Mary Kate Morrissey as Janis with Tour Company Mean Girls: The Musical. Jeanne Marcus
Mean Girls: The Musical is coming to Portland this week, and I had the chance to interview Mary Kate Morrissey, who plays the sarcastic and fan-favorite art girl Janis, in the production. Mary Kate was on the phone from Tempe, Arizona, where the night before the show started. She described her condition as ‘fungover’ meaning the hangover of fun, but she took the time to delve deeper into Janis, the power of weird artistic children, why she loves visiting Portland and how it is. triggered my own insecurity.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MERCURY: Were you a fan of the film Bad girls before joining the musical?
MARY KATE MORRISSEY: Yes, it came out when I was at the end of college or beginning of high school. I was definitely a fan. My mother read the book Queen bees and suckers that the movie is based on, because I was such a sad kid. A boring little art kid who was obsessed with Regina Georges [the ruler of the popular girls] of the world, and obsessed with the way people were treated by them. At the time, it reflected my own life, I thought.
Does that now trigger being an adult playing a teenager and singing teenage songs, channeling the drama and all that vibe?
No. I taught a lot during the pandemic break. My best friend and I created this studio [the best friend here is fellow Wicked alum Ginna Claire Mason and the company is called Double Name Witches. They both played witches in Wicked and they both have two first names. Get it?]
We had over 100 students and made all of these programs and we have these amazing teens. Our 13-17 age group is incredibly talented but looks so much like, those art children. So, coming back from the pandemic to the show, it shed new light on Janis for me. Because I saw and heard so much about what these teens are going through in a real way.
Are you still in contact with the children who were in the program? Are they pen pals and buddies now?
Oh yes. During the pandemic, when I felt like I was pulling away from my friends or feeling disconnected from my Broadway world, these little sub-communities were forming and building themselves. And these kids are best friends. We’ve had so many kids who have moved together in the city, or moved from California to the city, or moved from Singapore to California, just because they have a friend. They have someone there.
It’s so cool that in a time when everyone is so disconnected, they could form some real friendships and pull them out of the pandemic.
What we tried to do was create a space where they could come and be themselves, express themselves and still affirm others in the classroom. Musical theater is an inherently collaborative art. Everyone has to do it together.
Ginna Claire and I were leaving the Zoom room and these classes would go on for hours – the kids hooked up, talked, learned from each other, and practiced. It turned into a safe space for them. Ginna Claire and I can’t even believe this is what we did. We were getting these emails from parents saying, “Last year my daughter was having her birthday right with us. We were going out to dinner and there were no friends. This year someone threw her a surprise party where 20 of her best friends sing for her and dress up to celebrate her and all those different things, and it’s because of Double Name Witches.
It is so wonderful.
It’s crazy. Mom sends emails, that’s what really attracts me. Like, “You got my daughter through this, my daughter feels like she can speak up and express her point of view, and she’s got something to say and she’s making friends. It affected our family culture because she is happy. It’s the best.
I’m not sure if Mary Kate was assigned to this interview because she’s ‘the strangest’ in a ‘weird’ (embarrassing!) Town She made it clear that she loved Portland and couldn’t wait to do vintage shopping, eating at the Bollywood Theater and going for a run along the waterfront, what felt like a perfect day in Portland around 2012; Honestly, I felt a little insecure on behalf of our city. We have changed. What if she doesn’t love us anymore? What if now we weren’t cute-weird (have we ever been?)
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I hope, however, that if anyone can accept us and this mess we’re calling home, it would be Mary Kate Morrissey.
Mean Girls: The Musical opens tonight at the Keller Auditorium and continues this weekend; find ticket information here.