Improv Asylum
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Meet the Inmates: Erin Berry


Monday, March 14, 2016


ERIN BERRY
Role: Main Stage cast member
Performs: Thursdays, Fridays, & Saturdays
Tenure: Been with Improv Asylum since 2011


Do you remember the moment you realized that acting was your calling?

For me, it’s been like a lifelong journey. I have a brother - an older brother, he’s two and a half years older than me, and very shy. So for my whole life I’ve been kind of displaying for the both of us, like “this is what we wanna do!” and taking the reigns on that. I think I always wanted to be an actor. If you were asking three-year-old me what I wanted to be, I’d say, “an actor!” That always would have been my answer. I also loved sports so, in fifth grade when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was “actor, but if not actor, football player.”

Speaking of when you were a kid, do you recall any particularly funny or embarrassing moments from your elementary school plays?

I was in two elementary school plays, Annie and Fiddler On The Roof. Sticking with the theme of me demanding to do male things as a kid, I wanted to be Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof, who is the older male Jewish character in the play. So I had to audition for that. I was very hard to embarrass, so at the time I feel like I never would have said this embarrassed me. But everyone was split up into lines for the role they were auditioning for, and there was this long line of guys auditioning for Tevye, and then just me standing there. I had to put on a fake beard for the audition ‘cause you have to wear one in the show, so they wanted to see how we could sing with it on. So in front of everyone who I went to school with, I sang “If I Were A Rich Man” wearing a full beard. But I also had the deepest voice, by far.

And you got the part?

I didn’t get the part! My best friend’s brother got the part.


Sexists.

I know! And I got Yente the Matchmaker, which was a great part. But there was just a part of me that was like, “cowards!” Elementary school politics.
 

So, which show was your favorite?

I loved doing Annie ‘cause it was my first one. I was in fourth grade, and I got the part of Pepper, who was the scrappy orphan. I got a bunch of special treatment from my fourth grade teacher, in whatever weird world this qualifies as special treatment. I got to leave class early sometimes because I had to go to the principal’s rehearsal or something. It was the first time I was like “oh yeah, this is what I want. I wanna be driven by a friend’s mom in a sedan to a rehearsal that I have like, four lines in.” That was the first time I got special treatment for an acting thing. It got me out of other stuff and gave me this prowess in my very small elementary school campus. It was the funnest ‘cause I didn’t have any pressure either. I’m the youngest orphan up here, I’ll just f*ck around with whatever. And because the show is set up so all the orphans have all the scenes together, I made way more friends than I ever had in my life. I was like “oh my God, all of you have to hang out with me? How cool!” On the Monday after the weekend of the shows we would perform for the school, and all day everyone’s like “You’re so good! You’re so good!” Free lunch, miss your first two classes. Ah, it was great.


So what’s the worst thing that happened to you onstage?

I have a really dark answer to that. I did Grease in middle school, and the next performance we were gonna do was for the whole school. That Sunday, after our final cast party and right before our Monday show, our friend Marica who was in the play passed away. She drowned in a bathtub. But we did the play anyway on Monday. And it was the weirdest, worst...like, she was in the chorus of it, but she had been in drama with us for years and stuff and I just remember thinking, “this is so hard.” I was in eighth grade.

Wow, that’s heavy.

Yeah, I mean, my costume also ripped one time. But I mean, when I think about it, that was the worst. But the experience onstage kind of made me realize how much I love theater, and actors, and the support. Our drama department head was just the best person to have had be the anchor for all of us kids. We didn’t go to class at all, we just sat in the theater. So it was one of those times where I realized man, I don’t know what I would have done in a situation like this if I didn’t have that level of support and emotional understanding from people at a time where I didn’t know much about emotions. Everyone was like “safe space, whatever’s happening, it’s fine, we can talk about it, we don’t have to, whatever you want.” So yeah, that was a cool, awful, sad theatrical thing that happened.

Switching moods a bit, what are some of your pet peeves inside and outside your life as an actor?

My pet peeve in my regular life is when someone gets out of the shower while they’re still soaking wet to grab a towel, but they won’t grab it when they’re in the shower, so then the bathroom floor is soaking wet. So easy to not do! But everyone does it, they’re just like, “out of the shower!” and all the water comes splashing out. Pet peeves onstage...I would say breaking (Laughing onstage at another actor's joke/breaking character). I love commitment, almost to a detriment, where sometimes I’ll commit to something that isn’t funny cause I’m like “no, this is my character choice.” Yeah but...that’s not funny. I just don’t like breaking or calling people out for choices and stuff onstage. I feel like in theater, it doesn’t happen that much. But in improv, it happens for sure.

Yeah, it happened yesterday. I was at the show last night and there was this drunk girl in the audience who just interrupted the show to tell everyone it was her sister’s birthday and that they needed to do a skit about her. So I can only imagine how annoyed you would have been in that situation.

And it happens all the time too! People call out, or someone will just like fall, and it’s just tough. I love theater, and when you watch theater, if that happened people would be like “Can you believe our play got interrupted? It’s madness out there!” But this is like an everyday thing. It’s not a huge pet peeve but, it’s definitely one of those things where I’m like, ugh. Be quiet.

Do you have any strange or funny warm-up tactics you do before you perform?

Oh yeah! I went to theater school so I do a lot of vocal warmups, physical warm-ups, and acting warm-ups before plays, and I took a lot of classes on that stuff. One that I do if I’m going to do a show down here is rolling down my spine. Basically, it’s touching your toes but really slowly, and visualizing all your vertebrae. It’s just a way to get yourself in your body. People always say “be in your body.” If you’ve performed, you know sometimes you feel very present in yourself. If you’re not, and you’re performing, then you’re just like “I don’t care! I can’t even feel what’s happening and nothing matters!” So that tactic always grounds me really well. If I’m doing a dramatic show or an actual play, I’ll just pant very heavily. Fun fact, if you’re ever trying to cry on stage, if you just hyperventilate, your body gets so freaked out that when you go onstage and start giving lines you’re just like, *sobbing*. It makes all your internal organs like, “WHERE ARE WE WHAT’S HAPPENING WHAT DO WE DO” which is what happens when you’re really hyperventilating. Which is not fun. But if you fake-do it, you’re fine.

Fake hyperventilating, got it. So what’s your favorite thing to do in Boston?

Go to the ICA. Have you ever been? The ICA is my fortress. I love that place so much. I’ve seen every one of the exhibits there. I’m so familiar with them. And I don’t love contemporary art. I feel like the building is what initially entranced me, and then I started taking a closer look at contemporary art and I was like wow, this is so my speed. It’s so cool. Usually makes some kind of interesting, sometimes very heavy, sometimes very light point, and you can’t really tell until you look at it. Yeah, I love that place, man. And that Wolfgang-Puck Cafe! Mmm.

The store’s pretty cool too.

Every gift I’ve ever gotten anyone since I moved here is from there. I got a little teapot from there. My whole family loves tea, but my mom loves Japanese tea and English tea, so I got her this insane bone china teacup & saucer. In the middle it looked like it had a huge crack in it, so that half of it was in the style of British china and the other half Japanese china. It’s like this cool Frankenstein teacup, it was the perfect gift.



That sounds awesome. Do you have any advice for people interested in exploring improv or comedy/acting in general?

Figure out what you want out of improv and comedy. I’ve seen people who love it drive themselves crazy because they want to get to some goal or something and they lose what was fun about it. I’ve also seen people who come in, and it’s just a hobby for them and they have the most fun in the world, and they wind up rising way quicker. No matter what you want out of it, don’t ever let it not be fun. The second improv isn’t fun anymore and you’re forcing yourself to do it cause you want to move to New York and get on SNL...the second you come onstage and start beating yourself up...what do you have then? You’re literally making stuff up and killing yourself if you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. Don’t. You can do it with writing and that kind of stuff, where you can critique it and make it better. But improv doesn’t get better by critiquing after the fact. It gets better by working hard. Once you do it, it’s done. The scene is over. Don’t talk about it for four hours after, that’s so awful. You won’t feel free on stage if you feel like you’re tethered to those choices for the rest of the week that you’re gonna think about it. It’s very easy to say and very hard to do.

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