Nicholas Keslake’s Open Call: From Broadway to FIT

Before show time, Illustration major Nicholas Keslake helps set the stage for a world where a young wizard from the printed page takes over the stage in spectacular style.  It’s the Broadway production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” — a show known for its technical wizardry – necessary in an age where movie audiences are used to computer-generated special effects that have to be done live in the theater, eight shows a week.

Illustration Design student Nicholas Keslake with Animation Prof. John Goodwin. Both student and teacher work in Broadway theater. Keslake is enrolled in Goodwin’s 2D Animation class. Photo: Rachel Ellner

Working with a production crew Keslake is responsible for all technical aspects of Harry Potter. “We check every part of the scenery, lighting, special effects, costumes, sound and props, every single light, battery, special effect and any costume pieces that have electricity in them,” says Keslake, a sixth semester student.

Why FIT? While continuing to work as a electrician on Broadway productions, Keslake hopes to self-publish comic books and graphic novels.  “I’m pursuing a parallel career with theater” he says.

“Wolverine,” Nicholas Keslake’s oil paint on MDF board created for Illustration class with Illustration Professor Kam Mak

Keslake is part of a coveted group within Art and Design with work ties to Broadway and off-Broadway theater.  Animation Prof. John Goodwin films Broadway and off-Broadway shows; Fashion Design professors Don Newcomb and Michael Casey created costumes for “Steel Magnolia” and costumed Radio City shows respectively; Photography Prof. Ron Amato has worked with a projection design team on “Grey Gardens.” Joshua Burns, a new instructor on the Continuing and Professional Studies roster, is currently a wardrobe technician for “Beautiful.”

“Pinball Festival,” Nicholas Kelake’s acrylic paint on illustration board
for Illustration Professor Steven Tabbutt’s class

“The advantage for me of FIT is that I can spend time developing further as an artist and creator without the stress of wondering how I’m going to make rent or if I’ll have medical insurance. So far, the two careers seem to be maintainable separately,” says Keslake, who has also worked on “Chicago,” “Jersey Boys,” “Groundhog Day,” “Spiderman: Turn off the Dark,” and “Mamma Mia!”

“Bernie Madoff,” by Nicholas Keslake

Along with a production crew, Keslake is responsible for all of the technical aspects of Harry Potter. “I work with the designers and production crew to help turn the lighting needs into the design audiences experience. This could mean the fabrication of parts, hanging lighting equipment, focusing the lighting rig. A Broadway show is such a huge undertaking. We end up doing so many different things that are hard to quantify.”

With a schedule that includes working the eight shows a week, plus weekly equipment maintenance, Keslake managed to fit his classes into two evenings a week. There have been hiccups, but not on Broadway.

“I did a second run at the fifth semester and restarted the sixth semester this year. I figured since I was here to learn, it wouldn’t hurt to take the fifth semester over with some different teachers and classes,” says Keslake.

Detail from “Fall of the House of Usher,” Nicholas Keslake’s ink on illustration board for class with Illustration Professor Ray Lago

“The advantage for me of FIT is that I can spend time developing further as an artist and creator without the stress of wondering how I’m going to make rent or if I’ll have medical insurance,” says Keslake. “So far, the two careers seem to be maintainable separately.”

Joshua Burns, who currently teaches Wardrobe for Theater, Film and TV, has worked on 26 Broadway, film and television productions doing wardrobe and costume construction and as an assistant designer.

“It’s interesting to come into academia from the professional entertainment industry where it’s second nature for me. Not until I was started planning my courses for FIT, did I realize there’s an abundance of information and first-hand knowledge that can be adapted to the classroom. It’s one thing to learn and another to implement — I’m in a position to bridge them together,” says Burns.

Nicholas Keslake’s black and white illustration from a photograph for color theory class

Keslake has a BA in theater from UCLA and worked as a lighting designer for 12 years in Los Angeles before coming to New York in 2002.

“I looked at various schools. I needed to stay in New York and to juggle finances. FIT fit the bill perfectly.”

To see more of Nicholas Keslake’s work and read about his FIT experiences check out his blog: NKeslake

All art work provided by Nicholas Keslake
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