At any given time, the energetic director Nicole A. Watson (MA ’08) is juggling several projects at once. She served as a director at the Women’s Project Lab, the nation’s oldest company dedicated to producing theater created by women, where she was one of four directors involved in We Play for the Gods. And she directed Foreign Bodies by Eboni Hogan at the Culture Project’s Women Center Stage Festival shortly after wrapping up her role as assistant director of The Total Bent, Stew and Heidi Rodewald’s musical production at the prestigious Public Theater.
Watson has racked up an impressive number of directing credits for someone in the early stages of her career. In the summer of 2008, she was the assistant director for The First Breeze of Summer at the Signature Theater, and in 2009, she guest-directed Derek Walcott’s Ti-Jean and His Brothers at NYU Tisch.
In 2011, she was director and mentor for the Gallatin Summer Theater Lab, where she developed Jack Moore’s play Killing John Grisham. The play was subsequently performed in the 2011 Fringe Festival in New York, with Gallatin faculty member Christopher Cartmill playing Grisham. Her achievements have not gone unnoticed: She won the 2011 Josephine Abady Award, which recognizes emerging directors, from the League of Professional Theatre Women.
After earning a bachelor of arts from Yale in history with a focus on African-American and Caribbean history, Watson, who is Jamaican, moved to New York to become an actor. She landed an unpaid internship at the 52nd Street Project, where young people in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood perform and take playwriting classes.
She needed a paying job, though, so she took a position as an assistant to the admissions officer at the Cathedral School, a private school in Manhattan. “On my second day, they told me that the sixth-grade history teacher had left. The sixth grade needed to put on a play, and they said, ‘We see you have a history degree from Yale. Would you teach the class?’ I just laughed, but I said sure,” she recalled.
As it turned out, teaching was a good fit, and that led to several years of teaching history and theater to high school students at the Cathedral School and the Fieldston School, and acting in between. In January 2002, she left New York for California, where she spent six months acting. By the time she had driven back to New York, she had decided it was time for graduate school.
Watson’s thesis was called “Resurrecting the Dead,” an exploration of history and theater. “I liked Gallatin because it was both academic and artistic,” said Watson, who was a Newington-Cropsey Fellow while she was at the School.
Making a living as a working artist does not always mean a smooth and straight path, as Watson will attest. When she graduated in the middle of the recession, there were no jobs—in the theater or anywhere else. She decided to make the most of her free time and train for the New York City Marathon, which she ran in 2010.
Free time is not something she has much of at the moment, though. In addition to her other directing commitments, she is in the midst of directing a play written by a 10-year-old girl at the 52nd Street Project, which will be performed by adults. “There’s nothing like the imagination of a 10 year old,” she said, laughing. “Other scripts seem like a piece of cake to figure out.”