Chestnut Hill actor Matt Nicholas has put in lots of hard work and may be on the verge of that big breakthrough.

by Lou Mancinelli

It’s a tough question. Should I walk away from a job where I know I can earn enough to pay the rent and take care of myself or move to New York and do something I’ve been kind of dying to do? Or stay put?

This was the question facing Chestnut Hill actor Matt Nicholas, who performed in “Mt. Airy Home Companion,” a show hosted May 27 at Allens Lane Art Center. Chestnut Hill Local humor columnist Jim Harris wrote and modeled the show to be a parody of the popular NPR program “A Prairie Home Companion” written and hosted by Garrison Keillor.

Harris’ show included “Hot Air,” a spoof of WHYY’s Fresh Air program, a skit in which Nicholas portrayed traffic reporter Gary Gridlock, who documented the scene along Kelly Drive. There was also a spoof of a soap opera set in Weaver’s Way Coop, where customers felt pressured by employees and other clientele to join the coop, a membership that requires one to work a prescribed number of hours.

Nicholas, 45, who was born in Syracuse, N.Y. and raised in Pittsburgh, first realized his creative flame at 10 when he attended summer camp and was cast in a play. He also took some acting classes in Pittsburgh and did some high-school theater.

Then came college at Tufts University (1988) outside of Boston, where he played varsity soccer for one year, wrote for the school newspaper and took some drama classes as he attempted to weave his affinity for creativity into his history degree.

He worked for a few years and in 1994 earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan. He moved to Chicago and focused on developing his career. But he had an itch. The regimented lifestyle afforded by the daily work life fell short of providing him anything like creative fulfillment.

“There was a side of me kind of dying to do something fun, creative or theatrical,” said Nicholas.

Thus, he took acting classes at the Piven Theater in Chicago founded by the parents of actor Jeremy Piven. Should I go to New York? Nicholas wondered. “It’s a regret that I didn’t,” he said.

In 1999 he moved to D.C., shifting his career focus to environmental issues, perhaps in an attempt to free himself from the routine he had followed the previous decade. But that didn’t work out as planned.

In 2002, he moved to Philadelphia, where, as in D.C., he struggled to find work promoting environmental issues but wound up with jobs from customer service and marketing to managing an artisan bakery.

A few years later, a man responded to a listing Nicholas had on an employment website. The man needed assistance with his startup film and television studio venture in western Massachusetts. Though the initiative sank after a year due to stretched resources, it relit the creative flame that had been burning within, albeit quiescent.

“I thought, this is a window,” he said.

For the past two years Nicholas has worked on building his acting resume, developing and refining his craft and writing film scripts, “which has helped guide me to acting again.” He immersed himself in what he calls a thriving Philadelphia theater community. He made his Philly Fringe Festival debut in 2010 with the Kensington-based Hella Fresh Theatre group.

He’s appeared in 10 films, including his recent role of a drug dealer in “Hoagie,” a Philadelphia movie from Pennsylvania People Productions, as well as on the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and on a Nike and other commercials and various stage productions.

“I wanted to build my resume up to feel comfortable enough to put it in front of a casting agent,” said Nicholas. “For the past two years I’ve been pushing it.”

You can contact Matt Nicholas at macalnic@earthlink.net