From the stage to the ambo: Catholic actor balances faith with the arts

| Jessica Weinberger | April 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

Catholic cantor Andrew Hey, left, plays Doody in Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s “Grease.” Dan Norman/Courtesy Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Professional actor Andrew Hey knows what it’s like to execute quick costume changes.

During the eight-month run of “Grease” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Hey, 28, will routinely start his Saturday with a 1 p.m. show where he transforms into one of Danny Zuko’s dorky greasers, Doody.

When the show ends, Hey quickly changes into dress clothes before driving to the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis with just enough time to place an alb on his shoulders and touch base with the organist before leading the congregation in the opening song as the cantor. After the recessional, he returns to Chanhassen to prepare for the 8 p.m. show.

“It’s the same rush I get at church standing at the front of the Basilica singing in front of 800 people when it’s full, and then center stage at Chan belting out a high ‘C’ with my guitar and my friends around me. There’s nothing like it,” said Hey, who lives in Minneapolis.

Hey’s unconventional life-balancing work as an actor, cantor and his other role, a licensed professional counselor, is far from his original plan of becoming a physician. Although Hey lived in Maple Grove until he was 7, he spent most of his early life growing up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He enjoyed community theater, music and singing at church, but assumed that a professional acting career was only possible in big-time markets like Los Angeles and New York City.

Always strong in academics and with a passion for helping others, Hey enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study psychology and later began medical school. But the rigor of all-day classes and long nights of studying didn’t provide the same thrill and happiness he felt when singing and performing on stage.

Catholic cantor Andrew Hey performs in “Grease,” playing at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres through Oct. 28. Dan Norman/Courtesy Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

After making the difficult decision to take a year off from medical school, Hey drove from Sioux Falls to Chanhassen on a whim to audition for a role in “Fiddler on the Roof.” His audition left a strong impression, and he eventually filled in for another actor halfway through the run. That opportunity opened the door for future roles in “The Little Mermaid, “Hello Dolly!,” “Mary Poppins” and “Camelot,” as well as “Pirates of Penzance” at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul.

“That one show really made a difference,” he said.

Living the Catholic faith

The demands of rehearsals, memorizing lines and eight performances a week can take a toll, but Hey grounds himself by unplugging during a rare day off and finding peace in his Catholic faith. He enjoys adoration and the quietness of Sunday Mass, where he can release the pressures of his daily work.

Serving as a cantor at both the Basilica and St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Newman Center on the campus of the University of Minnesota keeps him connected to his two parish communities and focused on his faith.

“It’s a prayer,” he said, pointing out the distinct difference between his time on stage and at Mass. “I’m a high tenor in musical theater, but at church, the songs are lower, so I have to sing differently.”

Hey noted that he’s usually one of the only Christians working on a production, which can be challenging, but also eye-opening as he works alongside a diverse group.

Fellow cast members often comment on his quick wardrobe change between Saturday shows, and Hey welcomes the opportunity to talk about his role as a cantor. When the priest mentions an especially profound story in his homily, Hey might casually chat with another cast member about its key points, or share about the positive community service efforts that both parishes lead.

“Living by example is more powerful,” Hey said about his approach to evangelization. “I try to be kind and accepting to everybody, and that’s how I share my faith.”

One step at a time

During the week, Hey sets aside his lines most afternoons as he provides in-home mental health therapy for kids ranging in age from 6 to 19. He graduated last August with his master’s degree in counseling psychology.

“It’s a puzzle sometimes to figure out what kids are going through, but when a kid is having a bad day and you come over and make them feel better about something or you see them try something new, that’s rewarding,” he said.

Looking to the future, Hey would like to have his own practice, which would allow him to pursue theater roles at venues like the Guthrie or even a touring show. He would also like to get married and have a family.

“I used to be a big-time planner,” he said, “but I’m learning I have to be OK taking things one thing at a time. It’s OK to not know what’s to come next.”

What he does know is that theater and his faith will always have a strong presence in his life, and he hopes that young performers know that a career in the arts is possible.

“What you want to do, you can,” he said. “There’s a market for you if you work hard enough and find the right spot.”

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