Nolan McKew on the perks of flexibility, slipping straps & the similarities between houseplants & men

Nolan McKew on the perks of flexibility, slipping straps & the similarities between houseplants & men

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Aerialist Nolan McKew
Nolan McKew. Photo by Justin Patterson.

If you’re a regular theatergoer to Company XIV‘s Bushwick burlesque shows, you’ve likely seen Nolan McKew. And more likely, still, he was upside down.

McKew is a regular performer among founder and director Austin McCormick’s multi-hyphenate ensemble. Singers, dancers, aerialists, magicians, and good old-fashioned burlesque artists converge onstage in McCormick’s wildly imaginative productions, which draw inspiration from the classics but with a decidedly queer twist.

This season, Nutcracker Rouge returns with its adult riff on the holiday classic. Expect g-strings and corsets among the sugar plum fairies and a pole dance that veers far from Santa’s northern habitat.

McKew, a classically trained dancer, pianist, and plant daddy, first fell in love with circus arts after seeing a performance of Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai, and there was no turning back. Queerty caught up with McKew in between holiday performances to find out what we might expect from a private class, what makes his heart flutter, and just how gay he really is.

Nolan McKew performs on aerial straps for Company XIV.
Nolan McKew, performing at Company XIV. Photo by Mark Shelby Perry.

The first thing I’d teach you in my private aerial class is …

Pizazz! Haha! I’d start by teaching you how to safely get on the apparatus, stay on it, and then dismount when you’re ready, often shortly followed by some good ways to make it look fancy. If you’re interested, I teach private lessons at Aerial Arts NYC, and they also have a wide variety of classes by some amazing teachers, so check them out!

Company XIV’s Nutcracker Rouge is not your average holiday show. Audiences freak out — in the best possible way — when ________ happens …

In my Candy Cane aerial straps act, I do a no-hands spinning split balance into a super fast tornado-like spin. It’s a big crowd-pleaser!

Flexibility onstage has its perks offstage, too …

If my arms aren’t available, my legs’ range of motion has proven to be helpful! I was on the wrestling team in high school, and I remember there was this one match where my opponent had my arms locked up, so I just rolled through a split and got free, freaked him and the audience out, it was great.

My ultimate holiday date would include …

Probably a big dim sum dinner (I love dim sum), maybe a tour through the Dyker Heights Christmas lights in Brooklyn, and then, depending on our energy at that point in the evening, seeing a drag show — if Pixie Aventura, Brenda Dharling, or The Bootsie Lefaris are performing, we’re going there. If we need to chill, it sounds perfect to eventually be cuddled up under a blanket on my couch, drinking champagne and watching a movie.

The queer theatermaker everyone should be paying attention to right now is …

Nolan McKew in Company XIV's "Nutcracker Rouge."
Nolan McKew takes a bow at Company XIV. Photo by John Suhar.

Well, I could never choose just one, and, of course, I have to start by saying Austin McCormick’s Company XIV has featured so many queer artists, including (but certainly not limited to) the incredibly talented singer-dancer-songwriter LEXXE, whose original song lyrics we all find ourselves quoting in daily conversation, Pretty Lamé, who is a brilliantly talented opera-singing drag queen, and I’m obsessed with J. Harrison Ghee who hosted opening night of Nutcracker Rouge this season!! I also always love who I get to see at The Slipper Room and House of Yes, as these places are filled with people who unapologetically celebrate expression and queerness in all forms, and it’s always a thrill to experience.

My biggest onstage mishap happened when …

In my first show with Company XIV, I played the Prince in its production of Cinderella, and in one performance, my hand completely missed where I meant to grab a hold of the straps, so I fell flat on my back onto the stage with my left leg tucked under. It wasn’t very far down — so no injuries — and I happened to land pretty cleanly on the beat, so I treated it like it was a dip / “shablam” / “death drop,” and the initial wide-eyed looks of horror from the front row quickly turned into smiles and cheers.

When I saw _________ onstage, I knew I wanted to be a performer … 

I think I decided somewhere between going to see some friends in middle school in their classical ballet Nutcracker with Gary Taylor Dance in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and later going to see Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai in college. My friends in their Nutcracker were so strong and impressive, and I knew what goofballs they were in real life, so it looked both fun and challenging. I’d grown up in sports, classical piano, and choir, so I felt like I could get into it and started taking classes. Then, when I saw Cirque, I thought, “Oh, wow … that’s the dream.” I was entranced by the hand-balancing contortionist at first, but the aerialist in “The Flight of Icarus” immediately had me thinking, “I have to do this. I even told my friends who saw it with me that this was my future, and they said, “YES! YES IT IS!”

The gayest thing about me is …

Nolan McKew
Nolan McKew. Photos by Justin Patterson.
Aerialist and dancer Nolan McKew

Maybe it’s how I’m making mini quiches in my kitchen while I do this interview? Also, my algorithm rotates through advertising for gay vacations, plants, skincare, cookware, heels, holographic unitards, and antique stores… so there’s that!

I’m a proud daddy. Plant daddy, that is. Caring for a plant is like dating in that … 

Caring for a plant is not unlike dating in that a plant will tell you what it needs but not always so directly, so you have to be patient and know what to look for, and sometimes, even if you think you know, you have to just leave it alone until it’s clearer. You also have to be able to accept that maybe it’s too late, but there are other plants in the store! Some have needs that are more involved than you’re prepared to accommodate, and many are too expensive, so you need to know what you can handle. It’s very important to remember that you have friends who have or have had plants, too, so maybe they can contribute some perspective on men. 😉


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