“I’ve been a ham since day one,” declares Mara Jill Herman. “I’ve always liked to be the center of attention.”
What, you don’t believe her?
Mara makes a series of funny faces – she sticks out her tongue, she bulges her eyes out bug-like, she pouts and even tries to look like a mean girl.
Then she reaches out for a street sign and makes it her dance partner, twirling around it like Gene Kelly in the musical Singin’ in the Rain.
This is New York City; nobody notices. This is Mara, she’s been entertaining since she was 7; she doesn’t notice that nobody notices.
If these antics don’t get your attention, she can do them while she’s reading and writing Hebrew, speaking and singing Spanish or practicing her Brooklyn, Southern, Irish and British accents (choose standard or Cockney, luv).
And she doesn’t have to stand still – she can dance her way through any jazz, ballet, tap or theatre routine.
Would you like to tango with her?
Mara wasn’t born on Broadway. She made her debut on the Upper West Side then moved her act to Searingtown, Long Island when she was 6.
Immediately, she auditioned for roles in community theatre productions.
“My parents are patrons of the arts,” she says. “My dad is a lawyer; we did community theatre together. He taught me about rock music from the 1960s. My mom is a writer – she’s written children’s books – and she also can draw and paint murals.”
In the beginning, Mara’s passion for performing was nothing more than an amusing hobby.
By the time she finished singing and dancing her way through high school, however, she knew that the stage would have a starring role in her life.
At the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, she majored in musical theatre, and when she graduated, she returned to the Big Apple with big-time dreams.
“I wanted to work as a musical theatre performer doing things I loved at a serious level,” she says. “And I wanted to go on national tours.”
For five years, that’s exactly what she did, bowing to applause in Japan, South America, Bermuda, Canada and even Antarctica.
“I was ready to go where the work took me,” she says. “And that was here, there and everywhere.”
After a while, though, she grew tired of always missing out on family events.
“The spotlight isn’t glamorous,” she says, “so I’ve started making my own opportunities.”
These days, in between auditions, Mara devotes her time to teaching theatre to youngsters and developing her own projects.
Last year, she directed and produced Stronger Than Hate: A Benefit for Tree of Life Synagogue, which raised $5,000 for the Pittsburgh congregation whose members were the target of a mass shooting that left 11 dead and seven injured.
“I felt I had to take immediate action to fight anti-Semitism,” she says. “The money won’t bring back the dead, but it will help restore the building and defray some of the costs for the families.”
Such entrepreneurial performance projects, she says, create “fire in my belly.”
So does singing with America’s Sweethearts, a trio that celebrates history through harmony by bringing to life pages from the Great American Songbook, classic Broadway, 1950s pop tunes and jazz.
“America’s Sweethearts is a fantastic challenge,” says Mara, who is a mezzo-soprano. “It’s not solos – it’s three-part harmony.”
Mara, who goes to Broadway shows with her mom, says it will always be her dream to perform on The Great White Way.
“I want to be on Broadway, but not just any Broadway show,” she says. “I could see myself in a show like Wicked, but I’m not going to chase every Broadway show just to be in a Broadway show.”
Whether it’s on a big stage or a small one, Mara’s show will always go on.
“I’m getting closer and closer to the life I’ve always wanted to live,” she says. “I love the balance of performing and teaching others to perform. When I was growing up, I had such amazing mentors that I want to give back to the next generation.”
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com; @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling