Voyage Austin Interview

nicolette mallow

Imagery from VoyageAustin Magazine. Photography of Nicolette Mallow taken by Vivian’s Muse.

Last December, I received a note from an editorial team to inquire if I wanted to partake in a literary project called the “Inspiring Stories” series published by VoyageAustin Magazine. For the first time in 16 years, someone else interviewed me. It was so exciting since no one has ever asked in detail about my artistic journey. People usually only inquire about my writing career and forget about my performing arts history. I’ve conducted hundreds upon hundreds of interviews, but as far as I can recall. VoyageAustin Magazine is my first non-work-related interview where I was the subject matter instead of the interviewer. Perhaps on a few occasions like at The University of Texas at Austin. I spoke on behalf of the company. But this was the first time anyone interviewed me. http://voyageaustin.com/interview/check-nicolette-mallows-story/


Hi Nicolette, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.

My writing career began in 2005 at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). I joined the District, an award-winning student newspaper, and started to get published in my undergraduate program. After graduation, I left Georgia to begin an internship with the Editorial department at Texas Monthly magazine in ATX. Then I was hired as a contract employee to work in their Custom Publishing department for a different magazine. I wrote three stories for the Texas Monthly website and that was exciting! SCAD and Texas Monthly are the launchpads of my professional journey as a writer. 

Internationally published in the United States and Europe, I’ve obtained 110+ publications thus far, and counting. For 16 years, I’ve interviewed an extensive list of talent and collaborated with companies, directors, and PR teams from The Hollywood Reporter, National Geographic Channel, Prevention Magazine, HBO Films, SXSW, The David Lynch Foundation, Cine Las Americas, The University of Texas at Austin and more. Presently, my portfolio entails 12 national awards or scholarships, including both individual and group projects. Obtaining two degrees from the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), I earned a Master of Arts degree in Arts Administration and a B.F.A. in Writing. But, writing is just one of the art forms I enjoy creating. 

From childhood until college, I focused primarily on performing arts. Born and raised in Texas and NYC—I’m an artist: writer, dancer, vocalist, thespian, model & (amateur) photographer. As a little girl, I was fortunate to be exposed to a colorful variety of music, artwork, and a beautiful array of cultures. A third-generation American, I’m a Latina, Lebanese girl that has always adored theatre arts, dance and music. 

Even at three years old, I knew I wanted to be a bellydancer after seeing the dancers and their costumes. My mummy says I ran to her at Disney in Orlando and declared, “I’m going to dance like that someday, too!” A year later, when I was four, my family took me to see The Nutcracker. Immediately, I was hooked. I needed to be part of the action on stage. I needed to dance! That desire only became more intense after seeing Phantom of the Opera at The Majestic Theater. Then, I wanted to be a vocalist, too. The makeup, the lights, the costumes and the music were hypnotic to me.

Anytime I saw a film, concert, or music video that inspired and enticed me. I wanted to be in it. Life just seemed so much more enthralling within the art world. And it is, for me. Tantalized by theatre arts and the world of music, beginning in pre-K and throughout elementary school, I partook in ballet classes. I attended music and voice lessons at the Jewish Community Center, even though I’m not Jewish. I was also part of our church choir. We showcased big theatrical productions in the winter and spring, as well as hymns every Sunday. 

When I got to middle school, I hid myself away artistically, at first, overwhelmed by the culture shock and the harsh adjustment from San Antonio to Lake Travis. In private, I auditioned for Barbizon Modeling and was accepted. In private, I kept singing and dancing. But I chose to focus on volleyball, swimming and academics, instead. In high school, I came out of my shell, once again. After I quit competitive volleyball and stopped swimming at West Austin Athletics, I re-focused my energy on performing arts. I became an Honor Thespian. And I think my favorite production we showcased was Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got the Will? and I got to play Marlene Turnover. 

So, it began with theatres, classes and choirs, year after year. I tried the piano, too, but enjoyed singing and dancing far more than sitting still in one place. Although, I wish I had mastered at least one instrument. Anyway, I grew up in a house of musicians and artists. I am very fortunate to have grown up with such gifted, talented and intelligent individuals. I could go on and on with praise about each member of my family. 

But yeah, as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the performing arts and playing sports. As a kid, I was always torn between the arts and athletics. My first swim team in Kindergarten was the Shavano Sharks, up until my Master’s swim team in college at St. Stephen’s. I would bounce back and forth between my two greatest loves. In college, when I finally had to choose, I chose the arts. A decision I do not regret; alas, it was one of the most challenging choices of my young adult life. True, I am still an athlete—that energy in my heart will never die—but my career and my greatest passions lie within the art world. Art heals me and gives me a purpose in a way sports cannot. However, dance is a sport, too, not just a form of art. Regardless, it’s been a wild adventure ever since I devoted my life to the arts.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

I laughed when I read this question. No, it has most certainly not been a smooth road, and it still isn’t, especially with COVID-19. Artists all over the world can relate to this struggle. First, the most obvious challenge is that I’m a dyslexic writer, an oxymoron. It took many years, tears, and many successes for me to fully believe: I’m a writer. When it came to my writing, my confidence was intermittent, inconsistent. Even if I always knew from birth, I’m an artist and an athlete. I used to doubt my writing skills. 

Writers are supposed to be flawless at grammar. My dyslexia was and is a constant challenge. For decades, there has been a harsh stigma about dyslexia: if you have dyslexia, you must be incompetent, which is far from the truth. Earlier this year, I saw an article with a video featuring a dyslexic woman, Laura Schifter, that graduated from Harvard. She spoke of her struggles with dyslexia. Right before she attended Ivy League Harvard, an older man said something to Schifter: “Well, if you’re going to Harvard, then you must not have dyslexia.” Oy! It was hard to watch, but she talks about the brutal comments and the misinformed judgments many people hold towards dyslexia. 

For years, I kept my dyslexia a secret from employers. I was advised that no one wants to hire a dyslexic writer. It was implied most editors see a dyslexic writer like a deaf musician, a colorblind photographer, or a one-legged runner. I heard from other professionals that employers see a writer like me as too much work. It’s unfair, it’s wrong, and it’s saddening—but it’s the harsh truth. So I kept my dyslexia secret, which ended up hurting me in the end. Sometimes, I still get hate mail from a reader like, “You should learn to improve your grammar if you consider yourself a writer.” Or people will stop to correct me, mid-sentence, while I’m talking. I’m often treated as incompetent by insensitive people. But, I do not see myself as disabled or having a disability. Regardless, I am blithely aware that my grammar is a bit more “colorful” than most professional writers. 

Thinking back on it, I was always writing. I even had some of my little chapter books laminated. My first research paper for this gifted and talented program was about Ramses II (Ramses The Great). Obviously, I had assistance from my parents, but I still picked the topic, read about it, and put together the project. I’ve always loved reading and writing! And no one should be able to take that away because I’m dyslexic. It makes me sad for younger generations, the children, because what kind of message does that send out. “Kids, you can be anything you want to be, so long as you don’t have a learning disability.” 

It’s funny because I learned to read at the age of three using Hooked on Phonics. So I was already reading chapter books on my own before I even got to elementary school. When I read books, I felt like I was entering this other world of daydreams and imagination. Writing, the written word, was a safe place to have a voice of my own. I loved my diaries! Art is a healthy escape for me from the real world. Through artwork, I can create, express, or alter my reality; convey my mind, heart, and soul in a safe place: light or dark. 

Sometimes it can be frustrating to create art when your mind gets the words, times, and tenses all mixed up. I advise reading aloud, helps you with pronunciation for public speaking, and catch errors or issues with chronological time waves. I hate it when I jump around from the first person to the third person in my diction. The worst! 

Nevertheless, I still struggle between writer versus performing artist: introvert versus extrovert. Initially, I was accepted to Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) to study Media & Performing Arts in my undergraduate program. In my sophomore year, I switched my B.F.A. to Writing and was amongst the first crew of SCAD Writing students to ever complete the program. I recall the exact moment I knew I’d become weary of performing arts. I remember the class and the assignment. Up until then, I loved being on stage! I loved being in the spotlight. I loved role-playing. And I was so thrilled to be centerstage: all eyes on me! 

I was always on a euphoric high each time we began something new. Suddenly, to much surprise, I dreaded playing someone else. I dreaded memorizing someone else’s lines and someone else’s voice. Because I didn’t know my voice. I felt like I’d been roleplaying my whole life and had no idea who I was. I didn’t want to wear a costume anymore. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be the center of attention. I wasn’t as extroverted any more. That’s a long story, too. 

Ultimately, writing helped me rediscover my voice and identity. Writing reminded me of my role in life. Writing helped me begin to heal from any secrets I was harboring. I could rewrite the story or not, but I had the control to make it fact or fiction. After college, I got back into dance and learned belly dancing through Stacey Lizette and Suhaila Salimpour. I performed at restaurants, nightclubs, and parties. Then I got into my Master’s, and I haven’t been on stage in a few years to sing or dance. Not including karaoke. I’ve hidden away, once again, for good and bad reasons. Of course, now I miss being on stage. So, I need to find that perfect ambivert balance of writer and performance artist.

Due to COVID, I’ll probably go digital until the pandemic clears. I do my best to keep my professional writing career separate from my performing arts interests and my nonfiction memoirs. I want employers to see the distinction and that the two are not intertwined. However, I’ve discovered that some employers dislike my modeling and dancing career. They think it’s too sexy or salacious, which saddens me because I’ve never been fired from a single job, and my credentials are pretty solid for my age. Thankfully, many employers do not feel that way and love having artists and creative types onboard. Who I am at the workplace is not who I am on stage or in a photoshoot. We all wear different masks and different costumes at work. I am grateful to everyone that believed in me along the way. I have so much work to do in the future. I am still far from where I need to be. But I am on the road. Books are my next goal.

So let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?

One of the proudest moments of my career is when my editors at WideWorld Magazine in London, UK, commissioned me to interview a photographer for National Geographic and a sponsored athlete for The North Face, Jimmy Chin. They flew me out to Washington DC, where I interviewed Chin at The Madison Hotel before attending a banquet at National Geographic headquarters in his honor. The interviews were published in 2010. In 2019, he won an Oscar for his Documentary, Free Solo. It’s amazing! 

This interview made me internationally published in the US and Europe, a massive step for me in my career. Plus, I’ve adored Nat Geo since I was a child, and this was a dream come true. Mr. Chin was also very kind to me, and I remember that kindness because I was so new to the game and trying not to look or sound like a rookie.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?

Well, I’ve learned the hard way that not everyone is eager to help you. Especially if they’re competing for the same goal, you might find cold comfort from those who want to see you fail. Even if they like you, they might be disinterested in assisting you on your journey. And you may never know why. So, I advise going where you’re wanted and trusting your instincts. My advice is to seek mentorship from someone that is smarter than you, possibly older and wiser, but definitely more advanced in their career. You should not be competing with a mentor. You need someone to look up to. Seek out the “angels” of the art world that want to help aspiring artists. People that love and adore the arts and see their value. Also, be sure to remain open-minded to constructive criticism. Negative enforcement is not healthy, and you will know it when you hear it, feel it… Artists can get a little egotistical and hypersensitive when it comes to their craft, and rightfully so. But it’s imperative to be able to take advice from others that hold your best interests. 

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Austin Film Festival receives $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

AFF

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Austin, TX National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $80 million in grants as part of the NEA’s second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2018.  Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $15,000 to Austin Film Festival for the On Story® Project. The Art Works category is the NEA’s largest funding category and supports projects that focus on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and/or the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“The variety and quality of these projects speaks to the wealth of creativity and diversity in our country,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Through the work of organizations such as Austin Film Festival in Austin, Texas, NEA funding invests in local communities, helping people celebrate the arts wherever they are.” 

Austin Film Festival & Writers Conference (AFF) was the first organization of its kind to champion the writer’s role in film and television, and has remained vigilant in its dedication to storytelling throughout its 25-year history. The organization programs a slate of year-round offerings, including panels, workshops, and film screenings, all rooted in the art and craft of narrative storytelling. Held each October, its annual Festival and Conference is renowned to be the largest screenwriters event in the world, boasting over 200 panels and panelists gathered to discuss their expertise, latest works, and the inner-workings of the industry.

AFF’s annual Festival and Conference is a unique experience, challenging standard panel and film Q&A conventions by delivering intimate, instructional, and inspiring content to its audience. The AFF and On Story teams work year-round to create a program rich with insight. Speakers have hands-on experience and the battle scars to prove it. Panels, workshops, and interviews are tactile, ranging from detailed explorations of a script’s journey from conception to completion, to discussions that feature an entire writers room staff. Each session strives to pull back the curtain on the creative process, offering an inside look at some of the most influential and inspirational projects of our time.

Since its inaugural year in 1993, AFF has recorded and preserved these distinctive events. The vast material captured at the Festival and year-round events is then curated into productions offered for free online and through public radio and television; preserved and archived at The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University; and edited into a multi-book series in partnership with The University of Texas Press. These elements make up the foundation for the On Story brand and content.

An extension of AFF’s programs, mission, and messaging, On Story offers inspiring and instructional curations from the entertainment industry’s leading writers, directors, and creatives. The process of selecting specific episodes and content to feature in On Story is meticulous. At the close of each Festival year, the On Story team conducts a robust review process. These detailed deliberations help inform the content selection for the upcoming On Story season. Along with catering to both trends in the industry and the more timeless storytelling topics, the producers consider diversity of both speakers and mediums represented; the impact of the project’s educational value; and how the human experience is highlighted through the art and craft of storytelling.

On Story’s productions – 20 half-hour television episodes; 32 one-hour-long radio episodes; and 30-50 one-hour-long podcast episodes, all selected from a pool of over 200 recorded sessions from the prior year, as well as the book series, archive, and website – exude the same vibrance as when they’re being recorded, but are more wide and democratic in scope. The productions include industry luminaries such as Mark Frost (Twin Peaks), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), Issa Rae (Insecure), John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood), Keenen Ivory Wayans (In Living Color), and Alan Yang (Master of None). The Project as a whole has developed organically as a way to expand AFF’s reach, giving unprecedented access to audiences who have the desire to learn more about the art, craft, and business of film, television, and new media. As it does for AFF’s attendees, who often return year after year, On Story has proven to be an integrative resource to a nationwide classroom of students who, in turn, possess the potential to become writers, filmmakers, and media creators themselves. 

“The content captured at the Festival directly reflects its reputation for being an intimate, instructive, and inspirational experience,” said AFF Executive Director, Barbara Morgan. “We couldn’t be more thrilled for this incredible opportunity given by the NEA to help us provide these resources to the general public, free to anyone with an interest in storytelling through film, television and new media.”

For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, visit arts.gov/news.

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ABOUT AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL
Austin Film Festival (AFF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the art, craft and business of writers and filmmakers and recognizing their contributions to film, television and new media. AFF champions the work of aspiring and established writers and filmmakers by providing unique cultural events and services, enhancing public awareness and participation, and encouraging dynamic and long-lasting community partnerships. AFF is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department and the Texas Commission on the Arts. All attendees and events are based on permitting schedules and are subject to change and/or cancellation without notice. Badges and passes are available for purchase online at
 www.austinfilmfestival.com or by phone at 1-800-310-FEST.

Note: Official Press Release was provided to Nicolette Mallow by Sunshine Sachs.