Broadway’s Romy and Michele: Meet Seattle Actress Hannah Schuerman
This past June, actress Hannah Schuerman ’15 found herself singing and dancing on stage at the 5th Avenue Theatre — one of Seattle’s leading venues — spotlights shining down on her, and thousands sitting in the audience. An intense audition process, production workshops in New York City, and a month of rehearsals had led to this: the world premiere of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.
“It was terrifying; it was fascinating, and I loved every minute,” Hannah says.
Based on the 1997 movie of the same name, the musical chronicles the comedic antics of two unemployed friends scheming to appear successful at their ten-year high school reunion. As the whole cast of characters struggles toward being themselves, one is a beacon of optimism to her fellow classmates and to the audience: Toby Walters, the enthusiastic and lovable reunion organizer, brought to life by Hannah in her third professional theatre role since graduating.
“Success in theatre takes talent, technique, optimism, and a lot of work. As a student, and now as a professional actor, Hannah has just that,” says Candace Vance, assistant professor of theatre, who mentored Hannah at SPU. “In five years, if she chooses, we’ll see Hannah on Broadway.”
From calling to career
“I was that kid in choir that was always being told to calm down, stop dancing, and show less facial expression,” Hannah remembers. “I didn’t get it. I was excited about telling a story!” When Hannah — already a talented vocalist with a vibrant personality — discovered musical theatre at age 13, she was hooked.
While still a senior studying theatre at SPU, Hannah attended the general auditions at 5th Avenue Theatre, a frequent venue for touring Broadway shows known throughout the nation for premiering shows that end up on Broadway, including Hairspray and Aladdin. She quickly landed ensemble roles in two upcoming shows. “I thought I had talent, but I didn’t know how that would translate in the real world,” said Hannah. “Those roles — right after graduation in one of the best houses in town — confirmed I could really do this.”
Last spring, Hannah was one of thousands in Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles auditioning for Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion in a national search by a panel that included Broadway directors, Tony Award-winners, and a major casting agency. One call-back audition later, she was offered the role.
Hannah was flown to New York City for a month of intensive rehearsals and workshops as the creators made final adjustments to the show and potential producers viewed the show. The only Seattle actor in a cast of theater veterans, Hannah tackled her new role with her characteristic enthusiasm and optimism.
After another month of rehearsals in Seattle, the musical opened officially at 5th Avenue Theatre. Hannah shined as the original stage Toby. SeattleMet reviewed the musical, highlighting her role: “Hannah Schuerman embodies this good nature as yearbook editor and reunion organizer Toby Walters — sort of the chorus of the play and maybe even its closet MVP — whose overflow of enthusiasm and stalwart belief that people are worth it feels so good in 2017.”
A leading theatre program
Located in Seattle, one of the nation’s theatre hotspots, SPU has had alumni working in every major theatre company in the city. Like all Seattle Pacific theatre majors and minors, Hannah graduated with a well-rounded arsenal of knowledge and skill, including performance techniques, production skills, playwriting, theatre history, set and costume design, firsthand stage experience, and more.
SPU theatre professors are not only dedicated teachers, but also expert actors, playwright, designers, and technicians, many of whom are known throughout the region, country, and world. “Even as an actor, it’s so valuable to experience the technical elements,” says Hannah, who served as the theatre department’s lead carpenter for stage sets. “There’s not a single area of theatre you can survive without.”
A way to change the world
At the heart of SPU’s approach to theatre is a focus on engaging cultures from around the world and fostering a diverse acting community of both theatre and non-theatre majors. “At SPU, we take into account each student and their unique talents,” says Vance. “As we tell stories on stage, we learn about ourselves and society as a whole.”
For Hannah, this means acting is more than a career; it’s an increasingly important way to impact people and transform the world. While at SPU, she combined her major studies with courses in reconciliation, completing a final project on theatre as an ideal method for teaching reconciliation. “The biggest tool in acting is empathy; you learn how to put on another character’s shoes and see the world as they do,” she says. “Theatre taught me empathy, communication, and imagination. Now, I get to share that with thousands from stage.”