Persistence: Most days you will want to quit because it seems like you are not getting anywhere. Then one day you realize you’ve been in the business longer than most people and have managed to make a go of it longer than anyone you know. That’s success.

As a part of our series about creating a successful career in theatre, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kent Nicholson of Broadway Licensing Global.

In his current role as the Senior Vice President of Acquisitions & Artistic Services at Broadway Licensing Global, Kent Nicholson has extensive knowledge in the arts and entertainment industry. Prior to Broadway Licensing Global, he served as Associate Producer of Musical Theatre at Playwrights Horizons in New York overseeing the creation and production of works such as A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson. Previously he served as the New Works Director for Theatreworks, Silicon Valley where he created the New Works Initiative and their New Works Festival. He also co-created The Uncharted Writers Group at Ars Nova and has served on the boards of The Playwrights Foundation, The National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and Musical Theatre Factory. His directing work has been seen at South Coast Repertory, Berkeley Repertory, Seattle Repertory, and The Old Globe, among many others.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Sure! I grew up in a fairly nomadic way. Although, where I went to HS there was an army base, and the kids from there were even more nomadic. Having lived in many different places has instilled in me a sense that change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My family was pretty straight down the road middle class, albeit we mostly lived in rural areas. I had a fairly freewheeling childhood which prioritized education and creativity. As a result, I chose a career which lets me travel with frequency, is creative, and where change is an inevitable part of your trajectory.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started singing at a very young age. I was lucky to have a terrific teacher for young voices near where I lived in HS, so I was able to study and train vocally. When I was accepted to college, I was accepted to either train in musical theatre or opera. I chose musical theatre. As I continued to explore theater in college, I discovered I really loved just acting, so I became an actor. The more I acted, the more I realized I was a director at heart, so I started directing and eventually went to get a graduate degree in directing. Along the way, I met some terrific writers whose work I began directing in world premiere productions. So, directing new plays and musicals became my specialty. As I moved through my career, I was asked to create many programs which would support the development and creation of new work. And that turned into the career I have now.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

So many. But probably mostly my parents. I know that might sound cliché, but I know many people whose parent’s expressed apprehension about them entering into a creative field. Particularly one that is notoriously difficult, competitive, and poor. My parents never questioned my choices. They always encouraged me to be creative and to follow the career path that I was most passionate about. They never expressed doubts or concerns about a “back up plan.” As a result, I’ve never had to justify my choices, or fight personal battles about why I am in the career I am in. I’ve had to fight to be successful, but the personal support has given me confidence to do that.

You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

There are a lot! Some involve movie stars; some involve weird places and travel. But I guess the one that sticks out now is the moment I read a manuscript of a musical by an artist who had been recommended to me by someone I trusted. The musical was weird and messy and kind of incomprehensible in its current form (to be fair, the artist said as much when they sent it to me). But I had honestly never read anything like it. It was personal and raw in a way that you almost never encounter. I said as much to the author, and we began working together in other contexts. Meanwhile, he would keep working on the piece and sending me drafts along the way. That piece was A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson, which I helped produce. Within ten years of first encountering it, it would go on to win A Pulitzer Prize, and a Tony Award for Best New Musical.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Funniest mistake? Maybe it was the time I was producing and directing a show for adults in a small storefront theater in Chicago. The plot of the show was about two brothers, one who is agoraphobic and his older brother who is taking care of him who tries to cheer him up by kidnapping a mall Santa so they can celebrate Christmas. Our marketing poster was pretty edgy, with a picture of Santa with a black bar over his eyes and a ransom note — darkly comedic stuff. What we hadn’t considered was that there was a children’s theater show using the same space in the daytime and I guess some of the kids were deeply upset by the image. So, I learned that when marketing something, taking a holistic approach to your messaging is probably wise. Side note: What I never really found out was whether the kids were actually upset by the image, or was it the kids’ parents who were upset that their kids might get upset?

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

We are creating a High School version of the Broadway show Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, so that secondary schools all over the world can produce their own versions. We’re expanding globally and have just opened an office in London. We have several commissions out to writers with theaters around the United States to help generate new plays and musicals. We’re developing a musical version of the old Warner Bros. classic film Christmas in Connecticut. And we’re continuing to look at new ways to get content into the marketplace.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?

Stay open to all possibilities and understand that there is no path. Everyone’s path is different. I tried hard to look at my goals, but also let the opportunities which were presented to me tell me which direction I should go next. Taking the open door rather than trying to beat down the closed one meant that I was able to continue pursuing all opportunities. And while other colleagues might have had that “thing” that I wanted, or I might not have gotten that “golden” opportunity, I always was working. And work begets work. On balance, things evened out. But everyone’s journey is completely different.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Life in the arts is about paradox. So, here’s a contradiction to the statement above: It’s OK to be picky. It’s ok to say no to something if it doesn’t feel right. It’s OK to prioritize that Wedding/Birthday/Anniversary over that “potential opportunity.” There will always be more potential opportunities. This business has a habit of trying to take all of you. Don’t let it. Relaxation and recreation are equally important to hustle and determination. The one gives you the energy for the other. The truth is being unemployed in the arts is as stressful as being employed in the arts, so downtime is very important. Approaching it like a marathon, pacing yourself, and really choosing strategic opportunities is key to keeping you on a path.

Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need to Create a Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances” and why?

Persistence: Most days you will want to quit because it seems like you are not getting anywhere. Then one day you realize you’ve been in the business longer than most people and have managed to make a go of it longer than anyone you know. That’s success.

Curiosity: Every experience is a new one and every experience will teach you something if you keep an open mind. Failure is inevitable. As is rejection. Being curious about the experience of both will help you figure out ways of moving forward. But each job and role also present unique opportunities to succeed. Stay curious about what those might be and how they might work. What creates success in one instance may create failure in another. Keep asking questions.

Flexibility: Styles change, aesthetics change. Being able to keep up with the current trends and changes in the industry will help you maintain longevity in your career. People who try to do things because “that’s the way it’s done” generally get left behind. Stay open to new ideas and be willing to change your mind. And be willing to admit when you’re wrong.

Empathy: Everything in the arts is subjective. Yet everyone is sure their opinion is correct. And they can be adamant and sometimes cruel about their judgements. If you maintain an open mind and understand that excellence is a moving target and everyone is doing their best, those judgements and opinions won’t paralyze you. If you act from a place of empathy and grace towards others, the harshness of business is easier to withstand.

Work Ethic: This industry isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes hard work and passion. It requires you to use your literal body as a tool. It requires you to take care of yourself and your physical wellbeing, while also hustling and working at every angle. Work hard. Rest hard. And then get back to it.

For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skill sets you need in a theater performance are different than the skill sets you need for TV or Film?

Of course, there are many skills sets that overlap and for everything I say, there’s probably something which proves its opposite. But for me, TV and Film is primarily a visual medium and theater is primarily a language based medium. Characters in theater talk. They don’t tend to have long moments of silence. And where TV and film have closeups which can analyze every facial tic and expression as a silent gesture of emotion, theater requires inhabiting the full body of the character. Theater requires an awareness of space and size that film and TV doesn’t. And of course, in film and TV you perform a few takes, and the editor makes you look magical. In theater you have to replicate the performance over and over. I know actors who have performed the same role over 600 times. That’s a skillset: the ability to keep a performance alive and vital for night after night for a long time.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊

I would like us to fully recognize the value and importance of the arts in our culture. At Broadway Licensing, we talk about “Making Everyone a Theater Person.” I take that very seriously. Because I know that if we all took the arts seriously the world would be a demonstrably better place. And not in some abstract way, which is the way we tend to talk about it, but in very real, and quantifiable ways. People who value the arts live longer, people who value the arts have better critical thinking skills, people who value the arts are more empathetic and understanding of other cultures, people who value the arts are higher performers on the job, people who value the arts contribute more to local economies. According to the NEA and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2021 the arts accounted for over $1 trillion or 4.4% of the annual GDP. From 2020–2021 it grew at a rate of 13.7% as opposed to the general economy which only grew at 5.4% during the same span. The Americans for the Arts 2023 economic study shows a return of $7 for every $1 dollar spent on the arts within a community. The NEA has estimated that every $1 granted by the federal government is matched eight times over by other organizations. This has a tremendous impact on our economy, our well-being, and our communities. It’s arguably unrivalled by any other industry. Yet we cut the arts budgets first, neglect the economic impact they might have on our cities, and consider them “nice to have” not “must have.” The arts are more than essential, our culture and perhaps our economies, won’t survive without them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This changes over time, but right now I would say it’s: Be the change you want to see in the world.

I work for a company that is a change leader in an industry where everyone agrees that change is essential because we are working under old assumptions and within old structures. However, the more changes we try to make, the more roadblocks we hit. Which leads me to believe that lots of people are talking about the need for change, but few people have the appetite or vision to create change. So, I would say, let’s all be the change we want to see. Then maybe we will get where we need to go.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Former NBA star and entrepreneur Baron Davis. Beyond being a Warriors fan when he breathed new life into that franchise long before the championships, I believe he is someone who would understand the value of the arts and could discuss strategies on how to capitalize new projects and create change.

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?

Follow Broadway Licensing on social media.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.