All photos Gracelena Ignacio/Catalyst
William Pearson received the stage name Dr. Nik in the 1980s while working at the Golden Apple Dinner Theater. He was in a show called “Sunshine Boys” and everyone had a nickname except him — until one day, when he was running by the other cast members, they saw the scars on his legs and decided that he was the doctor of nicks.
After the Golden Apple, he began working at the Florida Studio Theater and has been there for five years. He is also a union carpenter for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Hand Employees. According to Dr. Nik, he is the “go-to guy” at Florida Studio Theater. “You come to me when you need something,” Dr. Nik said. “Any job I do, I try to do to the best of my ability … Quality, that’s what I go for — quality. If you’re going to do something, do the best you can at it. If you get a little glitch here and there, stop and fix it. Don’t cover it over. Make it right. A bad job will haunt you.”
Dr. Nik builds sets, acts, plays music, hosts a radio show and conducts puppets. He is from Warwick, N. Y. and says that he’ll always be a New Yorker. He moved to Sarasota because of its abundant theater scene and now travels between the two states. He first drove down to Florida in a full length bus painted like a tiger. This bus is one of three tiger striped buses he has owned over the years. His latest one is a mini diesel bus he calls the “lovely bus.” He uses it for his puppets and tools required for his theater job. Though these buses were his main source of transportation, they are now taking a backseat to his 23 bicycles because of the increasing price of diesel.
Each one of his bicycles is different. One is covered with 43 lawn ornament flamingos. One has two owls perched on top. One of his two tricycles pulls a grand piano on which his puppet elephant, Uncle Howie, plays ragtime music. “The great thing about bikes is that they are movable pieces of artwork that conjure and provoke thought and creativity,” Dr. Nik explained.
“I do a lot of puppet shows,” he said. “That’s my top shelf thing, puppets. Puppets are everything.” He names many of his puppets, such as Uncle Howie, after his relatives. Some of his other puppets include a chicken bluegrass band, Rob the Rooster who plays the banjo and Ralph, the trumpet-playing polar bear from Alaska. “I don’t make money [from puppets], but I have fun,” Dr. Nik said. “The main thing I like is that it makes people laugh. People don’t laugh enough … I got into puppets to help educate kids, to make them believe in themselves. Every time I do a show I know I’m affecting a kid.”
In 1986 Dr. Nik founded Lions, Tigers and Bears Productions. The company’s website cites its goal as to “inspire and entertain children in cooperation with a safe, supervised educational environment. All of our artistic expressions share two common themes; music, the universal language; and love, for ourselves, each other and our environment.”
“I teach music, art and creativity through puppets,” Dr. Nik explained. All of his puppets are plants or animals that play instruments. He entertains downtown almost every Saturday with his puppets. His show used to be held at the farmer’s market but he can now be found in front of Sarasota Hardware and Paint. “They’re inanimate objects that come alive,” Dr Nik said. “All you have to do it look at the faces on not just kids, but adults too. We’re all kids. Once you’re a kid you’re always a kid and then when you get older you tend to be a curmudgeon and give up your kidhood. Don’t ever give up your kidhood. Stay young, vibrant and exciting.”
Dr. Nik does not smoke, drink or watch television. “I did puppets with this guy from the renaissance fair back in the 1980s,” he explained. “I was a musician at the New York Renaissance Fair but there was too much drugs and alcohol. It was constant from the moment you got up to that night when you went back to the campsite and played music. I had fun but at a certain point you have to put an end to the fun.”
In the 1980s Dr. Nik had many people help him perform big puppet shows in New York. The shows now in Sarasota are smaller. He recently made a tiger-chicken puppet that will play the electric guitar and help teach the history of string instruments. “When that tiger-chicken plays that electric guitar he will bring down the house,” Dr. Nik said. “There is no doubt about it.”
Dr. Nik also has a radio show on local community radio station WSLR LP-FM. It used to be the “History of Bluegrass,” but is now “33 & 1/3,” which features music solely from records. He has hosted a show on WSLR for close to four years but has participated in radio since 1992. He worked for a commercial AM radio station in New York and a public radio station in the Catskills. “I come from a really strange family,” Dr. Nik said. “My relatives used to tape radio shows and create characters and send them to each other … I love radio. It’s an interesting communicational art form. Down the road, I want to do a puppet radio show. Radio requires you to have a little creativity in your mind.”
Every Friday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Dr. Nik goes downtown with one of his puppets, Rudy the Tree Root, who is the mailman in the Lions, Tigers and Bears production of Leonardo DaCat and His International Musical Menagerie, to protest the lights recently installed in Five Points Park. Rudy holds a sign that says “Respect the trees” and Dr. Nik displays one reading “Take the lights down.”
“They’re hideous,” Dr. Nik said about the new lights. “My theory is that they put these lights up to make the homeless not hang out here as much. That’s my theory and I’m entitled to it. The boxes and black wires on the side of the trees are ugly and cheapens Sarasota. Sarasota is the arts capital of Florida … It’s like a mall — you know that little oasis mall with the fountain and every one is congregated around it with their cappuccino.” Dr. Nik has protested the lights for the past month and says that 80 to 90 percent of people he sees agree with him.