For those of you that have been to see a play or two at Kennedy Theatre, Karissa Murrell Myers is a name/face that may ring a bell. The talented actress has been in over 10 productions at the university – basically, Myers is a professional and unforgettable stage presence. If you haven’t seen her perform, you’re missing out! Luckily, UH’s most recent production, Blithe Spirit, runs from Oct. 3-12, and you can catch her in every performance. HCHI had the chance to do a Q&A with the star, below is everything you need to know!
1) At what moment did you know that acting was your passion/something you wanted to pursue?
A lot of people have asked me why I act and usually, I will glibly reply, “Because I don’t know what else I would be able to do.” I don’t know if I’d be able to pinpoint a definite moment. I’ve been performing since the impressionable age of 3 and had my first stage role in a church skit at the age of 6 (I was a very cute sheep). I started my own amateur theatre company at 15 and when I went to my college at 16 for my BA, I knew I was going to be a theatre major within the first week of my freshman year. When I came here to UH Manoa, I actually came in as a Directing MFA Candidate. However, after getting cast as the lead in two productions within the span of a month of moving here, I decided that making the jump to Performance was going to be a better fit for me and for my dept. Honestly, I never thought that I had the chops to be able to make anything out of myself as an actor until I came to this school. I will always be exceptionally grateful to our theatre dept here at UH for the confidence they had in me, which in turn made me have confidence in myself.
2) How many productions have you been a part of and what were your roles in each?
For this, I am only going to list the productions that I’ve done at UH Manoa because it would take a very long time to copy and paste my entire acting resume. Blithe Spirit (2014) – Ruth; very still and hard to see (2014) – Betty, Violet, Kami; Queens of the Night (2013) – Kitty London; Big Love (2013) – Lydia; Thread Hell (2013) – Thread Woman Rain; Uncle Vanya and Zombies (2012) – Sonya; Oklahoma! (2011) – Laurey; Stop Kiss (2011) – Sara. I also did an East Coast Summer Tour with Missoula Children’s Theatre back in 2012 with the show, Rumpelstiltskin, which was an amazing experience.
3) Proudest moment of your career thus far?
When Ryan Senaga, a reviewer from Honolulu Pulse, came to Queens of the Night and said that my cabaret routine as Kitty London was the “funniest thing seen on local stage”. For my performance as Kitty London, I played a drunk cabaret singer who had a mutually verbally abusive relationship with her pianist and would sing (very badly) popular songs, such as “Baby” by Justin Bieber and “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus. This role was created specifically for me by Alex Rogals, the director of Queens of the Night. Similarly, John Berger wrote in a review that I had “star-quality stage presence” as Laurey in Oklahoma! I now put these two quotes at the top of my acting resume. I’m just kidding, I don’t, but wouldn’t it be seriously awesome if I did? I was also recognized for my work in Uncle Vanya and Zombies while I was in a dressing room at TJ Maxx. You can’t get more famous than that.
4) Before your shows, what rituals do you have for yourself, if any?
Before every show, I show up usually way before my call and warm-up on the stage by myself. I breathe on the floor, I stretch, I do those exceptionally annoying vocal warm-ups that sound like a cat is dying, and sometimes run my blocking patterns. This is all done while the assistant stage managers are trying to sweep the floor around me. I also do this strange thing where I stand center stage, extend my hand, and trace the entire playing area of the stage with my fingers while moving my body clockwise. I do this to “claim the space” and bless it before every performance. It’s a little bit weird, I am fully aware of this, but the one night I didn’t do it, one of my fellow cast members got seriously injured during that performance. So I make sure to always, always do it.
5) What advice do you have to offer for newbie theatre majors/theatre majors in general?
Trust yourself and your instincts. Be brave. Don’t be afraid of looking stupid in front of other people. Be prepared to work hard; having talent isn’t enough to get you anywhere. Read plays, all plays, any play you can get your hands on. Be kind to everyone and I mean, EVERYONE (this includes yourself). Always warm up before any performance. Never hurt your scene partner. Techies and stage managers are very important people and they wield a lot of power in the theatre; DO NOT PISS THEM OFF. Show up on time! If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late. And most importantly, have fun! They’re called “plays” and not “works” for a reason.
6) What aspirations do you have for yourself as an actor?
To change the world! This is a very lofty goal and probably very unrealistic; however, I always say that if my performance can affect even just one person that comes to see a show that I’m in, I have done my job. If I can change just one person’s world, then I have succeeded. In a more technical sense, I have goals to work professionally on the stage, preferably in rep companies that tell amazing stories with meaty female roles, and then to become an acting professor at a university somewhere in the world (I just hope that it’s not in Minnesota because that state is way too cold to be allowed).
7) Silliest costume you’ve had to wear. Go!
In my undergrad, I played Snow White in a production of Into the Woods. The costume shop had rented many of the costumes for the show and my costume was a direct rip-off from the Disney version, which was awesome. However, it came about eight sizes too big for my body. They altered it as much as they could but then told me that they couldn’t alter the bodice part any more without having to rip the boning out and restructuring it. So their solution was to give the biggest fake boobs imaginable to make the bodice stay on me. They were so big, my own breasts were basically resting on top of the fake part and I was constantly monitoring my own bosom to make sure that nothing fell out. After each performance, little girls would come up to me and ask to get their picture taken with me, the most inappropriate looking Snow White they’d probably ever seen. Never again. Please.
8) What is your favorite part of teaching theatre?
Seeing my students grow as individuals, not even necessarily as actors. During my first year teaching acting classes here at UH, I had a student who was one of the shyest people I’ve ever met. On the first day of class, she was so nervous, she couldn’t say her own name out loud in front of the class. I was determined to not scare her completely, but at the same time, I deliberately pushed her to break out of her comfort zone. For four months. When she did her final monologue at the end of the semester, I almost cried, I was so proud of her. She came alive, yelling at her invisible scene partner, and was so emotionally engaging that the rest of the class was completely stunned. She didn’t just say her lines, she breathed life into them in a completely believable way that was full of raw vulnerability. It was a beautiful performance and I was just so proud of her hard work and effort. I know that it couldn’t have been easy for her.
9) Is there ever such thing as a “perfect” actor? If so, what makes the actor perfect? And if not, why?
Perfection is overrated. And in my opinion, while an actor should try to perfect their technique(s) as best as they can, I don’t really believe that you can be a “perfect” actor. If you could, it’d be super boring. Humans aren’t perfect and I don’t even mean that in a good-person/bad-person kind of way. We stutter, we say things we don’t mean to say (like when we try to say “great” and then change halfway through saying “great” and try to say “good” instead and it comes out “grood”), we trip over our own feet, we burp unexpectedly, etc. The list goes on. This is why I love live theatre so much. Every night, it changes. One performance is never exactly like the one before it. It evolves, just as we evolve. And as much as we perfectionist actors would like, we can’t be absolutely flawless in performances. But that’s good! The reason that theatre is irreplaceable is because it is as flawed as the humans who are in it. I’d rather see a real human up there telling a story than a bunch of robots trotting around a stage. It’s that unpredictability of the theatre that makes it so powerful and engaging.
10) Any additional comments you’d like to add!
For anyone reading this that lives in Hawaii, I urge you to come see me perform in Blithe Spirit at Kennedy Theatre! It runs Oct 3-12 and is an incredibly funny show. I say that because one, it’s written by Noel Coward; two, it’s being directed by Paul Mitri, who is an amazing director and has a great sense of how to make seemingly boring things funny as hell; and three, the cast is hysterically wonderful. Or wonderfully hysterical. I say this not because I’m in the cast, but because they are truly one of the best casts I’ve ever worked with in my life. We all really like each other and we like working together and to top it all off, they’re all talented and hard working and fabulous. My two fellow costars, Timothy Callais and Kyle Scholl, are absolute gems and I predict very bright futures will be had by the two of them. Many Oscars and Tonys will be won. You’ll see. So come see us while we’re not quite so famous yet.