Brattleboro man recalls long, theatrical road that led him home

Posted
Friday May 6, 2011

Nick Bombicino's gotta act. And sing. And teach. And study. And direct. And dream.

And come home to Brattleboro after graduating last spring from Ithaca College in upstate New York. Work. Produce "Cyrano de Bergerac," this summer's New England Youth Theatre Alumni Show. Learn Benedick's lines for the Vermont Theater Company's production of "Much Ado about Nothing."

Figure out how to make money as a young actor and artist.

Drive the hills listening to songs he might arrange for his popular YouTube music video series, mondaymashups.

Play the ukulele. Play the piano. Read plays.

Consider his future. Someday leave. Someday come back again.

Become a man with a life he's proud of.

Have fun.

"Yes, it's a busy time." Nick sits in an empty NEYT classroom at the end of the day. He runs both hands through his dark curly hair, then smiles. His wide features and large eyes are an actor's gift, slipping from polite watchfulness to silly bombast to wry reflection in the space of a sentence.

Conversation burbles from a production meeting in the next room. Further off, a young woman sings.

Nick has been involved with NEYT for more than 10 years, since the group's first performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" when he was in sixth grade. He played Snug the Joiner.

"NEYT was really at that point an amorphous blob centered around this clown," he says, referring to Stephen Stearns, founder, artistic director and professional clown. "Then we got our own space, and then we painted that space together for the first show there, which was ‘Treasure Island.'"

The theater became an artistic heart and home for Nick, though he had his official acting debut in a production of "The Lorax" in third grade.

"I had a really theatrical preschool experience with Mary Copans at Brattleboro Nursery School, who did shows with us all the time, and then from third grade on I grabbed whatever opportunities I could," he says.

It made sense that Nick loved the stage. A cute and confident kid, he could, as his mother tells it, "really work a room." He laughs a little self-consciously. "She always says I was one of those kids who was a charmer, who would just go over to people and smile."

At the same time, he was observant and self-aware, especially in school.

"I was in a class that wasn't particularly into music or theater, as a group, but I was really into it, so I became isolated in that way. I pulled back, became shy, watched a lot, learned how to be that kind of person," he remembers.

Home, however, was a wallflower-free zone, as Nick's father, Jim, is also an actor and longtime cast member of the Vermont Theatre Company. Jim and Nick even performed together in several VTC shows.

"That was, um, interesting for my mom, when both my dad and I were in shows at the same time," he says with deliberate understatement. "It can be hard living in a house with people who all act." He laughs. "Yeah, it can be taxing."

But for Nick, it was valuable and, now, cherished. "I wish everybody could have that kind of experience, acting with your dad. It was really cool, especially at that age. We did ‘Lost in Yonkers,' also with Ben Stockman, another NEYT alum, who played my older brother. My dad played Louie, the gangster uncle."

By the time Nick graduated from high school, he literally had years of experience as an actor. But when he left Brattleboro for Ithaca College, he didn't act in a play for two years.

Now he can talk about that time with eloquence and humor, understanding himself with gentleness and confidence. Then, he was essentially miserable.

"I went to school for music education, but there was tremendous pressure at Ithaca to be more of a performance pianist than I wanted to be. I just have other things I like to do. So I left that program, and it became sort of a crisis, because the reason I had gone to this school was no longer the reason I was there."

Two things guided him through the uncertainty. First, he was a member of IC VoiceStream, one of Ithaca's a cappella groups. A principal arranger for the group, he loved singing with them and didn't want to give it up.

Second, during his sophomore year, he saw a particularly good theater production on campus.

"I suddenly realized that this whole crisis was stupid," he says bluntly. "I had moved away from theater, and I needed to go back."

A double major in Theater and Italian Studies ensued, punctuated by summers teaching at NEYT and one semester studying theater in London.

"I had to take an extra year to graduate, to finish everything, but I'm glad I did," he says."The experience of making a college education work for me instead of trying to fit in an existing system was good, and I got a lot out of the opportunities because I had to carve them for myself."

That lesson alone has prepared Nick well for the bumps and hollows of becoming a professional actor and musician. To follow an artistic vision, to honor it as a central and worthy part of life, and to share that work with an often busy and indifferent audience takes a strength of character, a bedrock of confidence, and an undeniable, ever-bubbling need to perform or paint or dance or sculpt or write or sing -- to create some new thing.

Nick has all three. Plus, he has great friends.

His latest project, mondaymashups, started as a dare in early 2010 from his friend Kristin. He'd created a music video for her combining two of her favorite songs, accompanying himself on ukulele.

"She said, ‘You need to do more of this.' Not really like, the world needs to see it, but she saw how much fun I had, how much I talked about it." Nick says. "So she challenged me to do one every week."

And he did. For months, he released a new video every Monday at youtube.com/mondaymashups, over time increasing the complexity of the arrangements and the sophistication of the filming and editing.

"It's grown and changed, and now they take much more time. With the Brady Bunch one, from March, I had nine screens, six wigs! If I tried to do one for every Monday, it would be a full time job."

He raises one eyebrow and lifts his arms wide.

"And if there is anyone who wants to pay me to do this as a job, I would gladly accept that money," he booms.

He drops back in his chair, sits quietly for a moment, then begins talking about the expense of song rights, the conflict between artistic integrity and commerce, his evolving definition of success.

"Growing up here around so many artists who stay true to themselves, it showed me that success is what you want it to be. I know I can't have dreams of being on Broadway right now -- I'm not a tenor, and I don't really dance. If it happens, cool! But there's also that element of realism, saying, well, I'm good at Shakespeare, let's try that instead.

"Or, let's teach, concentrate on setting up other kids for success in life, whether it's theatrical or not."

He pauses again. There is so much that is deeply felt and so much that is unknown.

"I'll consider myself successful if I can have a happy family, be content with my life, and help make life better for other people," he says. "I'd also feel successful if I got paid to do what I want to do. I guess I'm playing dream games now, but I would feel successful if, as a musician I got signed. Or got," his voice drops to a mumble, "famous."

He shrugs. "Who wouldn't like to have an audience of, say, a million instead of a thousand?"

He pauses. "But at that point, you wonder, what do people sacrifice to get there? I do music and theater because they are fun. Hopefully I'll be able to keep it that way, and stop when it stops being fun."

Nick blinks, coming up out of his thoughts.

"So, yeah!" he says. He smiles, and he's off into the bright and wondrous world.

Becky Karush is a regular contributor to the Reformer. To suggest people for this column, write to her at reformer.ourneighbors@gmail.com.

About this column ...

In our busy world, only the most sensational people get our attention - the crazy politician, the prize-winning scientist, the earthquake survivor. But we all have stories to tell. They often appear unremarkable, just another bead on a string of days. Yet when we look deeper, the stories of our neighbors, relatives, and friends reveal to us the tenacity and beauty of the human spirit.

This column celebrates our stories - the woman who's baked pies at the local church for 20 years, the young man who builds sculptures from old bikes, the retired guy who still works part time for the town - and we invite you to suggest to us people whose tales we should tell.

Contact Becky Karush at reformer.ourneighbors@gmail.com.


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