Brittany Martin enrolled as a Theatre major at Howard Payne University last fall with little acting experience.
Additionally, she missed the first auditions for HPU’s Homecoming production last fall because of a campus e-mail malfunction.
But by the end of the spring semester in May, the 2012 Goldthwaite High School graduate had more than caught up. She won two major Theatre Department awards at the end of the 2012-13 school year — Most Promising Newcomer and one of two awards for Best Actress in a Lead Role.
“The newcomer award really surprised me. There were so many others who deserved it as much as I did,” Martin said.
As for her best actress award, Martin said: “It was one of my happiest moments this year. Getting that award, I knew what I was doing was right. I’m from a small school where all we do is one-act play. I felt like I was behind when I got here last fall.
“But I just blossomed this year. I feel like I’ve turned into the person I was meant to be. The people at HPU helped open me up.”
Martin waited until after the 2012 fall semester began before contacting Dr. Nancy Jo Humfeld, director of theatre at HPU. That’s when Martin discovered she had missed the first auditions for the Theatre Department’s Homecoming presentation. She quickly found other ways be involved in theatre until an acting role came along later.
“She got very involved from the start,” Humfeld said of Martin. “Some students come to us with a lot of training and some don’t. She started reading plays and going to plays and getting involved.
“She’s extremely organized and hard working. She made an impression by handling whatever we tossed her way.”
For HPU’s Homecoming presentation last fall, Martin served as a costumer, preparing costumes so others could shine in the spotlight. She worked on three or four costumes a night in preparation for the play.
“Some were rented and were torn, and I hand-sewed them back together,” Martin said. “Some of the costumes, we had to alter them to make them shorter or let out the seams to make them longer. A lot of the shoes, we had to glue back together.”
One of the costumes had a lot of metal in it, and the student playing that role was allergic to that particular kind of metal. “We came up with the idea to put fingernail polish over all the metal parts so the metal wouldn’t touch her skin,” Martin said.
During the dress rehearsals and live performances, which last for a week and include seven performances, Martin and two other students worked backstage, helping the actors change costumes between appearances.
“Three of the guys were constantly changing costumes,” Martin said. “They had like five different costumes. One time we had two minutes to get them changed and back on stage.
“I loved it. I didn’t care if I was on stage or backstage helping the others. I had never done anything like that. It was interesting. I learned what worked and what didn’t work.”
During the spring semester, Martin got on stage for two separate performances. It was a big step for an actress who had appeared in one-act plays only briefly since the eighth grade.
“It was exciting, but I was really nervous,” she said. “In high school, I was a person who said a few lines, and then you never saw them again. In ‘Stealing Home,’ I was pretty much in every scene.”
Martin’s theatre debut at HPU last spring was in a supporting role in a play called “Stealing Home.” She played the role of Gretchen, a domineering older sister.
“I played someone who was mean and vicious and rude and crude. That goes completely against my normal demeanor,” Martin said. “I went from being nice to everyone to yelling at everyone. Dr. Humfeld kept telling me I needed to be angrier.
“But it was OK because it was acting. It can be hard to be somebody you’re not. But it was fun at other times. When you’re acting, you can be anything you want to be. You can do the character however you want.”
HPU performed “Stealing Home” during the Christian University Theatre Festival, a gathering in which Hardin-Simmons, Lubbock Christian and Wayland Baptist also performed during the three-day event in March that Howard Payne hosted for the first time ever.
Martin pulled double duty, not only acting in “Stealing Home,” but also helping the HPU Theatre Department provide food and snacks for the theatre companies from the three visiting universities.
“We had to feed 100 people every day, and Brittany volunteered to help coordinate it,” Humfeld said. “She made sure water and snacks were available in the dressing room, and helped coordinate lunch for everyone. And she was just a freshman.
“Her leadership abilities are unflappable.”
In April, Martin completed her first year at HPU by playing the lead role in an Irish play “Dancing at Lughnasa.” In that performance, Martin played the oldest sister and caretaker of an Irish Catholic family. Martin practiced her Irish accent in her dorm room, but also at her part-time job as a cashier at Brookshire’s.
“I would randomly slip into an Irish accent throughout the day and not realize it for 20 minutes,” Martin said. “Some of the customers were shocked to hear that kind of voice in Brownwood. Some others just laughed at me.
“One Irish woman came through my line and asked if I was making fun of her accent. I had to explain to her what I was doing.”
Martin played a completely different personality than in “Stealing Home.” In “Dancing at Lughnasa,” she played a prim-and-proper oldest sister, Kate, who ran her family’s household.
“It was just her way to take care of everyone,” Martin said. “She provided the only income for the family. She wanted others to look at her family with respect. She didn’t want things to happen that would make her family look bad. But it didn’t always happen the way she wanted.”
Her first leading role couldn’t have gone better.
“My dad (Corry Martin) even loved it,” Martin said. “I had no idea he would enjoy this show. There was a lot of symbolism that was hard to understand, but my dad really liked it. I was shocked.
“I had so many compliments from friends and peers. I knew I had done the best I could.”
“We got to watch Brittany blossom this year,” said Humfeld, who has been with the HPU Theatre Department for 27 years. “Her confidence has grown and her success has really taken off. She has grown in everything she has done. She’s very talented in a lot of ways.”