Richmond Is Horror-able, Chapter 3: Nicole Pisaniello — Artist, Entertainer, Robot

by | Aug 12, 2022 | FILM & TV

What is Robot ApocalypseRobot Apocalypse is a zany zombie parody series that’s got everything you want and need in your entertainment. There are heroes and hot doggers, zombies and robots, romance and sports. Alliances will be formed, secrets will be revealed. It’s got something for everyone, from twinkies to cigarettes… AND it’s action packed to the extreme!!!!!  

It’s also a love letter to poorly dubbed movies. Dubbing happens after a movie is made. Dialogue is added (often translated into other languages), and sometimes the voices just don’t match up. It’s pretty funny. 

“I love to laugh. Loud and long and clear” — Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins

“Robot Apocalypse will make you laugh” — Nicole Pisaniello (Kitty the Robot)

Robot Apocalypse Chapter One: The Super Squad is just that. It’s Chapter One: the pilot for a series we want to make.

There are nine more chapters yet to be told, in which you meet the other squads, clones, mad scientists, friendly zombies, and robots. Lots of robots. How many? Well, let’s just say it’s an apocalypse, and that sounds like a lot.   

Help us make this series! Please watch all three episodes in Chapter One and go tell your local congressman (or rich uncle) that “You deserve more!”

Photo by Patricia Tscharskyj

“An independent filmmaker has to wear many hats” is a bland yet true expression. Hats being a metaphor for all of the jobs one has to do to make an independent film or, well, any kind of art you care about, for that matter. 

Aisthesis Productions consists of several multi-talented Mad Hatters. Including Nicole Pisaniello.

In episode one of Robot Apocalypse, we meet Kitty the Robot. She was originally designed as a female companion unit, in case no women survived. Since they did, Kitty and the others were converted into Service Robots, but that was a long time ago — when she was beautiful.

Nicole Pisaniello plays Kitty the Robot.

Nicole Pisaniello as Kitty The Robot in Robot Apocalypse. Photo by Robert Alan Moore.

MM: Why did you accept the role of Kitty, the Robot in Robot Apocalypse?

NP: I love physical acting. It’s like being inside of a puppet. And because I just wanted to play with y’all. I will take any chance that I can to do the stuff that I love. Also… I was the only person small enough to fit into the costume.

MM: True.  

Kitty is a robot that has the brain scan of a “real” woman. She was not created with A.I. She sees herself as a woman that happens to be in the strongest robot body that’s ever existed. Nicole was cast to play Kitty because we needed someone with precision of movement and body awareness to move the way this particular model of robot was designed to move — without it looking like she’s doing “the robot” — AND conveying the nuances of Kitty’s emotions.

Nicole wears a lot of hats.

NP: When someone says, “What do you do?” sometimes I don’t know what to say. I’ll try to describe it. Sometimes people just want an easy answer. 

Nicole is an actor, singer, aerial artist, gymnast, illustrator, animator, writer, and mushroom forager (and I don’t mean the trippy kind — I mean the eatin’ kind). All those hats brought Kitty the Robot to life. But I want to move on to another expression… I don’t even like wearing hats.

Nicole gets into costume during the filming of Robot Apocalypse. Photo by Monica Moehring.

NP: The expression “Jack of all trades” haunts me. 

“A Jack of all trades is a master of none” was an insult playwright Robert Greene hurled at a fellow thespian in his book Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit in 1592. 

Sick burn, Bob.

He was all, “This guy… He’s directing, and then he’s doing costumes, and he’s also building sets, AND he thinks he’s an actor. And now… NOW, he thinks he’s a writer?!?” 

MM: And why “Jack?” Because Bob thought it to be a “common” name. Huh. Thanks Bobby Boy. I respect a lot of Jacks. Jack Black. Jack Torrance. Jackass. Jackoff. Jack Skellington. Jack Tripper. 

At this point Nicole reminds me that–

NP: Dude. Jack goes on all the adventures. Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer, Jack Be Nimble…Jack the Ripper…

But back to Bob. Do you know who he was talking about when he said, “A Jack of all trades is a master of none”? Ready? Ready? He was talking about WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE!!!! (Sorry to yell, I just love him so much.) 

One might compare Nicole to a modern-day Shakespeare. That “one” is me. That’s to say: art is where her heart lies, and she follows it as her passions and skills evolve. 

Photo by Chris Beasley

With Jersey swagger, I ask her —

MM: Where were you born, Nicole?

In a very thick Southern accent, she replies —

NP: I was born in Hackensack, New Jersey and my whole family lived in Fair Lawn. We moved to Richmond in the late 80’s.

MM: So being a performer, did that start with gymnastics?

NP: Yes and no. I was taught to treat gymnastics as a competitive sport, but my favorite parts of it were when I could perform for the audience, rather than just doing a skill for the judges. 

My mom was a ballet dancer and then a gymnastics coach. She had me in the gym with her from a very young age, like four, and I was always taking gymnastics or dance classes. I started taking gymnastics, [laughs] seriously [laughs again] when I was eight. I was serious, at eight. 

MM: So, gymnastics was the thing.

NP: It was everything. It was with my mom, my friend group… I was training four hours a day, 3-4 days a week. I would go after school, I would go on Saturday mornings… it was a lot. I stayed in competitive gymnastics [USA Gymnastics] until I was eighteen. I think I peaked at 12 — that’s when I was my best and strongest for the sport: at 12. [laughs] That’s when I peaked. It’s all downhill from puberty.

MM: That’d be a good book title. 

NP: But I was always performing. In middle school and high school, I was very into theater.

MM: Favorite play?

NP: [Euripides’] Medea.

MM: Ugh. Now you’re just perpetuating a stereotype, Nicole.

NP: Aw, come on. Look–

MM: I’m not surprised. I guess I would have been if you’d said your favorite play was The Little Princess, Sara Crewe.

NP: Hey, don’t diss on The Little Princess. See, it’s that dichotomy of dark and light. 

Photo by Barbara Shore.

MM: Younger Nicole — what did she like to watch?

NP: Fraggle Rock.

MM: The opening theme to Fraggle Rock rocked!

NP: I liked Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, She-Ra

MM: Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, and She-Ra are all #girlbosses that went off on adventures with their friends trying to help the community and make the world a better place. Does the art we consume as wee ones influence and inform who we become? Probably.

So: monster movies? Horror movies? What kind of horror did you grow up on?

NP: When I was a kid, I was afraid to watch anything even remotely scary. 

MM: What was something you remember scaring you?

NP: The Brave Little Toaster. It’s kind of a weird, depressing kids cartoon. I would run out of the room when the Air Conditioner flips out and starts screaming and steaming and getting really mad. It freaked me out. I watched it so many times, but I always had to leave at that part.

MM: I am fascinated by what we call horror or “scary” when we’re little. 

NP: Confrontation scared me when I was a kid. I was extremely quiet. I drew a lot.   

“The Dig Web,” art by Nicole Pisaniello

MM: You went to school for art. Were you drawing when you weren’t gymnast-cizing?

NP: Yeah, always drawing. I was obsessed with Disney movies. Little Mermaid, Hercules… Hercules was my boyfriend. [clapping, we both break into “Hercules Hercules” from The Nutty Professor]

I wanted to be an animator, and I was going to animate for Disney. I thought animation was an industry with actual jobs, so I would never be a starving artist. But I discovered that the culture of animation was a very corporate, male-dominated field. I mean, I thought I could do anything, and I didn’t notice that it was male-dominated at the time, or think it mattered. But looking back, I don’t know, maybe it did? More importantly, I don’t think I would have been happy being an animator. 

MM: After that, then what?

NP: I slept through my twenties…

MM: Okay. You were sleepy. Noted.

NP: And I woke up and started drawing fairies. I read online that there was a festival for fairies, and knew I had to go. I’d never been to any type of festival before, but as soon as I got there it felt like home, and I’ve been going ever since. Spoutwood May Day Fairie Festival. I was able to learn from other independent artists and illustrators. So I started a business as an illustrator. 

MM: Easy peasy.

NP: I didn’t know what else to do. I made a website and said I’m a fantasy illustrator, and people believed me! 

MM: Words to describe your art?

NP: It’s dark and magical. It is not everybody’s cup of tea. I was vending at a show when a woman walked by, glanced over, and then did everything she could to not make eye contact with me. 

MM: That’s when you should lean into the sell. “Lady, lemma give you the top five places you can wear a ‘Fuck Puritanism’ T-Shirt.”

NP: Right. I said, “Hello, how are you? Lovely day,” and she just kept walking like she was scared. 

“Baba Yaga,” art by Nicole Pisaniello

MM: Why do you think some people don’t “get” fantasy art?

NP: Maybe because they’re afraid to be creative, and creativity in other people scares them. 

MM: Other artistic influences?

NP: German Expressionism is my jam! Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Stop motion. The Brothers Quay. Jan Švankmajer’s Alice. The trifecta: Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and Legend. I love Legend.

MM: Me too! That’s all practical special effects makeup and prosthetics in Legend. Tim Curry’s makeup took six hours.

NP: I love Tim Curry. The Worst Witch. They say you can judge someone by what they know Tim Curry from. I think The Worst Witch was the first time I ever saw him, as the Grand Wizard, and then Legend, of course. What was your first Tim Curry?

MM: My first Tim Curry was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Soundtrack, then the movie — at home, and not at midnight. I’d watch that shit on a Tuesday morning before school. 

NP: When I was a teenager I used to watch VH1 Behind the Music, and they did one about Rocky Horror. And I learned about the midnight screenings and the whole culture that evolved around it, and I was so sad because I thought I had missed it. I’d watch VH1 and be like, “Why wasn’t I at Studio 54? Why wasn’t I at Rocky Horror? I missed it!” As I got older and learned that it was still going… these opportunities to participate in art. And here we are.

MM: When did you get back into performing?

NP: I saw a Lord of the Rings-themed burlesque show at Gallery 5, and there was a costume contest. I dressed as Shelob [the spider] and I won! A friend I went to high school with was working the door, and I said, “Holy shit, this is amazing! How often do you do this?” They said, “As often as I can.”  

MM: And that was it?  

NP: Yes. I thought, “I can do this! I want to do this!” Some of the burlesquers were doing aerial arts, and that’s where I learned about Lyra, an aerial hoop.

MM: So, the gymnastics came in handy? 

NP: It did. When I stopped doing gymnastics, I decided I was never going to need those skills, but you can’t get away from gymnastics, from being that physical. I got back into it. I met Host of Sparrows [Richmond’s own aerial dance and circus company] and I was hooked. I wish I knew about Cirque Du Soleil, or any circus as a physical performance art, back when I first left gymnastics.

MM: And now you’re teaching aerial classes. 

NP: Yes with The Host of Sparrows.

Nicole demonstrating the art of silks. Photo by Barbara Shore.

MM: What is silks?

NP: What is silks? You know in Cirque du Soleil, when they’ve got the two ribbons hanging? That’s when people usually say, “Oh yeah…” Aerial dance is another way to look at it.

MM: So, I think you’re smoking hot. How has being smoking hot shaped you as an artist?

NP: Why thank you, Monica. [laughs] My sexuality has definitely shaped my art. I love to gender-bend. I had several burlesque routines where I’d wear a sparkly codpiece, and I really enjoyed giving people confused boners.

MM: Sure!! Confused boners are good!

NP: That should be my tagline: Nicole Pisaniello is sure to give you a confused boner.

Photo by Dave Parrish Photography

MM: I’ll make a note of that. Got any horror recommendations?

NP: The Haunting of Hill House. The Haunting of Bly Manor, I could just watch over and over. It’s tragic and beautiful. I dig Mike Flanagan and the work he’s doing with horror. [His 2019 film] Doctor Sleep was amazing. 

MM: What’s your sign?

NP: Capricorn.

MM: Right-handed or left-handed?

NP: Right-handed and left-footed.

MM: Advice to others pursuing art? Artists with many interests and talents?

NP: Don’t undervalue what you’re doing. Don’t look at one thing as your “day job” and art as something you do on the side. You’re diversifying your income, and that’s all. Don’t undervalue your art and overvalue a day job. 

I mentioned that the expression, “Jack of all trades” haunts me. When you pursue art across the spectrum, it’s easy to get imposter syndrome. No one knows how to “market you.”

MM: I know I do [get imposter syndrome]. It’s tough, because I want to make art in Richmond, VA, and to do so I can’t just be one thing.

NP: None of us can. 

Nicole then shared with me a tag given to the expression:

MM: A Jack of all trades is a master of none…

NP: …But oftentimes better than master of one.

There are people right now that are frustrated with having to be just one thing. There’s also people that are frustrated with having to be everything. 

MM: Shut up, that was beautiful. 

If art is the passion you pursue, what and how you consume it is constantly evolving as we evolve. Do we say to ourselves, “No, I’ve committed myself to only doing this one thing”? If we do, what opportunities are missed? Do artists in 2022 have the luxury of being a Master of One? I mean, financially? No. Creatively? Not sure. Maybe being a Jack of all trades is the way to becoming a master of one? I don’t know. Maybe I should just focus on wearing my hats. Please watch Robot Apocalypse.  

Find Nicole at her website,, on Instagram @nicolepisaniello, or on Facebook here.

Episode one of Robot Apocalypse, Chapter One: The Super Squad is out now, and can be seen on RVA Mag TV HERE. Episode two will premiere on Monday, August 15 at 1 PM on RVA Mag TV.

Top Photo by Barbara Shore

Monica Moehring

Monica Moehring

Hi. I’m Monica Moehring and I love music. I love movies. I love scary things. I love making movies and art and theatre about scary things and funny things and sad things. I work with other Richmond artists and filmmakers that share the mission of creating art that delivers less bore, more gore--gore being a metaphor for substance and sometimes not being a metaphor because we do like to get gorey. After graduating from the Shenandoah Conservatory, I spent time in Chicago as both actor and playwright. As one does, I found my way back to Richmond and took up with a group of independent filmmakers, Aisthesis Productions. I am a left-handed Sagittarius.

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