By Kim Jackson
Pat Nicklin is passionate about her first love – performing on a stage. Her month-long run as the lead in the Little Theater of Alexandria’s “Lettice and Lovage” ended on March 18. Now Nicklin is thinking about the stages of her life.
“I kind of call this my third act,” Nicklin said. “You’ve got the beginning first, which is college, and second, there is career and the last third is kind of, ‘Okay, what am I doing now?’ And I’m entering that last third.”
Her performance in “Lettice and Lovage” is part of what Nicklin has called her return to the stage, which started about six years ago. The Richmond, Virginia native also runs a consulting firm specializing in nonprofit management and has a long history of achievement in that sector.
“I’ve done a little bit of commercials and other things. But the theater is the place where I’m able to love that passion. You know, whether it’s professional or community theater, whatever it is, it’s just a great opportunity.”
“Lettice and Lovage” was written by Peter Shaffer for the famous Dame Maggie Smith, who first played the part of main character Lettice Douffet. Nicklin is following in Smith’s footsteps, and she says playing the part of an eccentric, flamboyant British woman was one the hardest things she has ever done.
“It was the most difficult thing. But you know, we had a British dialect coach, Hilary Adams, and she was fantastic. She’s American, but she was fantastic,” Nicklin said.
And it wasn’t just a British accent she had to perfect – it was a high British dialect, involving vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. Colin Davies and James Blacker, two other actors in the production, are British, which Nicklin says only added to the pressure to perfect her performance.
“So that upped our game,” Nicklin said. “It was very much, ‘Okay, you’re going to be acting against these guys.’” She and co-star Rachel Hubbard prepared for the challenge.
The two female characters begin the historical, satirical British comedy as ‘frenemies’ who become enemies and eventually become friends in the end.
“What I found in the play is it’s really about a woman realizing who she is. And pursuing her passion in a very weird way,” Nicklin said. “It allows us to kind of examine at our age, right, who we are.”
Nicklin, the first person in her family to attend college, has always been driven and deter- mined. She began participating in community theater in Richmond when she was 15, first appearing as “Mrs. Noah” in Ben- jamin Britten’s “Noyes Fludde” (“Noah’s Flood”).
She attended the University of Virginia, where she majored in English as an undergrad, then attended the Darden School of Business where she received her MBA. Along the way Nicklin discovered a love for a playwright by the name of Shakespeare.
“I thought, well, I’ll just, you know, be a doctor or a nurse or something and then in the middle of it,
I fell in love with Shakespeare. There was a medieval Renaissance literature specialty, so that’s what I did,” she said.
Nicklin said her mother, who passed away in 2022, and her father were sup- portive of her career choices.
“When I think about my parents, you know, they were just so happy to give me what they didn’t have,” she said.
But being allowed to explore her passions also came with expectations.
“There’s a lot of pressure. I mean, when I got out and they were like, ‘Okay, what kind of job are you getting?’” Nicklin’s entre into the nonprofit world came after she graduated from business school and was working for the consulting firm McKinsey and Company. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush and his White House Office of National Service staff asked McKinsey for help in creating the strategy to launch “The Points of Light Foundation.”
“I was the engagement manager on that McKinsey Team,” Nicklin said in an email. “I was then asked to join Points of Light Foundation – which by the way, is still going strong – as its first head of programs. Our focus and mission was to engage every American in volunteer service.”
Nicklin said she is proud and satisfied with work she has done on and off the stage.
She served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the National Park Foundation, where she launched the Centennial Campaign to celebrate the National Park Service. Nicklin also worked with Billy Shore to establish the national “No Kid Hungry” campaign to end childhood hunger in the United States at the nonprofit Share our Strength, of which she was managing director.
“I would say it’s, you know, my most proud moment, and I definitely did it with a team, definitely did it under Billy’s leadership,” she said.
Nicklin and her husband Walter have lived in Old Town, where they raised their son Thomas, for about 20 years. Pat and Walter now split their time between Alexandria and their home in Pemaquid Point, Maine. One of the things Nicklin said she loves about performing at the Little Theatre of Alexandria is that her friends can easily come and watch.
“The community that it offers is just really, really fun,” Nicklin said.
The stage in Alexandria is a place where she finds comfort and joy, even though she says the feeling is short-lived.
“It’s momentary. It’s an art that you’re just as good as your last performance. So, for me, it’s kind of like okay, this is the next audience, who is it? I’ve got to deliver, you know.” With the curtain closed on her most recent performance, Nicklin is looking forward to the next act of living her dreams out on the stage.