Supporting creative work by women
Katy Berry is a powerhouse. In August she rocked the Edinburgh stage in Baby Wants Candy, and later this month she will bring her mad comedy skills to North Coast’s Anybody: An Improvised Historical Hip-Hopera in New York City. Katy is a seven-time Battlicious champion at UCBeast, and her work has been featured in Jenny Slate and Studio 360’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Short’ competition. Katy has been a guest on Myq Kaplan’s podcast “Hang Out With Me” and her writing has been published on Reductress.com and Bridesmaiding.com.
Works by Women spoke with Katy about Anybody, what historical figure she’d love to meet and where she’s moving this fall.
WORKS BY WOMEN: You just returned from Edinburgh where you performed an improv musical. What was that like?
KATY BERRY: It was fabulous! I was with a group called Baby Wants Candy. We did two or three shows a night and sold out every one for the whole month of the Fringe Festival! It’s incredible to see an entire city celebrate theatre and artists so wholeheartedly. At the closing ceremony there was a massive firework show off the edge of a castle, synced with a live orchestra. I thought, this doesn’t really happen in America, does it? They might celebrate Broadway shows, but never the black box theatre culture. People see artists in America as frivolous pains in the ass until AFTER they’ve ‘made it.’ In Scotland, they celebrate the entire community, big and little, and it’s a wonderful gift.
WBW: Tell me about Anybody. You return for performances in New York in late September.
KB: Anybody is the best show I’ve ever been a part of. A year or two ago, North Coast was in a Hamilton-themed bit show at UCBEast and had a 15-minute set. We got the suggestion of Louisa May Alcott and did a mini-show about her life. It felt magical and a few of us were like, “let’s jump on this idea before it cools.” It’s been incredibly challenging and satisfying. We get a suggestion of a historical icon from the audience and do a short interview, gathering details about their life. Then we do an hour-long hip-hopera. What I love about it is that there’s a healthy mix of silly improv shenanigans and truly heartfelt moments. We try to humanize these figures, to acknowledge their faults, relate to their struggles and uplift their story without the detached irony that comedians sometimes use to sidestep vulnerability. I’ve gotten quite emotional on stage before! But we are still a bunch of goofball comedians, so for every moment of beautiful emotional clarity there’s also a talking tree who’s eaten too much cheese. That juxtaposition is pure magic, in my opinion. It’s the sweet and the salty. Our show is a chocolate covered pretzel!
photo by Kevin McNair
WBW: My friends LOVE North Coast. What makes the company unique?
KB: Well, it’s unique because we do long form hip-hop improv. So, unlike musical improv, which sticks to that razzle-dazzle musical theatre flavor, we are paying homage to all the genres of hip-hop music, and our improvisers are freestyle rapping the whole time. It’s not easy! This show demands a specific combination of skills, so when it comes together with a sense of confidence, oooo mama! It’s LIT. That being said, the second thing that I believe makes North Coast unique is its supportive energy. Because our form is so challenging, you can’t really come out weak. You need to endow yourself with Nicki Minaj-level confidence and burst onto stage like a queen. And you need to show an equal level of love and support for every single one of your teammates. There’s no time to judge one another (that’s a bummer thing to do anyway.). If someone walks out and starts rapping as a talking dolphin, we are immediately on stage with them, attacking the dance, shooting water out their blowhole, setting hooks about life under the sea. We don’t blink. Our audiences tend to have a skeptical or nervous energy at first. They know hip-hop improv sounds hard, and they don’t want to see a bunch of floundering ding-dongs on stage. That’s awkward. We get that. So we aim to not only meet, but explode their expectations. We hit every move with an energy and support that’s unparalleled. And with that level of support, everyone–the performers and the audience–can have maniacal fun.
WBW: If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?
KB: I’m not sure. Maybe Maya Angelou. I know she’s only recently passed but she was a frickin’ diamond. I would love to absorb some of her wisdom. Also Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books, and I’d love to dish with Charlotte about its feminist themes and get her opinion on the dumpster fire that is today’s sexist administration.
WBW: What’s the craziest improv story you have?
KB: North Coast was invited to perform in variety show hosted and curated by David Byrne. If you don’t know who David Byrne is, he was lead singer of The Talking Heads, but he’s also a NYC legend. So we got to meet him, rap for him, and at the end of the show, we did a sing-along with him of ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston. It was beyond cool. I really wanted to rep my true self at the show, so I wore my favorite shirt, which says “SOLID GOLD CLIT” on the front. During the sing-along I ended up front and center with David. There’s a photo of me standing beside him on stage with the word CLIT shining like the sun on my body. #goals
photo by Kevin McNair
WBW: What’s next for you?
KB: Well, North Coast has some fun projects cookin’ right now. We’re trying to work on some TV-related stuff. Also, I’m moving to London in the fall. They have an improv scene there that’s still new and the people are hungry! I’m gonna try to survive sans day job, focus on art, teach comedy and see the world. I don’t know what lies on the horizon for me, but I have a feeling that anything is possible for ole KB!
WBW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
KB: There is a quote that hit me hard a few years ago and has stuck with me ever since. I repeat it to myself when I get nervous before big shows and honestly, it’s helped change my life. Roseanne Barr said “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.” I was raised to believe that men are the funny ones. This has been ingrained in women’s brains forever, so we naturally let the boys be the funniest, we lay down for them and then thank them for including us on their stages! I have seen this behavior in action. I have seen female comedians automatically endow men with unearned glory, like we are well-trained dogs, and subconsciously accept that we’ll never be as good, or that we have some kind of catching up to do. Guess what- we don’t. We never had to catch up. We’re just as talented and always have been. When I heard that quote about taking power, I made a rule that I would not fawn over funny men, and I would not wait for them to make the first move in shows. I had been creating imaginary doors to my potential and giving other people the keys to unlock them. WHY?! When I realized that no one had the damn key but my own damn self, my world started to shift. I started throwing down on shows harder. I started stomping into the spotlight like the empress that I am. I stopped giving a fuck about what anyone thought of me. And you know what? People noticed. Women started hugging me after shows. Doors began opening. I remember my first rap battle. I was so scared and I said, Katy! YOU ARE A GODDAMN LIONESS. TAKE THE POWER. You know my ass won the hell out of that competition. To the dudes in the show, it was all silly fun and games. To me it was a powerful, defining moment. So the best advice I ever got was to realize my own power, harness it, and never ever apologize for it. And I relay that to other women all the time. Especially when my girls are nervous or doubting themselves, as we all do from time to time. Don’t you dare assume that your destiny is to be a supporting character. Take the lead. Do not ask for it. Do not hope that someone will give it to you at their own free will. (They won’t.) Just take it. I PROMISE you will crush.
See Katy Berry in ANYBODY: An Improvised Historical Hip-Hopera September 20 – 23, 2017 at The Connelly Theater in New York City. For more information and details: http://northcoastnyc.com/anybody/