Photo of Katy Blake
Photo of Katy Blake

Interview With Katy Blake – Director of Schoolhouse Rock Live!

Katy started out in theatre as a performer and could be found on stages across the country in the Broadway tours of Mamma Mia, The Phantom of the Opera, and Evita. In New York, she performed in shows Off-Broadway at Signature Theatre, Westside Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and has been in several New York Music Theatre Festival productions. Regionally, she has performed at theatres from Florida to Maine to California!

Katy is focusing on the writing and directing part of theatre these days with three original musical projects in the works, one of which – Storming Heaven: The Musical – received its world premiere at West Virginia Public Theatre in 2019.

She loves the directing side of theatre as much as the performing side of it. Exploring new works and finding new approaches to established pieces of theatre is a challenge and process that is especially exciting to her.

Interviewer: Good morning Katy! Thanks for joining WV Public Theatre to chat about your involvement in this year’s holiday show! What brought you to West Virginia Public Theatre this holiday season?

Katy: This holiday season is a result of events from many years ago when I contacted Jerry McGonigle at West Virginia Public Theater about a show that I had written called Storming Heaven: The Musical. In 2019, West Virginia Public Theatre produced it and Jerry and I developed a great working relationship. We knew that we wanted to work together again in some capacity. 

Last year I developed a show through West Virginia Public Theater for Oglebay Resort for their holiday season. This year we were asked back to do another show in a similar vein. Then Jerry said, “Hey, since you’re going to be here anyway, we need a director for our holiday show, and would you be interested in doing that?” I said, “Well, it depends on what the show would be”, and when he said it was “Schoolhouse Rock”, I said, “Yes, I would love to direct that!”.

Interviewer: It’s going to be a really fun one for sure to direct. What would you say your directing style is like?

Katy: I like to consider myself an actor’s director. I come from an acting background and got into directing during the second half of my theatrical career. Especially with shows like Schoolhouse Rock, it’s not necessarily about portraying a historical character, it’s really about the people that you cast bringing their own personalities to the show and to the performances. With shows like this it’s important to  utilize whatever talents and skills and unique qualities and quirks my actors have and bring them into the show. I guess I would call it a creative collaboration.

Interviewer: I like that – creative collaboration. How are you approaching Schoolhouse Rock! Live!?

What’s happening with Schoolhouse Rock Live is that the creators of the show developed a storyline from the old school cartoons that used to play on Saturday mornings that strung all of those tunes and lessons together. The story is about a teacher on his first day of school, a brand new teacher. He’s nervous about how he is going to be able to make an impact with the kids. Through the songs that happen in the show, he is reminded of why he got into teaching in the first place: the joy that he brings to teaching, and how teaching can be fun in a game. I’m approaching it very much as a nod to what the cartoons were, but we’re going to tell the story that is written.

Interviewer: That definitely makes sense. So you’re not only a director, but a performer in the show as well. How do you juggle that?

Very carefully because of this collaboration and the collaborative sense of this show, what I’m hoping for is and what I’m expecting from this cast and the crew is that we all work together on it. I’ll be the guiding beacon, and I definitely have some ideas coming into it, but I will need feedback from other people, not just about their own performances, but certainly my performance as well. I trust West Virginia Public Theatre. I trust the people that I’m bringing in to work with me to help me create that vision. All the pressure isn’t just on me to make this thing. I’m really hoping for a very collaborative process.

Interviewer: Collaboration sounds like it’s really going to help the show come together. Speaking of which, what are you most looking forward to about this performance?

Katy: I think most of what I’m looking forward to is delving into the songs that were a part of my childhood. Rediscovering them and remembering, going, “I guess that’s how I learned the times table” and “that’s what women’s suffrage was about” and “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here”, and what makes an adverb and a noun and all those fun things. I’m looking forward to that the most.

Interviewer: That is going to be fun. Why should people come see this show? 

Katy: I think it is great family entertainment. This show is educational without being really obvious about it. It takes the lessons and presents them in a fun, musical way. You sing along with the songs, whether you remember them a little bit or whether you’ve just learned them, because they’re very catchy tunes. These songs have been around this long for a reason, and the reason is they’re good, and they’re interesting. It’s not a boring lesson that you’re learning. You’re learning these things in a very musical, exciting way.

Interviewer: What do you hope audiences take away from this performance?

Katy: I want people to experience the fun of learning. A lot of the show is targeted to a younger audience. I’m hopeful parents will say: “I remember this from my childhood”, or from my parent’s childhood. For some members of our audience, this might be their first theatrical experience – how wonderful would it be for them to all share that experience together? I hope they take away the joy of theatre, whether it’s their first time being at the theatre or whether it’s their 100th time at the theatre.

Interviewer: I love it. There’s very much a through line. There a generational opportunity that’s really cool that’s happening. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Katy: Just that it’s a very limited run. We only have have a set number of performances, and my understanding is that tickets are already selling extremely well so get your tickets early! You don’t want to miss it.

Interviewer: You’re exactly right, they are selling fast this year! Thank you so much for joining us today and good luck on both holiday projects this year!

Katy: Thank you so much!

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