Student by Day, “Cotton-Headed Ninny Muggins” by Night

Nick Flagg as Buddy the Elf in Elf the Musical.

Nick Flagg is a senior double major studying both Advertising and Theatre, concentrating in Theatre Education, Acting/Directing and Musical Theatre. After his undergraduate graduation in the spring of 2022, he will continue as a Rowan CADP student working toward a Master of Science degree in Theatre Education. Nick will be certified to teach K-12 theatre in May 2023. In addition to being a student, he looks to engage his surrounding communities as a working actor, director and teaching artist with several theatre companies across South Jersey.

Balancing work and class as a college student is never something that comes easy. But really, when does anything rewarding come easy?

I find that the way to make it all happen is by staying focused on the positive. I adopted this mindset my sophomore year in Acting I, taught by Michael Dean Morgan. He encouraged us to approach scene work with the intention of progressing what we want to happen next. He said we should look to build off of our scene partners and work with them, never against them.

After a while, I started to realize how this should translate to everyday life when we consider how we will achieve our goals and fulfill our passions. Good theatre will always be a collaborative art, just like a life should always be a communal experience. In short, life is best spent with others. This has stuck with me, and the ideals of “togetherness” felt very present during my time working on a holiday show such as Elf the Musical.

Nick as Buddy the Elf in a performance of Elf the Musical.

I have done quite a few productions while enrolled as a student at Rowan, both on the mainstage and with outside theatre companies. Getting to play Buddy in Elf the Musical has been like no other process. It took the most commitment, but has been one of the most rewarding experiences.

The production took place at The Levoy Theatre in Millville, NJ, where they have one of the most beautiful spaces. On a whim, I went to audition for this company that I have never worked with before. It was not too nerve-wracking, because I was with some fellow Profs 𑁋 Lauren Coffey and Natalie Donisi. At callbacks, the three of us found ourselves finding other Rowan students, including Kerry O’Connor and Ben Helbert. Next thing you know, the five of us were all cast in the show together, taking turns on who would drive the carpool, and bringing all that we learned in class to the process. With the intention to work positively, it was also easy to take on this show with so many friends by my side.

In addition to the already established friendships, it was a pleasure to leave with so many new bonds and connections for future projects. There is nothing like getting to do a show with friends, who then become family, let alone a Christmas show during the beginning of the holiday season.

A collage of Nick with castmates, including fellow Rowan students and Admissions Ambassadors, performing in Elf the Musical.
In the bottom right picture from left to right is Ben Helbert (Sophomore Theatre & Dance major), Natalie Donisi (Senior Theatre & Psychology major; CADP/MST Theatre Ed. student), Nick Flagg (Senior Theatre & Advertising major; CADP/MST Theatre Ed. student), Lauren Coffey (Junior History & Education major), and Kerry O’Connor (Freshman Theatre major, Dance minor). Top right picture features the cast and crew. From left to right in the left picture is Nick Flagg as Buddy the Elf, Darryl Thompson as Santa Claus, and Natalie Donisi as Mrs. Claus.

The production ran Nov. 12-21, and all but two shows completely sold out for a theater with almost 800 seats.

When you walked in, you were met with a lobby decked out in holiday decor, featuring trees, lights, hot cocoa and holiday beverages, and even some snow. Typically, a cast’s headshots are featured on a board, but our marketing team brilliantly decided to showcase our headshots in Christmas ball ornaments on a decorated tree. The Christmas spirit was present from the moment you stepped into the building, and surely stayed with you long after.

Nick as Buddy the Elf in a performance of Elf the Musical.

The Mezzanine lobby was where my now good friend Darryl Thompson and I went after the show for a Santa and Buddy meet and greet with many kids … and many adults believe it or not! I loved hearing the crowd’s enjoyment during the show, but nothing beats seeing each kid come up to meet us with excitement.

Christmas never reigned as the top holiday for me … I mean aren’t most theatre people Halloween fanatics? But this year was different. I specifically remember so many sweet kids coming up. Darryl would ask them, “What would you like for Christmas?” and some would say things like “For my family to have a good Christmas” or “To be with my family.” It was incredible to see so many people were so moved by our show and full of the holiday spirit, even at such a young age. I was thankful to see so many friends and family came, along with some of my coworkers in Admissions and my incredible boss Cristin.

Nick as Buddy the Elf sings a solo during a performance of Elf the Musical.

Elf the Musical was a popular choice for so many theater companies this season. In South Jersey, there were at least three productions all going on at the same time. I bring this up because it has been nothing but nonstop support from everyone involved in these productions. We would all send our broken leg wishes on social media, along with wishing a happy opening or closing show to one another. It is important for that mentality to exist in a business like theatre that can get so competitive.

Being a part of moments such as these are reminders of the true meaning of the holidays, and how much care we should all show to one another. The holidays are not always happy for everyone, but actions such as these are what carry us through. Getting to bring the holiday spirit to so many people in such an iconic role was something I will always cherish. I loved getting to hear the roaring applause for my cast after each hilarious bit and touching moment on stage. Community, especially in theatre, has been so important to me, and this experience only enhanced that. And if working in communities full of this hope and respect is how I get to spend the rest of my life, I am in. And getting paid for it isn’t so bad either. 

Nick makes a surprised expression as Buddy the Elf in a performance of Elf the Musical.

Next up you can find me working on Matilda the Musical, where I will be playing Michael Wormwood at The Broadway Theatre of Pitman from Jan. 14 – Feb. 6. Very soon after, I will be teaching acting classes and assistant directing a production of Evita at my home theater, The Grand Theatre: Home of the Road Company. 

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Joyous Kwanzaa, a Blessed Yule and a Happy New Year!  

The cast of Elf the Musical wave goodbye to Santa Claus.

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Production Photos by:
Valerie Neuber

Story by:
Nick Flagg, senior theatre and advertising double major 

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