Joaquin and Heather Fernandez of Lake Church, actors in the Memories Christmas production, fell in love with musical theater and then they fell in love with each other
Heather and Joaquin Hernandez met through their love for musical theater and now it’s their livelihood.
The couple, who moved to Lake Church in May with her three children, have a passion for musicals.
They are currently in the Memories dinner-theater production “An L.M. Montgomery Christmas,” based on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books “Aunt Cyrilla’s Christmas Basket” and “Christmas at Red Butte.” The Canadian author is probably best known for her “Anne of Green Gables” series.
The play takes place on Christmas Eve 1914 on a train that departs from Prince Edward Island in Canada, but is stopped by a snow storm.
Heather portrays Aunt Theodora, who feeds the stranded passengers a vast array of food she pulls from her seemingly bottomless traveling basket. She has an uncanny ability to discern people’s problems and find ways to help them.
Joaquin portrays a soldier who lost his arm while fighting with Allied forces in World War I. He also is Theodora’s brother Donald in a flashback.
When Heather isn’t on stage, she’s the artistic and group sales coordinator for Memories. She also helps with costumes and writes, directs and casts several productions.
Joaquin is a cook, bartender and set builder and does a multitude of other tasks, including changing light bulbs.
Everyone helps decorate the rustic Town of Port Washington hall that once was a popular beer bar and is decked out for the holidays.
“We wear many hats,” Heather said. “We’re so fortunate to be able to make a living at what we love doing. Not many people can do that. Musical theater is what speaks to us and what makes our heart happy.”
The couple met in 2008 when both were cast in “A Street Car Named Desire” at the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove. They prefer musicals, but also act in dramas.
“I thought he was an irritable loud mouth and he drove me nuts,” Heather said. Then Joaquin’s truck broke down and he needed rides to the theater.
“It really did break down,” he said. “A ball joint broke. She lived the closest to me, so she drove me to the theater.”
While carpooling, a friendship developed that turned into a romance.
“We had a lot of common interests and discovered musical theater was a passion for both of us,” Heather said.
The couple were then cast in Sunset Players’ production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” They played a married couple, the forgetful Uncle Billy and his wife Aunt Tilly.
After the Dec. 21, 2008, performance with the curtain closed but the entire cast still on stage, Joaquin proposed to Heather.
“I wondered why everyone was still on stage and thought maybe there was a photo-op I didn’t know about. I saw my kids with red roses and thought how nice that he arranged that,” Heather said.
“Then I saw everyone was looking at me. I turned around, and Joaquin was on his knee holding a ring — and so began our wonderful life.”
Before he proposed, Joaquin asked Heather’s children — Brandon, Hannah and Ethan Schraven, who were then 14, 11 and 4 — for permission to marry their mother.
“I didn’t exactly give them veto power,” he said, “but I told them I love their mother very much and I would do anything to make her happy, but that she wouldn’t be happy unless they accepted me into the family.
“I tried to show by example, rather than talking, how much I love her, and I think they saw that. I’m very different than other men in their lives.”
The couple married on Jan. 1 this year at their West Allis home and held a reception in March at Memories.
Heather, who has a degree in vocal music, was an elementary teacher before becoming artistic director for musical productions at Apple Holler in Kenosha. She wrote and directed the family-oriented musicals.
A friend told her about Memories, and she got a lead role in “The Dixie Swim Club” in 2012.
“Roland (Roebuck, Memories owner and producer) said, ‘I have a proposal for you,’” Heather said.
He hired her as the part-time artistic and group sales coordinator. In December 2012, she was hired full time with the expectation she will take over when Roebuck retires. Lisa Green, who started working in the kitchen 12 years ago, is the operations manager.
“We (she and Joaquin) talked about it and knew we would be making some financial sacrifices, but that it would be good for me in the long run,” Heather said.
She commuted from West Allis to Memories until the family moved to Lake Church.
Joaquin initially was a bartender at Memories, but when Roebuck learned he could cook, he was offered that job.
Heather has performed in musicals since she was a child. Her children, who are now 24, 18 and 11, joined her on stage in several productions.
Joaquin said he grew up in a singing family and fell in love with musical theater when he was 16 and cast in “Godspell” with an inner-city youth choir.
He’s been in countless productions since then and likes to say he’s a singer who learned to be an actor.
Heather’s decision to accept the Memories’ job was the right one, Joaquin said.
“It really has changed our lives,” he said. “We lived in apartments in the city. Now, we’re in a house we don’t have to share with anyone and have a back yard. My son can have a dog. It takes me seven minutes to get to work. We love it here.
“I tell all my actor friends the best way to get a job is to marry the director.”
Heather said, “I don’t cast him unless he’s right for the part.”
She has a key role in choosing the productions, but Roebuck has the final say, she said.
Being the artistic coordinator doesn’t guarantee she gets the role she wants when another director chooses the cast, Heather said.
“I knew I wanted this role, and I was afraid I wouldn’t get it,” she said. “The director thought I was too young to be Aunt Theodora.
“I wanted to do it because she reminds me of Mrs. Claus. She’s a jolly person and looks into the souls of people and not just the surface. She has her basket of goodies and keeps pulling out things to give to people. I’m kind of like that. I do a lot of cookie and candy making and like giving it away.”
Fortunately, after Heather auditioned, director Ralph Maffongelli decided that, with a little makeup, she was perfect for the part.
More information on “An L.M. Montgomery Christmas,” which runs weekends through Saturday, Dec. 20, is available at www.memoriesballroom.com.
Image information: Aunt Theodora (Heather Hernandez) talks with a wounded World War I soldier (Joaquin Hernandez) in Memories dinner-theater production of “An L.M. Montgomery Christmas.”
Photo by Sam Arendt