“When I go on stage, and the lights are in your eyes so you’re blinded and you can’t see the audience, you just go with it. My brain almost shuts off,” Heather MacRae said.
At 29 years old, MacRae has performed at the Lester Centre in Prince Rupert many times, where she enjoys the rush of being on stage.
You may recognize MacRae as Annie, the beloved red-headed orphan, or maybe from an Udderfest sketch as Twilight’s Bella Swan. She’s been on one stage or another since she started dancing full-time at four years old. For the next 10 years, MacRae grew to love the structure of the physical, yet creative, activity.
Then, at eight years old, she began performing in musical theatre. There she met the man who would become her role model: Peter Witherly.
“He was the person who gave me my love for singing. He was a big part of why I like doing what I do,” MacRae said, pausing for a moment.
“I want to get more involved in that part of the community, too. It’s going to take a lot of people to fill his shoes. I’d love to learn how to play the piano so I can start teaching choral parts here and there. Keep it going, right?”
She has several ideas for how to do just that.
“I have dallied in the choir and I would love to do more. I’ve always wanted to start an acapella group. It sounds very Glee,” she said with a laugh.
Offstage, MacRae is a loan administrator at Northern Savings Credit Union. She’s on the board of directors for Harbour Theatre, involved in Udderfest and other seasonal productions. Occasionally, she’ll help teach at the Dance Academy where her sister Meghan is an instructor.
One year, she judged the Mz Judged drag pageant and choreographed the contestants’ dancing. It was a first for many of the male participants, and MacRae enjoyed seeing new faces on the stage.
“It brought me closer to the community because I still see those guys around. I still say ‘Hi’,” MacRae said. “I try not to say no to a lot of experiences because it’s like you never know what could come of it.”
MacRae has only lived in Prince Rupert, so seeing familiar faces around town is nothing new. Even the people who she doesn’t know personally have likely seen one of her performances.
“I’ve never truly thought about moving away for good,” the born and raised Rupertite said, adding that she would never want to live anywhere too big. “The artistic community in Prince Rupert, for the size that it is, there’s so much talent and interest per capita.”
Her latest role is the Lady of the Lake in the 2018 community musical, Spamalot. MacRae earned her time in the spotlight with a different approach to her audition. She started exercising her voice a month before trying out. When the time came, MacRae stepped onto the stage with a crown and sword — and sang both parts of a duet between King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake.
“That was my mentality, that I’m just going to have fun and if they like it, they like it,” she said.
It worked, and MacRae has been busy ever since. From sets to costumes to lighting and cues, memorizing lines and working on pitch, many hours of MacRae’s time has gone into what will be a three-day run of the musical. But all the work is worth it.
“Even if nobody ever came to watch me, I would still do all of this,” she said.
There’s a specific moment MacRae describes of when she can feel all of the hours of work turn into art.
“When you are on stage and we’re rehearsing a play, just the mental capacity you need to memorize the material and you’re working with someone closely and you make that connection — for acting that’s what gets me into it.
“For singing, especially singing in a chorus with a bunch of people, it’s the mixture of the sopranos and the baritones and getting that perfect resonance. When it blends so nicely, it just sings in your soul,” MacRae said.
For MacRae, the best part of a performance lasts longs after the final curtain. After the audience’s applause rings out, costumes are returned to their hangers and makeup wiped off, all of the actors become themselves again.
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