When Audrey Heffernan Meyer (’79 B.A. Theatre) tried out for the Blue Hill Troupe’s production of Grand Hotel in New York City, she did not expect a Penn State reunion following her audition. But she soon found herself comparing names with fellow alumni Nathan Brewer (’12 M.F.A. Theatre), director of the musical, and Isaac Harlan (’08 B.M. Music), musical director.
“It was a fun little lovefest of our alumni contacts,” remembers Meyer, who won the role of Grushinskaya in the production, which runs November 9–17 at the Theatre at St. Clement’s. Another Penn State alum, Jason Sparks (’09 B.F.A. Musical Theatre), is the show’s choreographer.
The Blue Hill Troupe brings high-quality theatre performances to New York City audiences while raising money for local charities. The troupe has raised nearly $3 million since its founding in 1924 in Blue Hill, Maine. Meyer has been involved for five years. This year the Blue Hill Troupe is supporting the GO Project, which provides year-round educational and family support services to low-income New York City public school children.
“[Blue Hill Troupe] is a really fascinating group,” she says. “It is all volunteer, whether your interests lie in front stage or back stage. Everyone has to audition and interview to become a member, whether you are in the show, painting sets, or selling ads for the playbill. It’s a really nice group of people doing what they love and giving back in a charitable way.”
Every fall the troupe invites a different professional to direct its musical, and this year Brewer was tapped to reconstruct his Penn State production of Grand Hotel from spring 2012. In a previous interview, Blue Hill Troupe producer Kevin Murray said, “The treatment of the story and the inspired, non-traditional staging were the key reasons we sought out Nathan.”
(From left: Nathan Brewer, Audrey Heffernan Meyer, Isaac Harlan, Jason Sparks)
Meyer recently reentered the acting scene after taking a break to raise her four children—all now teenagers—with restaurateur Danny Meyer. This past summer, she appeared in a production of The Sound of Music in Connecticut. She has also been doing readings of upcoming Broadway shows, including Zorba, which she read with Antonio Banderas and Chita Rivera. “It’s exciting to be a part of these productions as they’re being developed,” she notes.
When Meyer, a native of Bucks County, Pa., came to Penn State, she thought she would major in English. “But when I realized Penn State had amazing theatre, dance, and music classes, I changed my mind. I took an introductory theatre class with Helen Manfull, and she got me hooked.”
(Meyer and Helen Manfull)
After graduation, Meyer did a lot of regional theatre and quickly earned her Equity card. “There wasn’t much work in straight plays in New York City, so I used my singing voice to get paying roles in musicals. There was little chance you could do Eugene O’Neill and still make a living right out of college.”
Meyer advises aspiring theatre professionals to use their contacts to obtain work in theatre, but to also gain broader experience and skills by working outside the industry.
“I worked in advertising sales at Condé Nast Magazines, where I learned about the business world,” she notes. “And I met my husband while I was waitressing!”
Meyer has also gained broader experience through her involvement in Theatre for a New Audience, a company that strives to revitalize Shakespeare and classic drama through off-Broadway productions. “While my kids were young, I was able to keep one foot in the business through my position on the board of directors,” she explains. “I have learned so much about producing shows, how to select a season, how to raise money—all good things to know. I have really learned how the arts world works.
At this point in her life, Meyer says she is fortunate to have the freedom to audition for the roles she loves while balancing her career and family. And although she “left” the scene for some time, she has happily discovered she still has a lot of contacts in the business. “I recently reconnected with Rich Cole (’79 M.F.A. Theatre), who was director of the Thespians when I was involved. The Penn State connection is great—be sure to utilize your network!”