Nicole Stewart: The Memoir Wrangler

Categories: People 2012

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In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Mark Graham. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

A little more than three years ago, Nicole Stewart was in Venice Beach, California, and she was heartbroken. She'd been pursuing acting since she was 14, including stints at Marymount London and Northwestern University's prestigious theater program. Then her agent dropped her.

"I'd never considered not acting," Stewart says on a recent afternoon at the Pearl Cup coffeehouse. "I took it as a sign."

The granddaughter of the late Henry Miller -- a real-estate mogul credited with saving the Dallas symphony -- Stewart is a crackling, fused firecracker with blazing orange hair and an incendiary smile. After her acting-career blow, her expertise in Pilates offered her a safety net: A longtime instructor, she built a workout program through the LA gym Crunch, starred in a CNN segment called "the 1-minute workout" and hosted online content for Body By Jake.

But it wasn't enough.

"I'm morbidly curious about people," Stewart says. That curiosity, combined with her still-bubbling desire to be on stage, led her to return to Dallas and launch Oral Fixation: An Obsession with True Life Tales, a series of shows in which writers read real-life stories on the stage of the McKinney Avenue Contemporary.

Oral Fixation is no open mic. It's a night of heavily curated and edited storytelling. And it's Stewart doing the editing.

"Every word is earned," she says. "There are no ums and likes."

She works with the writers behind the scenes, almost like the producer of an album, providing notes and teasing out the best stories to ensure there's "not a single stinker" in the batch. The performances range from gut-churning to riotous, from dark, horrifying stories of rape to confessionals of awkward sexual intimacy. "You're getting to see behind the mask of someone's face," she says.

Oral Fixation is in its offseason, but Stewart -- who still teaches Pilates out of her home -- is arming herself to lead. She'll soon release clips of the best stories from Season One online, and Season Two will come later this year.

"I also feel alone a lot of the time, and I feel misunderstood," she says. "I think when we are bold enough to share the truth of our experiences, then we feel less alone."

See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

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