BWW Interviews: BCT Series - Colton Berry talks Career and The Mission of Bayou City Theatrics
Very recently, I saw a Bayou City Theatrics' production and enjoyed the look of the production so much that I decided to look into the newly established theatre company. What I found intrigued me. A part of the company's vision and mission is to provide "high-art, conceptualized pieces of theatre" to the Houston audience. I had to find out just what the hell that meant. Ergo, the Bayou City Theatrics series was born.
In part four of the series, I finish my conversation with Artistic Director Colton Berry. We define high-art conceptualized pieces (according to Colton), discuss the theatre prodigy's (he's been directing since was twelve) journey from Shenandoah, Virginia to Houston, Texas, and talk American Idol and believing in yourself.
BWW: I am a big fan of the Bayou City Theatrics aesthetic. What does high-art, conceptualized pieces of musical theatre mean to you?
Colton Berry: To me, high art means the most intense form of art you can get and really focusing on - what is art? It's every decision that's made being an artistic decision. Not a fiscal decision. Not a this is going to please this crowd or that crowd decision. Just art. And if that is the only thing that defines the decision, then that is what we are going to do. And conceptualized, basically means we don't repeat imagery. We're not gonna do ANNIE and stage it exactly the same way you've seen it every time. With the bucket dance and "Hard Knock Life" and all of that. It's not gonna happen. We're gonna do shows that you know. And you'll be able to recognize the music. You'll be able to recognize the characters. You'll be able to have that reminiscent feeling. But you're also going to discover something entirely new. By putting a concept on the staging, on the design, depending on the piece, we approach it from all different angles. But we definitely do not replicate theatre.
BWW: Do you ever worry about accessibility?
Colton Berry: No. [I Laugh] I don't. I really don't. I think it may seem not accessible when you first read it or see it. But I think once an audience member is in the seat, it's entirely accessible to everyone all the time. In the few years that we've been alive, we've really changed some people's opinions about what is great theatre, what is great art, and is unique scary or is unique something that I love?
BWW: Honestly, when I saw the dancers come on stage for TARZAN, I thought, "This is too abstract for children." But they all understood.
Colton Berry: We've been getting that. We decided as a team when we chose the piece to make sure that within the imagery that we could really make it clear. Sometimes, actually most of the time, we've found that when a concept is that strong, it actually better defines the material. It makes it easier to understand and easier to follow in certain cases. One of my very first directorial teachers said to me, "Make your concept really, really strong. Don't add too many details to your concept. One phrase, one word, and then every decision that you make along the way, if you can't have it come back to that word, completely matched to that word, then your concept isn't strong or clear enough." And I really stick to my guns on that one.
BWW: That's good advice. You've given me a great way to segue to the topic of your artistry. You've been involved in theatre and music for a very long time. Could you tell me about your formative years as an artist?
Colton Berry: Sure.
The Virginia Outdoor Theatre
I grew up on the East Coast in a small town in Virginia. We love to say that it's in the water there. I grew up around amazing classmates and friends and family members who were just so incredible. Out of this world, really. I got involved with local theatre, community theatre and that sort of thing at very young age. I think I was about six years old when I first started doing theatre. When I was twelve years old, I was always this kind of kid, I said to my parents, I want to have my own theatre so I can do it my own way. [Laughs] And my parents humored me. My dad and I built an outdoor theatre. Most dad and son partnerships are to go out in the backyard and build a tree house! [Laughs] I was so intense about it. I brought in some individuals from a local theatre to help us do it. They weren't taking me seriously at first but when they got there, they were like, "Oh my gosh, this twelve year old is really building an outdoor theatre!" We did it, and we produced theatre. My mother became a successful theatre producer. So, I've been producing, directing, and designing since I was twelve. I went on to do many, many more projects from there. Just, kind of, all over the place.
When I was 17 years old, I auditioned for American Idol. I made it to the top 24. After the show, I got on a plane, and I just flew around the country, toured with my band for a while, just, kind of saw what there was to see. I ended up in Houston visiting a friend. She was from the show. Just by luck, I auditioned for a local company (Masquerade Theatre) and was hired. I had a great time performing for Masquerade Theatre at the Hobby Center for a year. I also designed for them. And I taught at the Tribble School for Professional Musical Theatre. Then, I went back home and got a call about starting a theatre academy back on the east coast, The Presbury Theatrical Training Program, and I got that started.
Music Box Theatre To Bayou City Theatrics
About two and a half semesters into that school, I got a phone call from a friend, Rebecca Dahl, who is a co-owner of the Music Box Theatre. She said, "Hey, I'm starting a theatre. It's comedy cabaret. Would you like to come down, write with us, and be in the regular cast?" So, I flew back down here. I was in the original company at the Music Box. At the end of the first season, we had done THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW at The Music Box as part of a Halloween thing, and I directed and designed it. Someone said to me, "You should really do this. You should really do this here. There aren't a lot of musical theatre companies that do what you do. Push it and take it to a new place. You should try it." So, I said, "You know what? I'm going to." So, I started Bayou City Theatrics. It's been an amazing roller coaster ride ever since.
BWW: And Houston is grateful. [He Laughs] Let's go back to American Idol. I watched your American Idol audition. You were great. I also saw you in TARZAN. You were greater. [We both Laugh] What did you do to encourage this progression as a vocalist? Where there difficulties you had to overcome? If so, how did you overcome them?
Colton Berry: I went through a phase that a lot of kids, even kids here in Houston now, around that age go through. I went through this phase where I felt like I had to train myself so much. I had to follow all of these standards and had to fit into some sort of vocal box in order to succeed. I really let that get the better of me when I was in LA [for American Idol]. The pressures of being on that show, at that time, were so intense. I remember one of the producers said to us on the first day that I was in LA, "Those of you who make it to the top 24 are going to be the most talked about people in America for, at least, as long as you survive on the show." That was the most incredible and frightening thing I had ever heard of. All of that together really put me in that box. It made me lose part of the natural quality of who I am as a vocalist and as a performer while I was there. Immediately after the show, I went back and watched my critique and thought, "That's not what I sound like." It's alright. I'm not going to sit here and dog on myself. I did well on the show. But, I know that's not me. Within a year, I went on a soul searching journey and found my voice again. Ever since I've just been sticking to my guns on that.
BWW: Any advice for the Streisand wannabes, including me?
Colton Berry: [Laughs] I would say, right along with the thing I was just saying, find your uniqueness. Find the thing that makes you you. And develop it. Find someone - a voice teacher, a coach, or guide that you can trust and throw it out there. Find that thing that makes you a star. Because everyone has one quality about them and their voices or their acting that will propel them to success in the arts. Focusing on that uniqueness, rather than trying to blend in is what really separates the stars from the chorus line. I think focusing on that and getting as much guidance and support as possible along the journey is what takes you there.
BWW: Well, I was going to ask you if you had any words of encouragement but I think everything you just said was incredibly encouraging [Colton Laughs].
If Colton has sold you on the Bayou City Theatrics experience, you can see their next show THE LAST FIVE YEARS on September 5 and 6 at 8:00 p.m., September 7 at 5:00 p.m.. as well as September 12 and 13 at 8:00 p.m. It is a limited engagement with five performances.
Tickets are available for purchase at www.BayouCityTheatrics.com or at the door. Bayou City Theatrics suggests advanced purchases, to secure admission to their intimate venue - the Kaleidoscope.
The Kaleidoscope is located at 705 Main, Suite B, with its entrance on Capitol Street, just down the block from The Flying Saucer. Up-close parking is available in Bayou City Theatrics official garage, the SAKS garage, on the corner of Capitol and Fannin.
Photo of Colton Berry courtesy of Colton Berry.
All Photos and images courtesy of Bayou City Theatrics.