BWW Interviews: Colton Berry Talks INTO THE WOODS, Bayou City Theatrics, and Houston's Theatre Scene
With 2013 officially underway, the Houston Theatre Scene is working hard to bring audiences theatrical delights to rival what we saw in 2012. Colton Berry, Artistic Director of Bayou City Theatrics, made a splash when his team opened an 80s Pop-Punk ROCKY HORROR SHOW. That was followed by their highly successful concert of RENT on New Year's Eve. Now, Colton Berry is putting his unique spin on a production of the Stephen Sondheim's classic piece INTO THE WOODS. Keeping a busy, frenetic schedule, Colton Berry spent a few minutes talking to me about his career, Bayou City Theatrics, Houston's Theatre Scene and his upcoming production of INTO THE WOODS.
Me: How did you get started in theatre?
Colton Berry: Oh wow. Actually, I did a play in the first grade with my first grade class. I was just kind of randomly picked out of the group of kids to play a role in it, and I fell in love. The next year, in second grade, I started taking classes with a local theatre company on the East Coast, where I grew up. And by the next year, I was doing their all youth productions. And by the seventh grade, I owned and operated an outdoor theatre company in the same area. So, I just kind of jumped in really young and that's all I did. [Laughs]
Me: When did you know that you wanted to be involved in theatre as a profession?
Colton Berry: I would say I knew that I would be an actor, director, or somehow involved in theatre by the time I was out of elementary school. I would say, by the end of fifth grade I knew that there was nothing else in the world that I wanted to do.
Me: How did you decide to create Bayou City Theatrics?
Colton Berry: Well, I was a company member at Masquerade Theatre for a season, and, you know, Masquerade Theatre unfortunately had to close their doors last year. And all of my friends who worked there and the great things that were coming out of there were no more, shall we say. It kind of sparked a fire under me to do what I had always wanted to do, which was open a theatre company in a city like Houston. And because I call Houston my home now, I thought, "this is a great opportunity and perfect timing to start pursing my dream."
Me: Bayou City Theatrics has a very exciting and ambitious season planned. How did you program your inaugural season?
Colton Berry: Well, it's a combination of a couple of things. Some of the titles were titles that I had just always loved and always wanted to do and were kind of just like dream productions. I thought, "If this was my dream company, I should start with my dream shows." Other choices were made because of factors like other theatres doing a production, so we decided to take one off, or we found a perfect actor to do this role in an audition, so we thought, "you know, this is a great show for this person." It's kind of really organic and there's even some alterations to that that are happening now that the New Year has begun. So, we've got some exciting new things that we were hoping to get, and we just got approved. So, yeah, it was an organic process, but I'm really happy with what we have and the exciting things we're going to announce here within the week.
Me: How did you specifically decide to program INTO THE WOODS?
Colton Berry: INTO THE WOODS has always been one of my favorite musicals. You know, people either love or hate Sondheim, and INTO THE WOODS has always intrigued me. It's one of my favorite Sondheim pieces, and I directed it, oh geez, in 2000-I don't know. It was about four or five years ago. And, [Pauses] I loved it. I loved every second of it. I thought after seeing the brand new production that was on the West End and transferred over to Broadway earlier last year, I thought, "Wow! This new translation is so innovative and so [Pauses] just artistic! And it's taking something that is well known and re-envisioning it." I thought, "That's exactly what we're trying to do here at Bayou City [Theatrics]. And it's kind of the perfect piece, and I love it." So, I think it kind of fell into place that that would be our opening show.
Me: Your ROCKY HORROR SHOW was infused with an 80s Pop-Punk vibe. Can audiences expect an interesting twist on your production of INTO THE WOODS?
Colton Berry: Absolutely, and we're making it our own. At every single [Bayou City Theatrics'] show that you see, you'll be able to recognize the show and be able to sing along to your favorite songs, and all the things that you love about the show and you knew about the show before, but we're always going to bring a new, interesting twist, vibe, or concept to the show. Our INTO THE WOODS is definitely like no other INTO THE WOODS you've ever seen. It's set at the turn-of-the-century, around the Steam Punk era. It's also involving-the concept, or the design at least, involves a lot of natural elements; things that you would find in the woods. Our narrator is a young child, and [Pauses] you'll see. But basically our narrator runs into the woods to run away from his father, and in order to calm him down when he gets scared when he's alone, he retells the story that his father has told him for many years, and the woods around him becomes the story that he's telling. So, characters like the witch, her costume is made of tree bark and moss, and things like that, [represent that] these trees come to life and create the story that he's telling.
Me: Oh wow. I didn't see it, but that sounds like it will be similar to Public Theater's production at the Delacourte Theatre in Central Park this past summer.
Colton Berry: Yeah, it's a similar take, and we took it even a step further. [Laughs]
Me: What are you looking forward to most about your upcoming production on INTO THE WOODS?
Colton Berry: The thing I am most excited about is my cast. I have a cast full of incredible vocalists and actors. Every single character is perfectly [Pauses] over-suited, they're over-qualified for every single role. It's, it's...[Pauses]...you know, not to toot my own horn, [Laughs] but they could quite possibly be the best cast of INTO THE WOODS that I've ever heard. When we get together and sing those incredibly intricate Sondheim pieces, it is astounding. It brings so much joy to me. It's so perfect, and there is no other word to describe it! The performances, they are so perfect from every single individual! It's exciting to be in the room with them, let alone listen to them create this amazing piece of work.
Me: As an artist that recently opened his own theatre company, it seems you have chosen to call Houston your home. What was it about Houston that encouraged you to plant your roots here?
Colton Berry: Well, it's an interesting story how I came here. I was on American Idol in season seven, and I came here-I had some lag time after the show, where I was just traveling around the country booking gigs and just kind of seeing the world because I had the time to-and I visited a friend who was on the show with me, Kady Malloy. And as soon as I got off the plane I just had this overwhelming feeling of home and welcome. I actually met our executive producer, Jane [Volke], that very first trip here. We kind of instantly hit it off, and we went to see a lot of theatre in the area. Before moving here and before visiting, I had no idea that the theatre scene was so incredible and so brilliant, and that this is one of the only cities in the country where you can actually live and work as an artist in theatre. And that it's not just shoddy pieces of theatre; it's brilliant work with brilliant professionals. So, I think, once I saw the theatre, it was kind of the nail in the coffin for me. I had to be here. And I decided a couple of months later that I would come back and be here for good.
Me: How do you balance being an actor, director, and producer?
Colton Berry: Absolutely no sleep at all. [Laughs] I work on about a two-and-a-half hour sleep schedule. No, it's a difficult task, but I find myself just kind of taking each step at a time, and I like to be prepared. So, we've been working on this season, the individual shows since, oh gosh, June. I've had work done for INTO THE WOODS for months, so I just kind of keep barreling forward and keep staying prepared. And also, just keeping on my toes because theatre is a living, breathing thing. It's much like a human in itself-a big, giant, lithy human. [Laughs] A human none-the-less. I just kind of wait for the shifts to come, and I take them with stride and keep barreling forward.
Me: Is there a dream role that you have yet to play?
Colton Berry: Oh geez. [Pauses] That's a really hard question. [Pauses] I would have to look in my giant list of musicals and see [Laughs While Saying] if I haven't played this role. [Pauses] Let's see. [Pauses] I've always wanted to play Hedwig [from HEDWING AND THE ANGRY INCH]. That's always been a big, big role that I've always wanted to do. I've always wanted to play, ironically enough, William Barfee in THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE. Let's see. [Pauses] Bobby in URINETOWN. Oh, there's so many! There's so many! [Laughs While Saying] I'm looking at this list, and I'm like, "Everyone! Every role!"
Me: What about a dream show that you're looking forward to producing or directing?
Colton Berry: I would say, for this season? Let's keep it there because otherwise my brain would just implode from all the information. I am extremely excited about directing BIG RIVER. It's our closer for this season, and I am so excited for the concept, the design, and the acting style that we're taking. I just love that show. It's a gem of musical theatre that's just overlooked and underappreciated. I think I'm most excited about binging our translation of that show to Houston.
Me: As an artist, what inspires you?
Colton Berry: So many things. I like to think that everything I do from the director's standpoint or the designer's standpoint comes from human nature. My favorite thing to do in the entire world is just to watch humans interact. When I was younger, my mother and I used to go sit in the car outside the grocery store and watch people leave. And that sounds really crazy [Laughs], but we really did. And it was one of our favorite things to do because I got to see the human condition and watch it happen. I think that everything that I do is based on some sort of some sort of facet of humanity. That goes down to what color the actor is wearing in a certain sequence, the angle of the lighting, or exactly how I'm going to block the scene. Everything comes from some sort of human quality.
Me: As someone who has just opened his own theatrical producing company, what advice do you offer to anyone else hoping to open their own company?
Colton Berry: The biggest advice would be...[Pauses]...make sure you've got a solid team of underwriters, and you have them before you open.
Promising to be entertaining and an INTO THE WOODS like you've never seen before, this production doesn't sound like one that audiences will want to miss. INTO THE WOODS runs at Midtown Art Space from January 11 to January 20, 2013. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.bayoucitytheatrics.com/.
Photo courtesy of Colton Berry.