Fall Arts Preview, 25 & Under: Katie Berger

Actress/Singer/Composer, 24, St. Petersburg.

click to enlarge Fall Arts Preview, 25 & Under: Katie Berger - james ostrand
james ostrand
Fall Arts Preview, 25 & Under: Katie Berger

Forever young: She’ll be 25 in September, but she’s always mistaken (and cast) for younger. At freeFall, she’s been Anna in Spring Awakening, Little Red in Into the Woods and most indelibly, the feisty tomboy Frances in Burnt Part Boys, a performance that won her a Theatre Tampa Bay award. Though looking younger than her age means she gets carded a lot, it also means she gets cast a lot. “I’ll freak out the moment people believe that I’m the age that I am.”

Girl interrupted: Berger is candid about her struggles with anorexia, which began when she was 18 while studying musical theater at Northern Kentucky University, and progressively got worse. “It was never about weight, it was more about control. Because this business of show is not something you can control.” She graduated early, entered treatment in NYC and eventually recovered, but it wasn’t easy. “Part of my resistance was that I thought, ‘If I get better I won’t be able to play young,’ which is not true. I’m still playing young.”

Now she’s turning those troubles into theater: She’s written a semi-autobiographical five-character musical called Full, about a 16-year-old girl who “fights her demons and becomes her own hero,” which will be performed Sept. 27-30 at the Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz as part of the Job-side Productions season.

Sample lyric (which she sung to us during the photo shoot): “It’s not just black or white, it’s not just you or nothing, there’s colors all around — there’s colors all around me.” Because for a while there, she says, she did think everything was black and white.

And she wrote the whole musical on her ukulele, Angela: The name was inspired by a lyric in Hair.

She’s been everywhere, but she loves St. Pete: The daughter of a renowned economist, the late Mark Berger, she grew up living in Kentucky, Ireland and Austria, where at age 5 she learned to play a 1/16th-sized violin and was obsessed with Mozart. Out of college, she acted in a professional company in Kentucky, but after her first role at freeFall, she decided she’d found a new home. “I made friends, loved the warmth, and said, ‘You know what? I think I’ll stay.”

Day jobs: You can catch Katie offstage at the Beach Drive restaurant BellaBrava, where she’s a server; she calls her co-workers her “Bella family.” She’s also the social media maven for freeFall, blogging and tweeting the theater’s latest news.

Apt description: A friend on her Facebook page told Katie she was “sweet as pie and tough as leather.” Which seems about right.


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