Grinnell Artists: Nolan Boggess ’19

Nolan Boggess chats with his stage manager, Maggie Dambro ’19 before rehearsal. Photo by Nora Coghlan.

Zane Silk

silkzane@grinnell.edu

I met Nolan Boggess ’19 in the Wall theatre in Bucksbaum, and from the moment we began talking, I could tell he is at home here. In the Wall alone, Nolan has rehearsed for many shows, performed with the Improv troupe Infinite Coincidence and participated in the 24 Hour Theater project. Though I have seen plays since I was a kid, and acted throughout high school, it soon became clear to me that this is his world, and I was just a visitor.

Boggess was two years old when he watched his first stage show: “Cats.” Even though Boggess had watched a prerecorded performance, he was hooked on the magic of live theater from the moment he saw the stage in person.

Photo by Nora Coghlan

“All I asked for Christmas [when I was two] was a monster and the VHS of ‘Cats’. And so I got the VHS of ‘Cats’, and I still have it,” Boggess said. “It was just so entrancing seeing these people dance on stage.”

The first live show Boggess remember seeing was a college production of ‘Godspell’ when he was six or seven.

“I was super into the movie. It’s like this cool hippy, like getaway movie… and then I saw it live, and I remember not liking it at all live,” he recalled.

Yet, rather than being turned off of theatre, Boggess dived in. With parents who were supportive of his passion, his childhood was filled with different performances. His junior year of high school, he auditioned for his school’s annual musical, but was dismayed that he did not get a role because he could not tap dance. That summer, he tried his luck again, and was cast in a community theatre production of the ‘Music Man’. Since then, Boggess has been losing himself in characters, testing his hand at method acting and even venturing into directorial roles.

Photo by Nora Coghlan

“If I was to look myself in the mirror, and everyone does this, you’re self-conscious of things… but when I’m on stage I’m not self-conscious, because in a way [the audience is] not seeing me, they’re seeing me portray this character,” he said. “What I really like and [the] times [when] I feel really into the role is [when] I can feel my hesitations as Nolan leaving me in a way, and me just totally embodying this character.”

One particular role that stands out to Boggess is performing as Piggy in ‘Lord of the Flies’ directed by Sophiyaa Nayar ’17 last spring. Boggess said that Nayar’s direction was a critical component of what allowed him to embrace his role.

“Piggy’s is the little weasel-y, nerdy boy, kind of chunky, loser boy that they kill… and so she had me take deep breaths in and let Nolan leave my body and Piggy enter my body… and then we did this interview as Piggy and really built a backstory,” Boggess remembered. “I was terrified every night of this performance, because [Nayar used the same techniques] for all the others actors, and so the moment when they’re trying to kill me, it’s really horrific on stage, because I think we all embodied this actual terror, this childhood terror.”

After finding his place in the Grinnell theatre scene, Boggess dedicated himself to a loftier goal: producing consistent musicals. When visiting Grinnell, he was told that there had not been a musical put on for a couple years, and decided putting one on was a long-term goal of his.

Photo by Nora Coghlan

“It was a pipe dream, and I was aiming for my fourth year,” he said.

In his first semester, Boggess met Hannah Lundberg ’18 and they quickly bonded over a shared love of musicals. Deciding not to wait another three years, Boggess boldly asked her if she wanted to produce a musical with him. After she accepted, they spent that fall planning a production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” while Boggess simultaneously acted in Professor Leslie Delmenico’s, theatre, production of “Translations”.

“The next semester, I was in ‘Lord of the Flies,’ ‘Putnam County Spelling Bee,’ ‘The Tempest,’ an acting showcase, 24 Hour theatre … and I killed myself with how much theatre I did, so this year I’ve kind of pulled back.”

For Boggess, pulling back has meant joining Infinite Coincidence, acting in Professor Delmenico’s production of “Constellations”, and bringing another musical to campus, one that has always been in the back of his mind: “Godspell”. Though Boggess was sufficiently motivated to put on the show, he was worried about how it would be received on campus.

“This show scared me … because people could scoff at being, a … stupid show that schools and churches put on,” Boggess said. “[I’ve heard], it’s cheesy, it’s gimmicky, it’s gamey, it’s just goofy on stage, and I think we definitely have those goofy fun elements, but I think … we’re really trying to ground it in this human quality of this community forming, and make it more serious in some parts.”

Nolan addresses the cast of Godspell before rehearsal. Photo by Nora Coghlan

“I think being scared is good in theatre… I want them to change their perceptions [of] Godspell, hopefully.”

While he has already made strides in Grinnell theatre community, Boggess hopes to continue his work, and ensure that musical theater is well established by the time he leaves.

“My goal is to make sure musical theatre to not die when I graduate, and to just keep passing the baton.”

Photo by Nora Coghlan