Paige Johnson (PJ): What is a normal day for you?
Marissa Koppy (MK): There’s never a normal day at Theatre NDSU. It’s always crazy and wild, and you never really know what’s going to happen, but that’s why it’s exciting. You wake up early and go to bed late, and you try to cram everything in in one day and still have a fun time without going crazy. If that makes any sense, that’s how it is here.
PJ: What classes are you taking this semester?
MK: This semester, I’m taking directing, acting III (which is the realism). That’s where you really get down to the — because this is my third year, so I’ve got to be able to take the prior acting which is what I really like to do. I’m taking makeup design, which is really hard. Stage makeup is not as simple as street makeup is. It’s pretty difficult. Creative writing, that’s a very interesting one. I really enjoy that one. And social psychology, which is very interesting. I get to find out why people do things in society.
PJ: Why did you choose to do theatre arts as your major?
MK: I think, throughout my life, I’ve had different points where I’m like, “Oh, that would be a fun job or that would be a fun job.” But then I think about it, and I couldn’t do that for more than a couple years. I think I would get bored or tired of it. Being an actor is something I’ve wanted to do since I was, honestly, like five years old. I would constantly be playing dress up and make believe with my family and friends. Being able to do that for a job potentially is amazing. Hopefully, everything works out.
PJ: You’ve always wanted to be in theatre?
MK: Yeah. I grew up in a family that was very big into sports. I had four older brothers and I always, not necessarily that I didn’t want to do sports. I love sports. I always just did it because that’s what they did it and that’s what all my family was into so I would do it too. As I got a little bit older, I was like, “Oh, man, I want to be an actor.” But I wouldn’t really tell anyone about that because none of my friends were in acting; they were all in sports and all my family was. As I got older, one of my brothers was in speech in high school and I thought that was the coolest thing. My eighth grade year, I joined the speech team and that was the beginning point where I was like, acting is really fun. The first play I was ever really in, where I acted, wasn’t until my junior year in high school. I was in “Cinderella: The Musical.” I’m not a singer — I’m strictly an actor. Auditioning for a musical was especially nerve-wracking because it was my first thing ever and singing is just terrifying in front of other people. But I’ve gotten better at it or over that fear, I guess. After that year, I quit all sports and I went into acting. I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ It totally shocked my parents, but they were very supportive. That’s nice. And then they switched gears, too. They were like, sports are nice, but now she likes this. So that’s good to have backup for sure.
PJ: What do you hope to do after graduation?
MK: Ideally, I would like to — I love stage acting and everything, but my dream would be to be able to act on screen for films and TV. Strictly more dramatic films, kind of like dark ones, but ones that get people talking about social situations and everyday life. That’s the dream. I will most likely have to move somewhere other than North Dakota because (there are) not many job opportunities here for that, which is okay. I can always come back.
PJ: What’s your favorite part about being a theatre arts major?
MK: I get to learn how to be more creative. You learn so many different things, and you learn about history and technical sides of everything. You have to be able to create someone’s life. And that person could be a scientist, so you have to learn about that. There’s just so much background to theatre that you’re constantly learning something, and there’s something for everyone. So, you can always find something. And if there’s something you don’t like, then you can just make it up and make it yourself and then you will have it. And once you make it, other people will enjoy it. Well, hopefully other people enjoy it. But there’s bound to be at least someone else out there who’s thinking the same thing you are and then you can come together. So it’s like a really big family, that’s nice.
PJ: Has there been anything that caused you to learn about something that surprised you or caused you to get interested in something that you wouldn’t otherwise?
MK: I think the first class that I ever took theatre-related that I never really knew about before … I never was on the tech side of anything, but I took a scenic design course once, and that blew my mind about how much goes into designing a set and all the blueprints you have to do. It’s pretty much being an architect for theatre. That was a stressful semester, but I was very proud with everything that I learned. That was one of the hardest classes because I came from not knowing anything to knowing a decent amount, and I look up to Tiffany who’s our theatre department’s scenic designer. And I look at what she does, and she does like five shows a year or so. Not even just in the Fargo area, but she goes out to Minneapolis, Wisconsin, and that blows my mind. I give her a lot of credit.
PJ: What is the most challenging part of your major?
MK: I think a lot of us would agree on this, but time. This is a major that you need to put time into everything. I’m sure that’s (true for) a lot of majors, but this one is — not only are you working on homework for classes, but you’re also in a show and you’re also in a class that you’re directing a scene, so you have to have outside rehearsals for the show for your class. Also trying to have a job on top of that. Being creative, you have to make a schedule and just stick to it. Which is something I’m always trying to be better at because I’m a procrastinator. No matter what you do in life, being a procrastinator is not a good thing. So, I’m trying to be better at time management, because there’s only 24 hours in a day, unfortunately.
PJ: On the flip side of that, what is the most rewarding part?
MK: I think my favorite part is definitely when I’m acting and you put so much work into something, like weeks and weeks. And then you just start doing it and it just feels so natural. You don’t even control what you’re saying; I don’t even think about lines anymore, it just flows out of your mouth. And once you’re done, you’re like, ‘Woah, did I just do that?’ You get this like natural high. You walk off stage. Like, ah, that was perfect. I felt in the moment. It felt so real and truthful.
PJ: What is required of your major?
MK: If you’re a major, you have to at least audition for the mainstage plays. We have two mainstage productions — we have two productions each semester. This semester we’re having a musical and a play. Our first one is a musical, which is one I’m casted in right now. Rehearsal for that is going on. And that’s coming soon!
We have to do practicum. You have to work, either you can be casted on a production, or you can work backstage, or help build the set or help with makeup and costuming. Or you make the costumes back in the costume shop. There’s many ways you can get involved.
We also have a student-run production called Newfangled. That is all student-run — everything, directors, technical side is all students. Actors are all students. That one you don’t have to, but that’s if you have free time and you’re like, “Oh, I want to get in that, too.” You always want to be like, when there’s a production going on, you always want to be advertising and marketing and doing publicity. We go around town a couple weeks before a show opens and we have a poster party where everyone gets together and goes to local businesses and hang up posters for the community to hear and see about our shows so then they can come. There’s a lot of things you can do.
PJ: What is it like preparing for ‘Urinetown’? How do you prepare for something like that?
MK: A lot of rehearsal. It’s not even just during rehearsal; you have to do some stuff outside. Once you come to rehearsal, you’re there to work. So, you have to work outside of rehearsal to be prepared for the work that you’re doing in rehearsal. So, it’s like two layers of rehearsing. You have to — cause this is a musical — you have to know the music, you have to know your part and then there’s choreography going on top of it and other forms of blocking. Outside of rehearsal, you have to work on it on your own or with other cast mates. During rehearsal, it’s tough because no one’s perfect, but you have to try to stay focused. But rehearsals are fun, so it can kind of get sidetracked. So we have to remember to bring it back in, remember what you’re there for.
PJ: What’s the biggest difference you see in classes outside of your major and then classes in your major?
MK: I think the main thing is community and relationships. I know every single person in my class; I know every single person in the theatre program. No matter if you’re a senior or a freshman, you’re just close with everyone. I know my teachers so well. I can see them in the hallway and have a personal conversation with them and they can ask me about my day. It’s nice because you feel so close, you can bring up any situation or problem, non-school related or academic-wise. That’s really nice, to always have a friendly face. It also helps, I think, in the classroom, having fairly smaller classes because it’s almost like one-on-one, and they’re always there for feedback and questions and helping you. They really have your best interest at heart.
PJ: What is your favorite class? Or what has been your favorite class?
MK: Depends who’s reading this interview.
I think, just in general, my favorite classes are all my acting ones. That’s just because I love acting. Coming to class, it never feels like you’re going to class. It’s like, sweet, I get to go. And all our acting teachers are phenomenal. Just to work on that part, to work on something I want to do for the rest of my life, it doesn’t feel like a classroom. Being graded on it, I can’t wait to hear what they think, how I can become better. Acting’s just the best!
PJ: What is your favorite play or musical?
MK: That I’ve personally been in? Or that I’ve seen or read?
MK: Oh, that’s really hard … I sometimes feel like the last play or musical I was in is my most recent favorite. I would probably have to say “The Odyssey,” because that just ended last semester. That was really fun. But my favorite one that I haven’t been in, that’s tough … I think, I would have to say “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” I first read that play freshman year of college. It’s honestly one of the strangest plays, but it’s so good. It’s really weird. So, if anyone goes out and reads it, you’ll know why I say it’s really weird.
I know what my favorite book is! I feel like I’ve read so many plays, that I can’t pinpoint just one. I like the more realism plays. So, like, dramatic ones are my favorite. Ones where people are fighting. Family drama. That’s what I like.
PJ: What’s your favorite book then?
MK: It’s like a three-way tie because they’re all so good. One is called “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie. “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven. I just recently read this one book called “All the Light We Cannot See.” That one is, you should read it. It’s so good. It’s about this … like, back during World War II, this French, blind girl. It follows them throughout a couple years of the war. And this young, German boy. It kind of like shows their two stories throughout the war. I could name seven more books. I actually think I like reading books more than plays, but I still like plays.
PJ: You were Athena in ‘The Odyssey’ and that was a big role. Is there anything you’re taking from that experience into ‘Urinetown’?
MK: They’re such two completely different shows. My characters are nothing alike. I think both my characters, they’re both very powerful in their own way. My character isn’t a goddess of anything. Just a normal person. A poor person, actually. They’re very confident. Powerful in their own way, I’ll say that much. Quite opposites. If you come see the show, you’ll be like, “Oh, geez, is that Marissa?”
Anyone can be in theatre. You don’t have to be a theatre major. Anyone can do it. Just throwing that out there.