this fall called "Friendly's Fire' that was about a veteran dealing with PTSD. It was funny, sad, bizarre, thought-provoking, exciting theater. After each performance, we had a talkback with the audience — the show opened up a discussion in our community about a subject that needed to be talked about. My favorite experiences are in shows that bring us together as a community," he says.

Part of Piper's duties is working with new play development and running the Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights. It's also a labor of love for him.

"I love the development of new plays. It starts with someone sending us a script and then, a year or two later — after readings, workshops, feedback, laughter, tears, sweat — to see it fully produced on one of our stages is extremely rewarding. I love watching a new playwright on opening night and see them realize their dream," he says.

He describes the group at Barter as a "family."

"It's a family that is dedicated to serving our community through theater. It does that in a number of ways ... from the plays on our stages, to the theater it brings to the schools across Appalachia and beyond, to the education programs. I love being a part of this mission-it's about more than doing theater. It's about using theater as a vehicle to create a better community.

"Every day I get to do what I love, with people I love, in a community I love. What could be greater than that?" he says.

In the upcoming season, you can see Piper on stage in "Bright Star," "In the Heat of the Night," "The Lemonade Stand" (world premiere), "Great Expectations," "Sally McCoy" (world premiere) and "Santaland Diaries." He will direct "Madame Buttermilk" (world premiere of a new musical) and "Dough and Cookies" (Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights mini-production).


Topics: Theatre

Nick Piper in rehearsal with Cindi A. Raebel, Richard Rose and Amanda Aldridge (photo by Billie Wheeler)

Paris Bradstreet and Nick Piper in "Big Fish" (photo by Billie Wheeler)