When two-time Helen Hayes winner Rick Hammerly woke up recently, a “morning” after taking the stage as fiercely funny drag queen Miss Tracy Mills in Round House Theatre’s The Legend of Georgia McBride, his left shoulder was pulled, he had a bruise on his left hip, he had blood on his sheets from a knee that he scrapes every night, and there were sequins in his bed.
And he’s loving it!
“It’s a good role and a really fun play,” he says. “It’s been about 10 years now since I’ve stood behind a door waiting for my first entrance and been excited to get on stage. That is the case with this show, despite what it’s doing to my body!”
Matthew Lopez’s musical comedy follows a failed Elvis impersonator and his pregnant wife who look to reverse their fortunes by bringing drag into their nightclub. With the show having opened a couple of weeks ago, theater lovers in our area are buzzing about Hammerly’s tour-de-force performance as the classic southern belle who introduces a drag show to Panama City, Florida.
“I look out in the audience every night as we wrap up and these are people who are happy and smiling,” he says. “They’ve somehow made it through the initial shock of two very tall men walking onto the stage in drag. It’s a great feeling to leave people feeling great.”
Similarities are made between this role and when Hammerly won an acting Helen Hayes award for playing the title role in Signature’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch back in 2002.
The difference with Hedwig is that once he went on stage, he was there until the end. Still it wasn’t as strenuous as this production, despite the fact that he had to climb a pole to the ceiling and swing on a giant swing above the audience members.
But that was 16 years ago and playing roles like this at 54 is not the same as 38.
“It’s amazing what you can do when you’re enjoying it. I was quite a bit younger then, and even then, I wasn’t doing the things I am doing in this show,” he says. “Plus, backstage here is just crazy. Wigs are being ripped off, you’re being shoved into another costume and pushed back on the stage—and the women doing those changes for us are amazing—but it’s like a battlefield.”
The Legend of Georgia McBride
closes July 7, 2018
Details and tickets
Over the last three years, Hammerly has chosen to do more directing than acting. In 2017, he helmed three shows and only acted in Ford’s Christmas Carol, which he has done for almost a decade.
“I’m not going out of my way to look for acting work, but sometimes there are roles or opportunities or directors you really want to work with, and that was the case with this show on all three of those fronts,” he says. “Tom Story is a good friend of mine and we’ve worked together as actors for quite some time, and when he was given this show, he immediately asked me if it was something I would consider.”
Although Hammerly admits he was worried that jumping back into an acting role this splashy could pull him away from directing gigs in people’s minds, even though he’s coming off a Best Director win for his company, Factory 449,’s Lela & Co.
“Any time you put a guy in a dress, it pops and you get some attention there,” he says. “With my recent Helen Hayes award win, I wanted to keep that momentum going. I’m happy to say that within the last week, I have been contacted by three different theater companies, all telling me how amazing they hear the show is, but would I be interested in directing for them next season. So, I am super lucky.”
He notes he will never give up acting completely, and this show reminded him of how much he enjoys performing when he has the right material, director and character, and even if it means “being in a wheelchair” by the time the show concludes its run on July 7, he promises to be out there giving it his all.
Still, he sees directing as more of his future.
“For me, as you get older, you lose some of that youthful feeling of ‘me, me, me’ and I don’t need the attention that I felt I needed when I was acting 20 years ago,” he says. “I am so much more fulfilled now, putting a bunch of people together, bringing in a design team and sitting back and looking at a show.”
As an example of his passion, he cites winning the Helen Hayes award for Hedwig and being thrilled, but seeing Nana Ingvarsson win for The Amish Project, which his company produced, he felt so much more satisfied and fulfilled. The same is true with this past year’s win as director.
That’s why he sees a future balance between directing and acting as leaning 75/25.
A lot of the plays that Hammerly chooses to direct are heavier and darker. “I like theater that elicits a response from the audience and that can be anything from having questions to learning something new to loving it, or rejecting it,” he says. “That’s my genetic makeup. I like theater that challenges people in some way and that often lends itself to more complicated work or work that explores things that need to be discussed,” so he’s enjoyed seeing people leave Round House Theatre in a good mood and pondering acceptance and loving everyone no matter what.
His next planned directorial effort is a comedy for Factory 449 that deals with race. He knows it’s a topic that is uncomfortable for a lot of people, which is why he feels it needs to be pushed out there so it is addressed and not swept under the rug.
The Legend of Georgia McBride has a powerful message as well, Hammerly notes, and he’s excited to be a part of it.
“This is a show that is very right-now in a way because these are people who are everyday people, at the end of their ropes, but they become this family,” he says. “It’s about different people from different parts of life coming together and realizing they all have something to give to each other. It’s about acceptance and reminds us about the good in people.”