Katie Nixon

Theatre alum premieres one-woman musical in New York City

“My mom has always described me as a freight train,” said Katie Nixon, 2019 Penn State B.F.A. Acting graduate. “I guess I do have a little bit of gusto.”

That “gusto” has helped propel Nixon to success just two years after graduating from Penn State. Her one-woman musical, “52 Pickup,” premieres in New York City on Tuesday, Nov. 16 in NY Winterfest, part of the New York Theater Festival. Performances will also take place on Nov. 17 and 20.

Nixon wrote “52 Pickup,” a musical about coping with trauma, while a student and workshopped it at Penn State before taking it on tour to festivals in Canada and Washington, D.C., in addition to performances in her hometown of Erie. Nixon named her piece after the popular card game because it’s about how she tried to pick up the pieces after being sexually assaulted as a teen.

Nixon received a Penn State Student Engagement Network Grant that supported her development of the play.

“Within the B.F.A. Acting program, we did a lot of devised performance; we were creating stuff all the time,” she explained. “I was already writing a lot of theatre about the trauma I had experienced, so I really had a lot of the play written before I got the grant.”

She said she was inspired by the performances by women she saw while studying abroad in London.

“I had a teacher who once said, ‘There is always something radical and life-changing when a woman steps on stage and says her piece, especially after she has been silent for so long.’ I really identified with that,” Nixon said.

While “52 Pickup” is a one-woman show, Nixon said she could not have brought it to fruition without the assistance of her classmates and Penn State faculty, including fellow student Brendan Berndt, who served as director of the performance at Penn State, and School of Theatre faculty members including Steven Snyder, Erik Raymond Johnson, Elisha Clark Halpin, Megan Moore, Kikora Franklin and Wendell Franklin. She also credits her voice coach, School of Music faculty member Katie Travis.

“I am a big collaborator. I was running the script by friends, and by dramaturgs I had met when I was part of the Apprentice Program at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey,” Nixon explained. “The play would not be what it is today without them. They would tell me what they were getting out of a particular scene, and ask if that was what I wanted to communicate.”

Communicating about the trauma she experienced as a young teen continues to be emotional for Nixon, but she said it’s “so in my body.”

“We created a character that’s Katie at 14, and Katie in college—so it is a bit separated from who I am today,” Nixon explained. “It does feel like I’m acting a character.”

Nixon said the responses to the show have been overwhelming.

“People of all genders have come up to me and said thank you for saying out loud what they have been unable to say yet,” she noted. “It’s about the coping process in general—how do we start dating again, how do we interview for jobs, how do we live our lives. I want people to realize there should be a lot of joy in just showing up.”

Nixon is currently turning the musical into a screenplay in collaboration with Charity Farrell, owner and artistic director of Virtual Venue Theatricals. They are seeking funding so they can produce the screenplay and tour it to film festivals.

For more on Katie Nixon, visit her website: katienixon.net.