Steph’s LA Weekly Pick of the Week: TEACHERS – Full Interview with the Katydids

 L-R: Katie O'brien, Kathryn Thomas, Kate Lambert, Katy Colloton, Caitlin Barlow, and Cate Freedman. Photo by: Tom McGrath

L-R: Katie O’brien, Kathryn Thomas, Kate Lambert, Katy Colloton, Caitlin Barlow, and Cate Freedman. Photo by: Tom McGrath

They may help mold the future of humanity, but many of our nation’s early educators are just like any 20-something hot messes: They field concerns from parents, inspire students and nurse hangovers on the playground.
The innate humor and danger of this juxtaposition is why director Matt Miller approached another group of young, hot messes, Chicago-based comedy troupe The Katydids, to make a web series about the shit teachers say, and do.
Read my full article on Teachers, the Web Series for the LA Weekly HERE or in this week’s edition of the paper.  Below is my full interview with the Katydids and Matt Miller.
So many sketch teams fall apart as performers go in different directions. Why do you think your specific dynamic works so well and your team has endured?

(Cate Freedman) The Katydids came together when founding member, Caitlin Barlow wanted to silence the voice within that kept saying to her “there’s something about a girl named Kate.” Caitlin knew so many Katies in the improv community who she liked a great deal and wanted to just have a fun one-off show to improvise with a group who all shared the same name.

We started with not all of us knowing one another, and the vision to do one improv show together and have that be that. However right after the first show, we scheduled another one. And then another. And then another. Soon we did a whole run of weekly improv shows that were continuous for a few years. We also wrote and performed our own sketch show and began to produce online videos that originally began as a way to promote our live shows, but actually ended up being our bread and butter. And four years and a whole lot of hustling and hard work later we’re all best friends with continued plans to keep creating stuff we think is really funny.

I think a huge part of why we’ve been able to achieve such successes is that although we all have the same name, we are six incredibly different women with incredibly different comedic voices that in many ways are perfectly suited to harmonize with one another.

(Katy Colloton)

No one is an asshole. I think so many groups fall apart because people don’t see eye to eye on something. We all don’t have the same exact goals or the same comedic voice but we are all great listeners and collaborators. We appreciate the differences and truly respect and admire each other. I think it really helps that we are friends too. Before we did our first video or our first run at iO, we did a three or four month run of shows on Friday nights at a small theater in Chicago. We had so much fun doing that run.

The reason we continued, branded ourselves and worked so hard to get our name out there is because those Friday night shows were the highlights of everyones week. I think that time period really bonded us as people and created a strong foundation as a group.

On the website, Matt Miller mentions that you approached him to direct a pilot project the Katydid’s wrote and he loved the writing so much that he approached you a couple years later with the idea for TEACHERS. Have the KATYDIDS thought of doing web series in the past in addition to sketches? What is the world of ‘web series’ like in Chicago? Are people talking about them/making them?

(Cate Freedman)

Yes, The Katydids were in talks before TEACHERS to write and star in another web series about an entirely different topic that we had asked Matt Miller to direct. Unfortunately that project didn’t end up getting shot, but The Katydids and Miller really wanted to collaborate with one another, so Matt came to us with the idea for The Katydids to play six different teachers and we all began researching and writing immediately. The world of the ‘web series’ in Chicago is incredibly alive and busy right now, tons of people are talking about what they want to create and they’re actually teaming up to create it.

The Chicago theater and comedy scene is stacked with so many talented individuals and the web series has proven itself to be a great way for Chicago voices to be heard all over the country, and sometimes internationally. It’s a great platform to showcase new voices on, while simultaneously being accessible to artists like us who don’t have enough money to make a full pilot or feature or whatever but who really, really want to make something beyond the stage.

(Kate Lambert) Chicago is full of individuals who write, improvise, and act. In the past few years, I think that people here have been generating more online content than ever before. It is an incredible community where people are always willing to lend a hand and assist with production or acting in a short. Some of the web series and shorts made here have received recognition nationally and internationally and that has been really exciting to see.

I love how fast the episodes are. Some are only 3 lines. How did you decide on the format and go about writing the show together?

(Cate Freedman)

When we set out to make TEACHERS, we set out to make something funny but also something that was web friendly/watchable. Having episodes range in length keeps the series fresh and also allows us to be funny in more than one type of way.

(Katy Colloton)

We decided we wanted to keep the videos short. People have a short attention span and there is so much content out there that people don’t stay on one video for very long. The goal was simply to get people to laugh and do it quickly. So we were open to anything from a three line blackout to a 2 minute scene.

(Kate Lambert)

We started first with defining the school and our characters and went from there. We all worked on generating scenes for the series. Some of the scenes are completely scripted and some are improvised. We felt that a variety of scene lengths would be best for the series, and we were able to keep all of the webisodes under 3 minutes. We wanted to make something that people could watch in one sitting and want to continue to watch week after week.

Had you seen other web series? Did any particular ones inspire you and why? Did you see any trends in web series that you hoped to stay away from?

(Cate Freedman)

Matt Miller and The Katydids sat down and researched a bunch of different web series before we began producing our own. One that we watched a lot of and loved was The Graveyard Show starring Christian Stolte and David Pasquesi. It’s a great series that shows how a security guard and custodian survive the graveyard shift in a Chicago building together.

I read on the website that you interviewed teachers to get ideas. Can you share what surprised you the most about the real experiences of teachers? Are they all based on truth or is there one you can point to that is?

(Caitlin Barlow)

I am a 4th grade teacher in Chicago. Katie Thomas has worked with Chicago public schools teaching after school improv comedy to teens. Matt Miller was a teacher when he first moved to Chicago. So, a lot of people involved were able to bring their experiences to the table. I know that the other members involved also talked with their friends who were teachers to get an idea of day to day life and funny stories. I would say that the most surprising thing about teachers day to day lives are how challenging the stresses of teaching are. It is this profession that society puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you to change the world, yet most people have no idea the amount of stress that you are under.

Many teachers are normal 20 somethings with the same drama and confusion in their life as anyone else, but are given the staggering challenge of saving humanity though education. Most of the videos are based in truth, but I can point to one in particular. The “Statue Game” video is based off of the times myself or my coworkers have come to work hungover and have had to resist every urge to not teach and do an activity that will just keep the kids quiet so you can nurse your hang over.

Could you talk a little about production and financing? Did you shoot all 26 at the same time or shoot several seasons? If you shot several season, was the financing different for each?

(Caitlin Barlow) We financed the shoot partially through kickstarter. We raised 3,000. Capgun productions, the production company we worked with, paid in an additional 3,000. We shot the series in one 3 day period!

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Photo by: John Abbot. L-R: Katie O’brien, Kate Lambert, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Caitlin Barlow and Kathryn Thomas.

How did The Onion get involved?

(Caitlin Barlow)

The Onion found our videos on Youtube. They released five of our videos that had been previously unreleased on their website. (Katy Colloton) The Onion approached us out of the blue and offered us a deal to release 5 of our episodes. It was pretty cool.

As successful creators of a hilarious web series, do you have any advice for future creators? Where do you think media consumption is headed? 

Katie O’Brien: I think our advice for future creators would be to produce your own content, collaborate with people you enjoy working with, and produce content that you find funny. A lot of people are finding great success by producing their own videos and their own content. It’s a great way to develop a voice and to become known in the community. Also, it’s important to produce content that you find funny. So many people produce content that they think other people will find funny and that’s a recipe for disaster.

Katy Colloton: I agree with O’Brien. You have to do you. Find your voice and do something with it. People often wait around to get cast or hired and don’t control their own future. If you want to do something, go ahead and do it. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you it is okay. If you continually create comedy that makes you proud then eventually people will notice.

Kate Lambert: I think it’s really important to not wait around for the work to come to you, and instead work on creating your own material. As an actor, you can go from audition to audition waiting for that perfect part, or you can go home and write it yourself. I think when you are putting out a web series, it’s important to write about what you think is funny, but also to make sure you have enough ideas to explore in each webisode to generate (and keep) people’s interest.

What opportunities has creating the web series opened up for you?

Katie O’Brien: TEACHERS has created more opportunities for us than we could have ever imagined. Not only have we found a loyal fan-base through the series, but the popularity of TEACHERS has allowed us to work with Funny or Die, The Onion, and to produce and create content for Above Average Productions.

What’s next for The Katydids?

Katie O’Brien: We have a lot in the works, but our biggest venture right now is trying to develop TEACHERS into a television series.

Additional interview with director Matt Miller will be up later today.

If you enjoyed this interview, check out my conversation with NYC improvisers  Tim Curcio and Nick Ross about making their web series Old Friends HERE.

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