By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
For some, landing a part in a high school play is simply one more thing to add to a college application. For Danielle Purdy, the role of Irene Molloy in McNary High School’s production of Hello, Dolly!, launched her into a new trajectory.
“That musical was formative in my childhood as was Barbra Streisand who played Dolly in the film. The opportunity to be a part of that story and sing that classic music was more important than I think I realized at the time. That was the time when I officially decided, albeit quietly, that performance was where I was headed,” said Purdy.
Purdy, 27, graduated from McNary in 2004 and now makes a living splitting her time between Portland stages and as a support assistant for developmentally disabled adults.
After McNary, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Warner Pacific College in music performance. A year later, she packed up and moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, where she earned a master’s degree in science in music in the community. That may sound like a mouthful, but her dissertation will leave you envious.
“I researched musical theatre performance for empowerment with vulnerable children. For the project portion, I designed and directed a musical theatre production at a school for students with developmental disabilities and PTSD in Bosnia. The production was in Bosnian and aired on the local news,” Purdy said.
When Purdy returned to Oregon after completion of her degree, she auditioned for roles in the Portland scene. Connections she’d maintained in the Rose City helped her land roles that might otherwise have passed her by.
Her favorite roles thus far have been as Lauren in Circle Mirror Transformation at Artists Repertory Theatre, where she learned most from other actors. Playing Ilse in a musical version of Spring Awakening with Live on Stage is second on her list.
“I’ve loved that show for a lot of years and the music is some of my favorite things to sing,” Purdy said.
This past week, she closed a run of Band Geeks! at the Broadway Rose Theater in Portland. Her list of plays she’d still like to help bring to life is much longer and includes Les Miserables, The Light in the Piazza, The Last Five Years, Urinetown, Summer and Smoke, Beruit, any of Chekhov’s women, and anything written by William Finn or Stephen Sondheim. She’s contemplating a move to New York as soon as this summer if some projects in the works pan out.
Throughout her travels, studies and career, Purdy relied on lessons gleaned from Linda Baker and late Dan Hays, a longtime associate of the McNary High School drama program.
“I was well set up to succeed,” she said. “Linda and Dan were so knowledgeable and confident and knew how to challenge students with great care. We were expected to act professionally and take this art seriously. We were playing, but we were playing hard.”
Baker, she said, is still encouraging her years later.
The most important thing she learned was to not be so afraid. She isn’t regretful, but hindsight helped her realize that pursuing a master’s degree was a way to forego auditions for a time.
“I just wish I hadn’t been so terrified of failure. I mean, I’m still terrified of failure now, but I at least know that I am capable of doing what I want to do,” she said.
Purdy will be the first to tell you that the life of an actor isn’t all sunshine and roses. Inconsistent income from theatre work doesn’t pay the bills or students loans. Packaged noodles with an envelope of herbs comprise more meals than she’d hoped they would. There’s probably more than one thing she sold on Craigslist to make ends meet that she would take back. One day, she’d like to have a car.
“I could just work an office job that paid more money and had steady hours to support myself and pay my bills and have a car and all that, but the fact is that I would be extremely unhappy,” Purdy said.
At the same time, there’s satisfaction in knowing she’s living a version of her dreams with plenty of time and the work ethic to realize more of them.
“Performance is what I have always wanted to do, and I’ve been making a living at it for three years. Everything else – the money, stress, not getting to buy whatever I want, living on very little – means nothing in comparison. I am living my passion on stage. I can’t imagine living any other way,” she said.