Today I am so so excited to interview a young actress named Rachael Houser. She will be playing the Fairy Godmother in Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s upcoming musical Cinderella, premiering October 25 through the 28. I was lucky enough to sit in on a rehearsal and she is a marvelous singer and actress. She also is well-spoken, intelligent, and so clearly loves what she does.
I cannot wait to see what she does with this iconic character. And trust me, you’ll want to see what she does too.
Enjoy this interview!
You play the Fairy Godmother, a girl’s dream. But as with Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother is such an iconic character. People definitely have expectations in their minds when they sit down to watch a show with the Fairy Godmother in it. Are you nervous about those expectations?
So far, I’m not nervous—the Fairy Godmother is a very iconic character, but there are also a million different ways to play her, and you can still get her right. As long as the elements of mischief, magic, and a good heart are present in her, you have what you need to make the audience connect you with her image.
I can imagine that playing such a good character can be a bit limiting. Disney animators always say it’s difficult to draw the hero because they’re just so good and they come with certain preconceived notions. Has it been difficult constructing this character? What are you doing to make it yours?
In some ways, it has been a challenge—as an actress, I look for a way to make characters in the script fully-fledged people, with flaws and human worries and habits. The Fairy Godmother is different because she’s not really human; she’s an ethereal type of being that, while appearing human, doesn’t have the same habits and thoughts as a regular person. Something we’re always taught as actors is that our character wants something, and the mystery of the Fairy Godmother is that she only wants things for other people, like Cinderella.
For my part, I’m trying my best to make the Fairy Godmother more mischievous and fun. Colleen Petrucci has been wonderful in giving me opportunities to showcase this trait, letting me play tricks on unsuspecting townsfolk and fooling Cinderella a bit. The Fairy Godmother is seen by many people as just a feathery, fluffy character who sort of bumbles around and sparkles. I want my Fairy Godmother to be a strong, dignified character, but at the same time she likes to have a bit of fun and loves being in the know. She’s a bit fussy and very sarcastic, but she really lights up a room when she’s doing her job right and helping dreams come true.
Celeste Holm, Edie Adams, and the late great Whitney Houston have portrayed the Fairy Godmother. You’re stepping into some mighty big shoes! Have you watched those performances and if so, have they factored into how you’re portraying the Fairy Godmother?
Before the audition, I did watch different performances of the Fairy Godmother. However, after I got the part, I avoided watching Cinderella entirely, because I didn’t want to get the actresses’ inflections into the way I was saying the lines. I didn’t want to repeat lines in the same way another actress had said them. I do think that my performance will have some similarities with Ms. Houston’s performance, because we both worked the more fun-loving, sarcastic side of the Fairy Godmother.
How is it acting with your fellow Fairy Godmother?
Acting with Marian has been a fantastic experience. We both marvel that we can say the same lines but create two completely different Godmothers, and whenever we watch each other and talk afterward, we always mention a certain thing one of us did that the other really liked. It’s a very supportive partnership, and we’re helping to build each other’s characters.
Your playing such a strong, fun character. She certainly believes in magic and love. So I must ask, what are your thoughts on the topics?
I am a strong believer of all things magical, miraculous, and love-related. In our family, all the children grew up reading Mary Cicely Barker’s books about flower fairies, and you could often find us making houses out of twigs and bark for fairies in our yard. I was, and still am, a die-hard fan of fairy tales, princesses, castles, and magic of all kinds. In the world we live in now, I don’t understand how anyone couldn’t believe in magic. Believing in a power around you that’s bigger than yourself or anything you’re aware of makes life seem more hopeful when things get tough. I believe especially in love, specifically the idea of true love and romance, and getting to play someone who believes in it as fiercely as I do is a blessing.
How are you enjoying working with your Cinderellas, Rosemary and Katie?
Rosemary and Katie are delightful to work with; they are real-life princesses and it amazes me to no end how Cinderella-like they are. Even when they stop a scene, they still carry themselves like princesses and have the same kindness and beauty. They’re going to be a smash hit and I love getting to give them their wish onstage every night.
It’s such a young cast and everyone has such marvelous energy. Describe an average day at the studio.
As part of the pre-college program, my day at the studio involves everyone arriving at 1:30 in various states of readiness for the days assignments, followed by classes on acting, monologues, or music (depending on the day) and a dance class. After the program is done for the day, we have about a half hour to eat before jumping into rehearsal for four hours. The mood of the studio is always friendly and energetic, since we all love to socialize and bond over our common interests.
Okay, let’s switch gears a moment. You’re just starting out in your career. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a young actress?
The most surprising thing I’ve learned so far as a young actress is the idea that you really never stop learning. I had always assumed that at some point, your knowledge of the craft would plateau, but the teachers we have that are still in the business tell us all the time that they continue to go to classes and enlarge their knowledge base. As a young actress, I look forward to continuing my growth in this world of art, no matter how old I am.
How would you define the Pittsburgh arts scene?
On the Point Park University tour, our guides told us that Pittsburgh has the largest theatre scene in the country, second only to New York City. The Pittsburgh art scene in general is already a thriving thing, but it continues to grow further with new material debuting here every week. It’s a huge hug of artistic activity, and there is always a gallery open or a dance showcase somewhere to see, so it’s a great place for a young actor to grow up and be exposed to art in its purest form.
Can you tell me about your experience at PMT? What lessons have you learned there? What do you enjoy most about it?
PMT has been the first studio where I feel really at home, where I feel like my work and skills are put to the right tests and challenges. I have learned so much about the ins and outs of the business and how to put myself forward with my best chance at a college program or part. What I really enjoy about it is the nurturing and safe environment, so I can go in with new material and get honest opinions. The people I’ve met have also been a great part of the entire PMT experience, since I’ve become acquainted with so many talented people who are friendly, funny, and very supportive.
Finally, my end question to every interview: tell me some advice you have for the people reading this interview that want to act and break into the theater community in Pittsburgh?
First, I would suggest getting the support you need from your family. Any theatre, even if it’s not professional, is very time-consuming, and it’s best to have your family’s support in your dreams as well as willingness to work with any schedule concerns. Second, I would suggest seasoning your talents with training and different teachers. A lot of acting is in your head, so when you can perform for different people and get feedback, you become a better actor. Finally, and most importantly, believe in yourself. If you’re going into an audition or rehearsal with low self esteem because you think you’re not good enough, there’s no reason for a director or a fellow actor to say otherwise. Be confident in yourself and you abilities, because you good enough and you are worth it. When you believe that you can do something, the directors are bound to see it and agree with you, and you might land yourself a part.