Artist o’ the Week: Happy McPartlin

11 May

Happy McPartlinActress Happy McPartlin joined the cast of NEXT TO NORMAL only a few short days ago, and to say that we are happy – well, that’s a huge understatement – we are ecstatic to have her join us as Diana in the Tony Award-winning rock musical opening next week. Happy had not even unpacked her bags after her gig with the national tour of MEMPHIS when she hopped right back on a plane to Houston and jumped directly into rehearsals. 

Houston audiences are going to go gaga for her, and we wanted to give a little intro before you see her:

First, we have to know…how did you get the name Happy?  I am named after my mother’s mother – but Happy was actually her nickname and not her real name.  It’s who she was – and my mother named me in her honor.  When I was a kid it was torture!  But I am so grateful for the name now.  

Where are you from?  I was born in New Hampshire while my dad was in grad school at Dartmouth.  We moved a few times while I was a toddler and settled in Bethel, Connecticut when I was 2.  We moved when I was 9 to Schenectady, NY, and I lived there until I was 17. At that time I graduated high school 6 months early and moved to NYC to see if I really wanted to be an actor – and if there was any chance I could hack it!  I’ve been in NYC ever since so I think I’m allowed to say I’m a New Yorker officially.

What are you liking about Houston so far? (not that you’ve had time to explore much!)
I was in Houston last April for CURTAINS at TUTS and really enjoyed it here.  Living in NY is great, but I miss driving and malls and that sort of thing – I get to experience that here. And really, everyone I have met here so far is just the greatest! So wonderful and generous. The people make the experience for me in any town.
I love traveling.  I love talking – I know that’s not really a hobby.  But I’m fascinated by the different experiences people have had in their lives.  If I wasn’t an actor I probably would have gone into psychology or psychiatry.  Real hobbies? I’ve tried to knit and I just can’t get it!
What about this role excites or scares you? Everything about this role excites me.  And a lot of things about it scare me.
This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece about a subject that cannot be taken lightly.  The actress who played this role in the original company won a Tony Award for her performance and is synonymous with the role itself – and for good reason.  I saw her do it 3 times myself and  she was absolutely amazing.  All of those things mean that there is a lot of responsibility – to the play, to the audience, to your fellow actors and to those who have any experience with mental illness.  That’s the scary part.  To make sure the truth is in every moment out on stage in such an intimate setting is no small task.  But between our director Melissa Rain Anderson and my fellow actors, Brad Goertz, Tyler Berry Lewis, Rebekah Stevens, Mark Ivy and Kregg Dailey, my fear has diminished every day.  They are tremendous.  I just know that I’ll be able to tell my part of this story with honesty and open spirit, because that’s what I’m getting from everyone else on stage.  [Sanford] Meisner said “Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances”.  It’s not easy – but it IS simple.  Everywhere I look on stage I see truth.  That will make my job a thrill ride each night.  And I can’t wait to share NEXT TO NORMAL with the audiences here in Houston.

Where did you train or study for the theatre? I studied theatre at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.  I was in the acting program and studied at the Classical Studio, which was a concentration on strictly classical plays for a year, and studied with Circle in the Square acting program for 2 years as my base training.  I ended up with a Meisner-based eclectic set of ways to approach my work.  I also did a summer semester at the Musical Theater Studio CAP 21 within NYU.  As far as additional training, I like to say I’ve taken about a million classes in NYC with a lot of great teachers.  The one which had the greatest influence on me was Craig Carnelia.  His teaching really prepared me to take on this role.

Favorite experiences in the theatre?  I would be insane not to say this piece!  I’ve been dying to do NEXT TO NORMAL since I first saw it. It’s just been an incredible ride already and we haven’t even gotten the band, the costumes and lighting involved yet!  Beyond that, my 3 favorite experiences in theater have been doing a piece called THE GIG written by a wonderful composer named Douglas Cohen, doing the national tour of THE FULL MONTY and going on for my understudy role in the first national tour of MEMPHIS – which I just left before joining this company.

In The Gig I worked with all of these amazing actors who were at least 10-15 years older than I was and they all had huge credits – Bill Parry, Michelle Pawk, Marcus Neville.  It was very intimidating at first – but I realized being with them HOW to be a professional actor – how to handle myself in rehearsal, backstage, etc.  And in that job I learned my favorite lesson of acting, which is: If you think you already know everything about acting, you’re dead in the water.  We all have tremendous amounts to learn when we start any project.  Whether you’re the youngest, oldest, best-credited, award-winning – we all have something to learn.  The writing, the music, the people, the director, the designers, the tech staff – you will learn something, or many things, in each job from these people.  You have to be open to that.  So if you’re the least experienced person on the totem pole, you have a million opportunities to learn from those above you.  And from those experienced seasoned actors, I learned a lot – and even more importantly I watched them continue to learn from one another.

The Full Monty tour got me out from behind a desk job after a long time at Lehman Brothers investment bank.  I just loved every minute of that show.  It’s so well written and beautiful.  It’s full of human stories that we can all relate to in some meaningful way, so we were always able to move the audience.  That’s why I do theatre – to move people the way I have been moved by other performers.  I had a blast every night on that show and met some of my best friends in life. I also met my husband Brad Nacht on the second year of that tour- so it was all-around a great job! 

With Memphis, I had my normal track which was pretty easy and really fun to do.  But I also understudied the lead’s mother.  I was too young for the role really, and it was a challenge to do it.  But when I went on, I learned that I was capable of doing something I wasn’t so sure that I was.  That’s important – because if you don’t believe you can do something, no one else will either. 

NEXT TO NORMAL plays at Stages May 16 – June 24, 2012. Tickets at 713.527.0123 or online
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