Heather Feeney's musical theatre show, Gotta Get Out!, might be loosely based on her time pursing acting in the Big Apple, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
That tale is a little more complicated. Feeney, now a Squamish resident, was living in New York, working at a popular fitness centre chain while pursing acting when her visa ran out. "I auditioned for quite a large show and I had something like nine callbacks and I got the part," she says.
Instead of giving up the role, she went down to Chinatown to find fake work permits. "When it came time to finally sign the contract for that show I was terrified and sweating bullets," she says.
The trick worked, but when the gig was up she was too scared to risk staying in the country and returned to Canada, leaving her burgeoning Broadway career behind. A year later she got a call from the same company to return for a Christmas production.
She explained she was Canadian and didn't have the proper work authorization. Then came the kicker: "Oh we'll just pay you under the table," they said.
"I just felt a bit ripped off," Feeney says, laughing now about it. "I loved it there so much and I was achieving my goals and dreams. I had to leave. If only I had had one more year beyond that to be hired for a long running Broadway show."
That's the power of New York City, with its bright lights and big promises. It can lead otherwise rational people to beg, borrow and lie just to stay a little while longer, waiting for their big break.
Feeney tried to tap into that feeling when creating her latest show, to be presented at the Brackendale Art Gallery May 25 and 26. Officially called Gotta Get Out! A Love Affair with New York, it features 20 songs, all from different composers, to create a story about a girl who travels to New York with hopes of pursing acting. Scott Knight will accompany on the piano and with vocals.
"I've selected so many songs that somebody is going to relate to maybe one of them or all of them because they're all about real life and things that can happen not only in New York City, but anywhere," she says.
These aren't your classic show tunes, she adds. "(They're) very now," she says. "Some of the show is pretty gritty. There's some swearing in it. Historically, music was just plunked into a play. A book writer would want to turn (the book) into a musical and they would hire someone to write songs, not about the show, but to plunk in. Eventually, songs were written that had to do with the story line. But musical theatre has evolved so much that there's so much of the story to be told in the actual song. Those are the songs I selected to sing because I really love to tell stories."
She's been trying to get permission to perform some of those songs for the last year, when she made her Squamish theatre debut with Love, Laugh, Cry and the Music of Your Life (also about New York).
Feeney moved to Squamish with her husband back in 2004 and commuted to Vancouver for acting jobs. When she had two little girls years later she stepped back from acting, mostly for financial reasons. "I was missing theatre so much since 2007 and I had this idea in my head to do a show in Squamish, but I didn't have the resources, the confidence or the courage to just say, 'Ok, I'm going to do it.'"
Three productions later, she's developed an audience in her adopted hometown. She describes her latest production "semi-autobiographical."
"I lived in New York for three years," she says. "This show is a snapshot of what it might be like to live in New York. It starts out with a young girl who dreams of living there, which I did, and wants to sing, which I did. It's about realizing it's not as easy as you anticipated it would be."
Tickets for the show are $20 at the Brackendale Art Gallery or at 604-898-3333.