Teen with county ties is a part of the ‘Dead Serious About Life’ cast


Maddie Nickulis remembers the first time she saw the show, “Dead Serious About Life”.

“I first saw the show when I was a freshman at my church,” Maddie Nickulis said. “And I thought it was pretty cool, and I wanted to join it but I was way too scared to go up and talk to the person at the end who had the clipboard and was signing kids up for auditions, so I chickened out.”

The following year, again she wanted to try out, but again she was too scared to put herself out there and audition. As a junior, in her third year, she mustered the courage to attend the tryouts.

And she got a part.

“In the 11th grade, I finally tried out,” Maddie said. “The auditions were so hard. They were really nerve-racking. I tried out and I made it and I was so excited.”

Now a senior at Lakota East High School in Cincinnati, Maddie is in her second year with Mishpachah, a troupe of high school students from the Cincinnati area who handle all aspects of the play. Mishpachah is a Hebrew word that means, “family”, and with the students in the production coming from 20 different high schools and 26 different churches, it really does become a family.

And, this weekend, the play will come to Switzerland County High School for two performances, one on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. and another on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

The group travels at least every other weekend for most of the year, having been in West Virginia last weekend and after coming here, the troupe will move on to performances in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, and Ohio before wrapping its season at the end of June.

In this area, the performance has come to Lawrenceburg, South Dearborn, and Madison in the past.

So how does a troupe of 29 performers, seven technicians, and other support personnel find its way to Vevay?

That’s where Maddie Nickulis’s mother comes in.

Tracy Miller Nickulis graduated from Switzerland County High School in 1988. The daughter of Norman and Karen Miller and the sister of Travis Miller, even though she moved to the Cincinnati area, her heart has always remained here in Switzerland County.

“I happened to be in Terri’s (director Terri Hopton’s) office one day and a call came in and someone canceled,” Tracy Nickulis remembers. “I don’t remember where the show was that canceled, but I have always wanted to try and bring it to Vevay.”

Tracy said that at first Terri Hopton was not going to be able to bring the play here, because the cancellation date was too close to the production dates.

“There’s a lot of things that go into it,” Tracy said. “The community needs to rally around the show, and Terri knew that she probably couldn’t get a community who has never done it before prepared in that short of a time frame.”

But it would be another call later that same day that would bring the production to Vevay.

“Later there was another cancellation for a weekend in January, and we were able to get it to work in Vevay, because she knew she would have enough time,” Tracy said. “If the community was ready to support the project like this, then we would have enough time to prepare the community so we could promote the show.”

And, with a basketball schedule that didn’t have a game on Saturday night, January 25th, it was a perfect fit.

And when it’s said that it’s a play by teenagers for teenagers, Mishpachah really means it.

“We go to the Mish house and meet at 8 a.m.,” Maddie Nickulis said. “We pack up luggage and carry ons and show bags onto a truck and then we head to where we’re supposed to go. When we get there, we’ll unload the luggage, and then we have this big box truck that holds all of our sets.”

Maddie says that everyone is assigned to one of several crews: truck crew, lighting crew, sound crew and others. Maddie is a member of the truck crew, so she helps unload all of the truck and then hand off all of those materials to the other crews, which set up everything in time for the performance.

A local church will bring lunch in for the crew; and after that the group will do a devotion together before getting ready for the show.

“At the end of the show we have a time when we can go out and talk to all of the people who have come to the show,” Maddie said. “After that we go back and get ready to go to our host families, and we go with our host families to spend the night there.”

And, at the end of the performance, the cast comes out to the front of the stage and three of the cast members share their personal stories with the audience.

Maddie Nickulis is one of the students who shares, and she will again share this Saturday and Sunday here.

Why is it important for Maddie to be a part of the play?

“I think the message that we have in the show is so important for teenagers to hear,” she says. “We hit on the touchy subjects that not a lot of parents know what’s going on or older people know what’s going on in the lives of teenagers. I think that by doing the show and kind of just putting it out there, the parents and adults who come to the show get a taste of what it’s like to be a teenager now.”

As a parent, having a child who’s a part of Mishpachah also takes some dedication.

“It takes a lot of time,” Tracy Nickulis said. “I’m really, really glad to spend my time doing this as opposed to Maddie not being active in our community and sharing; so I’d rather be doing this than her doing nothing and me supporting her through that.”

And when your child comes to you and says that she would like to be a part of the cast of such a straight forward, hard hitting play?

“I was really excited,” Tracy Nickulis said. “When we went for the very first time when she was a freshman, I really encouraged her to try it then, but she couldn’t quite muster up the courage to do it, but I was super excited, because I had learned about Mish back in 2000 when we were at another church and some young people then who were a part of Mish. So I got to see the show and didn’t know a whole lot about it, but I knew it was a Christian production and I knew that they talked about teen issues. It was exciting for me when I knew that she wanted to try it.”

As the play deals very directly with teenage issues, as a mother Tracy Nickulis says that parents shouldn’t be afraid to bring their teens to the production, but should also be careful about judging if their children are mature enough to handle the content.

“I would encourage parents to take their kids based on their kids maturity level,” Tracy Nickulis said. “It’s suggested for kids from age 12 through young adults, but I encourage parents to be aware of their child’s maturity, for one.

“For two, the material is shocking, it is,” Tracy continued. “Don’t be afraid to take your child based on the material for fear that it will encourage them to participate in some of the things they’ll see, because chances are likely that they’ll already know that those things are going on, it’s just that they haven’t shared with their parents what’s going on at school, and I personally don’t think it would be something that would encourage kids to try those sorts of things, but I think it’s a gateway to communication for teens to talk with their parents or other adults in their lives; youth pastors or teachers or coaches about what really is already going on. I think it’s a great springboard for conversation about what the reality is that our teens deal with.”

After two months off in the summer, auditions come again, and once the new cast is set, the new season schedule begins in the fall. Because all of the cast members are high school students, Maddie Nickulis won’t be able to perform again next year, but could be a part of the support team or work on staff in the company’s offices.

“I’ll be going to college, so right now I think I want to focus on my studies,” she said. “But this has been an incredible experience.”


Tickets for this weekend’s performances are $9 each, and are available at the door.