Playing Heather Macnamara in Heathers the Musical was an experience that challenged many aspects of my performance. If you are not familiar with the show, the Heathers are the teflon, iron clad in social class ladies that at Westerburg High School you need to be friends with in order to be somebody. Heather Macnamara is known only for three things in the show: She's a Heather, she's a cheerleader, and she's LOADED. However, when it comes to who Heather Mac really is, you are left with a shallow assumption throughout the first act that she is no more than a superficial, air headed and one dimensional bully focused solely on her appearance. I was definitely hesitant to do this show at first, because I saw this show more as a comedy rather than a story to be told due to the interesting balance on campiness and serious moments (more on this later). However, I then was introduced to Heather Mac's song in the second act called Lifeboat in which she admits that she has experienced thoughts of suicide and how if the entire school is in a lifeboat, the weakest must go to make sure that the others don't sink. That if she says the wrong thing or wears the wrong outfit that she will be thrown over the side of the boat; therefore she must survive and go with what is happening around her, even if she herself does not approve of it. She explains that all of the constants in her life are now gone and now that she is under new ownership that she doesn't approve of. With this said, she concludes that she is the weakest link and must be the one to die to not only save everyone but rid the boat of the shameful person she is in the world of shoulder pads and perfect makeup. I remember listening to this song with tears streaming down my face. It was then that I realized that I needed to play this role. However, something took more precedent and in fact became imperative as time went on.
I needed to redeem Heather Mac's story.
I began this process of her characterization by going out to my local Walmart and buying a yellow notebook and yellow glitter glue as well as a ridiculously bright and obnoxious glittery, fuzzy yellow pen. If you have not gathered by this sunny list, Heather Macnamara's signature color in the show is yellow. What I have found is the more that I begin to put myself into the shoes of the initial read that I get on the character's interests before I dive in fully, the more levels the character has in the long run because you are giving them a humanity. And every character you play deserves a level of humanity as well as empathy. No matter how demented you may believe the character to be or how innocent they are. I gave her a middle name that after extensive research into when Heather Macnamara would have been born given the character breakdown fit perfectly (the show is set in 1989 and she is 17 at the time therefore I did research on popular names in 1972, that also fit with the characteristics of who Heather Mac is).
After I did the basic exploration by feel of what I believe Heather Mac's interests were, I then watched the cult classic that inspired this musical of the same name. When I watched this movie and studied the work of Lisanne Falk playing this role, I uncovered important pieces of information about who Heather Macnamara was. For starters, Heather Macnamara explains that one of the foundational reasons for why she has had such a hard life was due to her parent's divorce in her past. In the movie, her characteristics were much different (as most movie to musical conversions are), however her delivery of lines was also different in a good varying way. With this, I asked my director if I was able to build on this knowledge of Mac's divorce experience from the movie and she accepted my proposal.
I myself have not gone through a divorce. And especially because of how tender that topic can be, I wanted to make sure that if I was discussing their experiences that it would not be triggering them and hurting them, even if I was getting good results myself because that is extremely irresponsible. I was at such a loss for who to talk to about this topic off of the top of my head that I took a risk and wrote a Facebook post explaining everything and telling the women that were willing that their information would only be absorbed by me in order to bring the feelings and how divorce affects adolescent girls. I received many more responses that I hoped for, and because of this was able to add many different layers to this part of Heather Mac's story.
One thing that I learned about how going through a divorce affects especially young adults is that some people feel a need to take the blame for things that are not inherently their fault. When their friends are fighting over something completely unrelated to anything, the person will try to take responsibility for the problem in order to make the fighting go away. I added this into Mac's character especially in her interactions with the two other Heathers subtly and how she tries to conform in order to keep the peace. She must conform everywhere in order to feel safe. And she by default then brings this to an entirely new level. No one can truly know who she really is but rather who she pretends to be. Along with this, another thing that I learned divorce affects (and I've also learned in the grieving process as well) is this thought process of "Well does anything really matter?" and with this, trying to fill that emptiness with sex, drugs and alcohol as a means of rebellion. This is something that is already written into the story, however her intentions on why she does this is a different rebellion than "Let's do this because we're bored/ because we've got to be COOL kids". She does this almost as a way of grieving. Every night, I would remind myself of the story of the Macnamara's divorce. I would replay memories that I had imagined down to the tee for Heather to vividly remember. Phrases that her parent's would say to describe the other, and moments that should have never occurred in a perfect world.
Then, came the Diary entries. If you aren't familiar with the movie or the musical, Veronica the main character, writes her experiences and the woes of the story in her Diary periodically throughout the movie. I thought, if Veronica is writing in her Diary and you are able to see her inner monologue, how can I work on my inner monologue as a reference to myself? Thus I began writing Diary entries as Heather Mac. Every day that Veronica would write a Diary entry, (for example, September 1st, 1989) I would write one on the same day and explain my day from beginning to end, trying to recall as much as I could in my characters memory. This became EXTREMELY useful moving forward as I then was able to as I was getting into character remember these artificial memories to me but genuine memories to Mac.
Now came one of the hardest parts about playing Heather Macnamara. In this show, there is comedy but also deep and serious moments throughout. Because this musical flips so easily from camp to extremely deep and meaningful, I needed to learn how to really make sure I could play both efficiently and at the right times - not just one or the other. This made it extremely hard for me to get into character and I would find myself having to spend even more time than usual trying to get fully in Mac's head.
For example, right before the song in which I admit to my deepest darkest feelings, we sing an extremely comedic and happy song about how we needed to not be ashamed to drag all of our baggage into the light where everyone could see it. I go from jumping around with a ginormous smile on my face to now all of a sudden revealing my demons to an entire student body.
After a while, I found ways to really get into character without being stuck in too comedic or too serious. And it came in the form of a rockin' playlist. I found that the more that I listened to 80's music that I believed that Heather Mac would be BLASTING that I would be immeshed in 1989 and that helped me see both the campy side and the serious side of the musical perfectly and attainably each time. It is a technique that I have found has gotten me deeply centered into who THEY are, not who I am.
Playing Heather Macnamara was something that I will never regret, nor will I ever forget. And to do so alongside such talented performers was such an honor. I was challenged every single night to portray the most truthful version of Mac I could possibly portray by everyone. I had an amazing support system of cast members and crew who believed in me and trusted my choices and that was so incredibly beautiful.
After the show almost every night I would have someone come up to me and tell me how at first they believed Heather Mac was so shallow and so unimportant, and then as the show went on they saw who Heather Mac really was, even without Lifeboat being the center of the realization. And every night I would smile because I realized.
I to at least one person redeemed Heather Mac.
And as a performer, that is what I live for.