Interview: 'The Community Around StarKid is Always the Best': Brian Holden on IT'S STARKID, INNIT?

'This wonderful group of StarKid fans have coalesced around the silly stuff that we get to do.'

By: May. 09, 2024
Interview: 'The Community Around StarKid is Always the Best': Brian Holden on IT'S STARKID, INNIT?
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As someone who’s been a fan of StarKid since first watching A Very Potter Musical in the late 2000s, I was thrilled to see that they were going to be putting on a concert in London, and I wasn’t the only one. It’s StarKid Innit, the group’s one-day-only concert in London, sold out almost instantly, an impressive feat with the London Palladium’s capacity of over 2,200!

Recently, we had the opportunity to talk with Brian Holden, one of the founding members of Team StarKid who has been with the group since it began fifteen years ago. We discussed how he got into theatre, what it has been like to be part of the group for so long and even why he thinks Team StarKid has been around long enough to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary in London!

So how did you first get into the world of theatre?

In junior high, they did plays written for really young audiences, and so I was in a couple of those, the most memorable of which was Who’s Dying to be a Millionaire? because Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was very popular at the time. I was cast as the Regis Philbin personality. His name was Reginald Smarmy - it’s that kind of show where everything is very broad and very obvious. So that was my first foray into stage acting. But once I got to high school and started doing some musicals [that] was when it really took off. I was Nathan Detroit in Guys & Dolls and then I played Cosmo Brown in Singin’ in the Rain. So I think that gave me a pretty good foundation.

And what is it like having been a part of Starkid since the beginning fifteen years ago?

The fifteen-year thing is interesting! There's a lot of retrospection going on. It's been everything - it’s literally the career I've had through almost my entire adult life because we started it right out of college. It's amazing. Many of our friendships are tied to StarKid in some way. I met my wife [Meredith Stepien, a fellow member of Team StarKid] in college, and then we became closer through StarKid work. So it's absolutely an integral part of my life. The things I love about StarKid are the amazing opportunities that we've had to continue performing. But most of all, it is probably just that other people love it so much and that this wonderful group of StarKid fans have coalesced around the silly stuff that we get to do. That's a really cool feeling.

And for those unfamiliar with StarKid, could you tell us a bit about how it began and how it's grown? 

Of course! So StarKid started in 2009 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. That's the first known StarKid moment, which was the live production of what we called, at the time, A Harry Potter Musical. Once we put it on YouTube, we changed the name to A Very Potter Musical to avoid all the copyright infringement that we were doing - that was what was going to save us! 


So we did that show at school. But even before that, we had done a non-musical parody version of Lord of the Rings. And a few years before that, Nick Lang, who is the Artistic Director and one of the main “brain trusts” of StarKid, directed a version of The Hobbit. There is a play of The Hobbit and he was supposed to do that, but he didn't think the script was funny enough, so he and the cast changed it all around, which led to us doing this larger Lord of the Rings thing we wrote ourselves, which led to doing A Harry Potter Musical as a full musical. It really was just us finding an outlet at school for our creativity, for something that we loved, which was kind of pop culture, nerdy stuff. It was also an outlet for those of us who just really wanted to be funny actors and have fun. In the world of theatre training, there's not as much outright comedy. I feel like there is in musical theatre, but in “straight acting,” as it sometimes is called, that's harder to find - everyone wants to be really dramatic. And so after four years of doing all that, we needed to have some laughs, so we wrote them ourselves! [Laughs]

Do you have any favourite works you've done over the past fifteen years?

In the lead-up to doing this concert in London, we've been reviewing a lot of our old work and a lot of the material and stuff like that. It's always fun when we do that because it is great to just remember, “Wow, there's some really amazing music in these StarKid shows,” which I can say because I've never written any of the music! So I can give that a full endorsement with no false humility or anything. I've really been enjoying listening to Holy Musical B@man! again.

I think the Harry Potter shows are great and special in their own way, in the way that they're kind of rough. I love the music for Firebringer, and doing that show was very fun. But I think amongst the cast, especially from the earlier age of StarKid, the Ann Arbor, Chicago crew, I think everyone acknowledges that Ani might be some of the best StarKid music that we've ever had. That show isn't as popular because we made the decision to have none of the characters sing - it's just the band singing everything and the actors act. It turns out musical theatre fans don't like that as much! [Laughs] A long-held StarKid tradition is learning very obvious lessons in a drawn-out, elaborate way.

You’ve got to learn somehow! [Laughs] And what is it about StarKid that you think has given to its longevity?

I think that the shows we do now are a little bit more polished, and there are filmed elements within the show that I think fans really love and appreciate - I think it elevates it. Even in spite of that, though, the shows retain this quality that is much more present in the earlier ones of, “We're just a group of people - maybe we're a group of kids, even though we're in our 20s - coming together to put on a show.” What people love about that is they see themselves in it, especially theatre kids, musical theatre kids, [and] people who are in the stage crew and stuff like that.

That energy is very evident throughout all of our work and I think that really resonates with people. Also, we don't ever take anything so seriously that we can't laugh at ourselves. Our live concert shows are rife with that. It's never so polished that it's like we're doing a stadium tour. We let the audience in in a way where it feels good to them, and they kind of like it sometimes when we mess up or when we are able to laugh at each other on stage. That quality of, “I can see myself and my friend group present in the way StarKid interacts with each other,” is the secret sauce to StarKid.

Speaking of live concerts, what can audiences expect from It’s StarKid, Innit??

Anytime we do one of these shows, it's a mix! We want to do some of the classics, we want to do some of the new stuff - we want to do things that audiences haven't seen before. But then there's another aspect where people have seen this in one version and they want to see it again. Another significant thing is we went a really long time without doing major concerts or concert tours. We did the Apocalyptour in 2012, that was a national tour in the US, and then the closest thing to that, besides some convention appearances, is the Jangle Ball Tour, which was a very limited tour that we did in the US as well in 2022. So there's a lot of StarKid content that happened between 2012 and 2022 - Holy Musical B@man! had just come out! So it's fun to do Firebringer stuff, some of the Hatchetfield stuff, Trail to Oregon and Ani. That's the stuff that's really fun to start working into the setlist. So we're hoping it's going to be a kind of “greatest hits” with a few surprises, and maybe some of the favourites from those other concerts as well!

And how did you come up with the name of It’s StarKid, Innit??

That was my first stab at a title! For a long time, I was like, “Is this gonna be too stupid from a UK perspective? Is this cringy?” And it still might be! But mostly, at home or with friends, I'm just always doing a dumb Cockney accent. And so it came out of that, basically just doing English accents all the time at home. It's just a dumb little quirk that a lot of actors have. I've been trying to throw “innit” on the back of stuff forever, and this was the perfect opportunity to do it in a big way!

What is it like to be bringing StarKid outside the United States again?

I mean, we were completely blown away by the reception! While we are always so appreciative and in awe of the success we continue to have, when we did that tour in 2022, we had good ticket sales, but we weren't selling the venues out. And so it was really amazing and almost a wake up call to be like, “Whoa, this sold out really fast!” So that was just amazing to appreciate that we have neglected this audience for too long. [Laughs] But it's cool! It's inspiring, it makes us want to come back and do more stuff.

There's a ton of challenges to doing something outside of the US. There's challenges even to just tour, period! And then when you add on doing it in another country, there's a lot of challenges. But fortunately, because of the reception, we knew that we would have a bit more money to make some things happen, so we're very excited. 

What do you hope audiences take away from It’s StarKid, Innit?

I just hope that they have fun! A lot of people discover or really love StarKid at a certain point in their life. Sometimes they grow out of it, sometimes they don't. We have plenty of people who have stuck with it over the years. Everyone who's going to be at this concert is a StarKid fan and I hope that they are able to remember and appreciate the time when they discovered or first came to love StarKid. Hopefully, it makes them think about the people that they were with during that time, because like I said earlier, the community around StarKid is always the best thing. It's the thing that leaves us feeling very loved and very appreciative of what an amazing group we have supporting us. So hopefully that!

And finally, how would you describe StarKid in one word?


It’s StarKid, Innit? runs on 12 May at the London Palladium.


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