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Uh oh. Katy heard "no."
...find out what happens when "yes, and" bumps into blue hair and glitter
The hardest part of starting something is not coming up with the first step. More often, it’s moving the thing that’s in front of the first step. Usually that thing is just a two-letter word starting with N and ending with O.
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So, the thing I love about meeting new stARTists is learning how they fight off negativity and resistance.
I especially love the ones who fight funny…with color, and kook and kitsch. Like Katy Berry.
I first saw Katy on a stage at the Edinburgh Fringe performing in the sold-out musical improv show, Baby Wants Candy. (This is the celebrated troupe I write about in chapter 5 of Start More Than You Can Finish.)
Baby Wants Candy ALWAYS blows our minds. It features 5 or 6 singing, dancing improvisors who write and perform a whole hilarious show based on a title created by the audience. Every performer is unspeakably courageous, but I’ll never forget the night Katy freestyle rapped her way into my heart with full-on impressions, vocal flourishes and fresh-from-the-news feminist social commentary.
As my daughter, Tess, producer of Katy’s new one-woman show, says, “if I had seen Katy Berry perform when I was 15, I would have put up with a lot less s#*! from terrible men.”
Tess says “I fell in love with her on the spot when she created a character who was preparing to go to a party but refused to shave her legs for the occasion. Katy sang about rejecting patriarchal beauty expectations, refusing to suffer to appease men, and how Nair is just chemicals. All with her window-shattering belt.”
Katy is three of my favorite things: a stARTist, a teacher, and a fearless creative woman inspiring my daughters as they work to make their dreams come true.
Katy teaches screenwriting and musical improv and jumps on a stage whenever she’s asked, dared, or paid. Her talent and grit have taken her around the world, performing in sold-out musical comedy shows and prestigious venues like The Kennedy Center and The Edin. Her pre-Oscar winning screenplay POPCORN was chosen for the Blacklist and Women in Film Residency in 2020 and her second film, Click, Click, Play is in production.
I talked to Katy between shows, classes and parody makeup tutorials.
Becky: You’re a stARTist. How did you find out?
Katy: Just now! Yay! I'm a stARTist!! Do I get a badge? Or a statue of some kind? Please, I need this. Haha, juuuuuuuust kidding.
I think I became a stARTist when I was quite young. You know how they say that all choices are made out of either love or fear? Well, my dad was the type to say ‘no’ to EVERYTHING. He was a fear guy, and quite controlling. So I grew up in a world of “no.”
But, ya know, flowers will grow through any crack they can find.
So, I started doing things quickly, in-the-moment. There was no option to plan lovely projects or trips or whatever, because the answer would always be “no.” So I started attacking my ideas as soon as they popped into my head, as quickly as I could, alone in my room. Whether it was a script, or a mural on my bedroom door, or dying my hair hot pink, or whatever. No permission, just action.
Becky: Ahhh…this explains a lot. Your childhood was a bouncy house training ground for one of your super skills: improv comedy! Starting fast and not overthinking is key to improv – how did this skill translate in the rest of your creative life?
Katy: Improv has been a game changer. Before I did improv, I would get very nervous in front of people…sometimes even stammering.
I think, in general, it's very easy to get beat-up by the messaging we see in everyday life of how to look, act, speak, love. I mean, look at instagram, look at the influencers who make so much money touting lifestyles that are totally staged. So when I teach improv, I always start by telling people “look, the biggest challenge here is not going to be the improv, it's going to be collapsing the walls in your mind of who you can and cannot be. It's going to be believing you have every right to take up space and use your voice. It's going to be giving yourself permission to explore without judgement and giving yourself loads of grace and understanding that failure is healthy and beautiful and the gateway to change.”
Improv helps people see that those mental walls of how to look/act etc, they’re an illusion. When you finally get the courage to punch them, you'll realize they're just sand! And once you do that, you become unstoppable.
Improv has allowed me to write screenplays that are so much more authentic and raw, because I'm not tip-toeing around my flaws, my fears. They're all in there, laid out in my characters. Improv has allowed me to speak with zest and eloquence in meetings, because I'm unafraid to shine. Improv has allowed me to travel and teach comedy and help other people find their confidence, because I've been there, I know how terrifying it is to put yourself out there. But I also know that nothing is more terrifying than a life spent seeking permission to exist.
Becky: You seem easily motivated to stART new things, trusting that inspiration will follow? Am I reading that right?
Katy: Yes, I’m a very motivated person. Maybe too motivated. Haha. What I mean is that... sometimes my motivation tips into guilt. I’ve been working on identifying what is true motivation and what is actually the myth that my value hinges upon my output.
A spark of creativity is divine and should be leapt upon! But sometimes I have to pause and ask myself, are you actually just looking for validation? Are you trying to prove your worth to people?
Our value is fixed – it's always 100%. Period. It does not waver. It doesn't waver when we lose/gain weight, it doesn't waver when we rest, it doesn't waver when we make mistakes. We are forever at a value of 100%. Knowing that, I can release the need to prove myself and sort the creative projects that genuinely fill my cup from those that are almost a subconscious punishment. And when I know it's for me, like I said, I feel it's divine. And I always respect the muse when she comes in earnest.
Becky: What would you say to someone having trouble getting started?
Katy: Instead of saying 'oh, I'm such a procrastinator' or 'oh, I'm not talented enough' or 'oh I dont have the money," I'd ask “what are you honestly afraid of?”
It might be hard to admit that. It might take some soul-searching to find the root. Nevertheless, find the worst case scenario that you are running on, repeat in the back of your mind, then look it in the eye. Embrace it. If you're afraid people are gonna say you're an embarrassing joke, then close your eyes and imagine a scenario where someone ACTUALLY says that. Play out the nightmare scenario beat for beat, as realistically as possible. K. Now what? You're still alive. And that person has just revealed that they are a rude turd, and so your friend-group strategically excludes them from the plan to get margaritas tonight because they are a buzz kill. And that's that. Big whoop.
Our fears are these huge insane monsters in our head, but if we talk to them and get to know them better, they shrink pretty quickly. So take your fear up into an airplane, strap it to your body, and go skydiving with it. You have one life to live, follow your joy.
Becky: You’re taking a brand new show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! How did you decide to do that, and what was your first step when you knew you were ready to start?
Katy: Yes! Last year I went to Fringe with another performance troupe, and during the month I got to see more shows than ever. I was deeply inspired by the artists who struck out on their own. Their work was so good and engaging.
One person holding an audience's attention for an hour is no small feat. It's magic. It's undeniably skillful. Especially when technology is reducing our attention spans to that of goldfish. But I’m an insatiable adrenaline junky. The scarier and more vulnerable something is, the more I want to conquer it. That's why my cabaret show costumes have been progressively smaller over the years. The more I fret about my body, the more likely I am to end up performing in a bikini.
So, I had done Fringe in the warm bosom of an already-successful show. But I wanted to take the bull by the horns and prove that I could do it on my own. And then a couple women approached me appropo of nothing and were like, hey, when you're ready, we want to work with you. That inspired the heck outta me. It felt like the universe was ringing a bell in my face. I knew then and there I HAD to do it.
I just needed an idea for a show. My friend, stARTist Adrien Pellerin, who plays piano in the show and helped me develop it, told me that the stories I’d told from my life growing up on Long Island were so insane and funny that he felt I should lead with that. You can't go wrong with the truth. So I picked a few stories that I love to tell, that always get a big reaction, and I looked for the connecting thread within them.
I ended up creating a show that's a love letter to my upbringing on Long Island, and to the pain of growing up in small towns – how they can mess you up…but can also shape you into something wonderful, if you can learn to forgive the past.
Becky: Courageous first starts always have other annoying starts attached to them. What did you have to start to make this show come to life?
Katy: Ugh, the hardest part, hands down, has been the fundraising. I'm a proud self stARTer, so asking people for help can be difficult! But again, you have to barrel through. This is the way the world works. So we made an IndieGogo campaign. I'm lucky because my producer, Tess, has been with me through the process, so I don't feel like I'm going through it alone. Fringe is incredibly expensive. We have to bring a show to Scotland (can we talk about travel costs this year!?), we have to be housed for a month, we need tech rentals, marketing, PR support…it’s a LOT .
I've bugged everyone in my phone book. God forbid I need to fundraise for a life-saving medical procedure between now and August, I'm good as dead! haha. We’re almost to our goal now. We need just under $5K to hit it, and I believe we can get there.
And if we don't? Then I'll be eating Cup-o-Noodles for a while and ya know what? That's okay.
I know you’ll get there, Katy!
Now, leave us with a toss of that Katy Berry ignition glitter. Finish these sentences:
The best way to kill an idea is to… lead with all the reasons why it can't work.
The best time to stART something is… when you feel that spark of joy at the very thought of it!
Once you start, the worst that can happen is… that you fail miserably, and no one cares, and your worth is still in tact, and you've learned some valuable stuff to succeed next go-around.
If you want to stART your producing career and feel some of Katy’s sparkle, join me in supporting with Katy’s IndieGogo campaign. She’s offering some glittery thank-you gifts!
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