Michael Nicholson, easily one of Jamaica’s renowned actors and comedians, was celebrated by friends and family last Wednesday as he turned 60 at a nautical-themed dinner party.
“I’m truly surprised,” he said after catching his breath, having entered the Footprints Café Restaurant and Lounge to see some very special guests.
He had only told a small group of individuals that he wanted to sail out on a yacht to celebrate his diamond jubilee.
“It sounded like a good idea to be out on the water celebrating, not knowing that my other half has gone ahead and planned something with a nautical theme from the décor to the cake. She even purchased the outfit, and at first, I thought I’m going to look ridiculous wearing this captain uniform in a seafood restaurant, but she convinced me that I’m captain of my ship and master of my destiny,” Nicholson told The Sunday Gleaner.
“The icing on the cake was my sister [Barbra Gilmore] coming to surprise me. I am one of six children for the same parents – two sisters and three brothers – I’m Michael in the middle. All my siblings reside overseas, but I remain in Jamaica. Many persons coming out of the Edna Manley College were actors; Barbra is the one who influenced me by saying why don’t you major in directing. She was the one who has always kept me grounded, and I’m happy she travelled to be part of my birthday,” he continued.
All aboard the party ship had a chance to share one word to describe Nicholson: suave, flexible, organised, funny, reliable and hard-working were some of the words mentioned.
Nicholson has worked hard to achieve all he has. He first entered the theatre in the 1980s through various small roles while teaching at the Ardenne High School, his first job. He said he couldn’t get any work as a director, so he explored acting. Eventually, the dream of being cast in a pantomime became a reality. Eleven pantomimes later, in 1992, Aston Cooke, one of the leading playwrights in the Caribbean, invited Nicholson to direct for him.
“After working with Aston Cooke, I started directing for other persons, including Stages Production. Later years, I worked at Phoenix Productions with David Tulloch doing his productions at Phoenix Theatre on Haining Road. It was an amazing period in my professional journey,” Nicholson shared.
His casting in the television drama, Royal Palm Estate, happened in the mid to late ‘90s “during an era that could be considered the most active theatre I have done in my life”, and he became known and loved as the character ‘Stringbean’, a name he is still called to date.
He said, “I was literally going abroad to perform, on tour on weekends and then coming back to work at the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) and even doing performances in between that. I was finally doing theatre I loved and was earning well. It was a good time, and I’m happy to have experienced it.”
As the actors, playwrights, directors and musicians within the performing arts continue to recover from the pandemic, with very few physical spaces, Nicholson shared that his wish was for full recovery and rejuvenation for the theatre community.
“There are few theatre spaces equipped for us to rehearse and then perform. I hope we recover soon and can start working on those theatre spaces that are around. There are a few, but we might have to start [to] consider film and doing more for television,” he offered.
The diamond jubilee year is particularly special for Nicholson, having been called back to the JCDC as a consultant for the Jamaica Festival Queen Competition.
“The queens, as they are all queens, have been in residency at The [Jamaica] Pegasus hotel for the past week, and each day they have training at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre. Each day we have persons coming in to train them in stage and performing arts. They also did a special training in tourism management, and they have been certified as ambassadors in culture, and they have also been doing the various courtesy calls to persons in government. They also did a little surprise for me earlier in the day,” the actor-director shared.
“It has been rewarding to see them generally showing how much they [have] learnt and grown as parish queens to now being at the national level to vying for the crown on August 1 at the National Arena. They all have practised their talent pieces, walk and poise, but unfortunately, we can only crown one, but I look forward to being part of it,” Nicholson added.
Fellow Thespian Deon Silvera, who has shared more than 40 years alongside Nicholson on stage, was one of the guests at the dinner. She calls him ‘a friend in need’ and one of her best – and well-dressed – male friends. “We would have met in drama school, became friends, and he directed me in many plays. To my sons, he is like their godfather, and his children belong to me. I’m grateful to have celebrated the 60th with him as I remember when I turned 60 about two years ago, he was one of the first persons to reach out to me, and many persons didn’t live to see this year, so this is special,” she said.
Shanique Robinson, the theatre icon’s “first mate” for the past six years and the organiser of the surprise birthday dinner, said that the celebration of Nicholson was not just about it being a milestone.
“Generally, I find that people wait until it’s too late to say and do all the loving things you need to hear. I believe in giving persons their praises while they are alive,” Robinson said.
She added that the actor has imparted many lessons, “But there is one where he reminds me that life is short and if you’re living it, live it to your best and best your best self today and each day make sure you are better than the person you were yesterday.”