Starkid's Meredith Stepien on music, comedy, & life as a performer.
April 28, 2015
I’m from a small town outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, called Pinckney. I grew up performing- starting with ballet, then piano, then in fifth grade I got the acting bug.
I followed in my brother’s footsteps- he was a comedic actor performing with Twin Masks Theater; a community theater company in our town.
I got involved with Twin Masks as soon as I was old enough, and between that, drums, and piano, I constantly had performances to look forward to around town.
First Entertainment Job
My first real job in entertainment was with an educational theater company at the University of Michigan called "UMetc." We performed for incoming freshmen at orientation mostly in the form of sketch comedy. I did it for three summers in a row, eventually working as the Program Assistant and one of the writers.
This experience was one of my favorites of all time.
I was given so many liberties to be the silliest characters in each sketch, and there were times when we would have these audiences of 300 reluctant teenagers laughing themselves to tears. I had so much fun acting like an idiot, but with a purpose, because we were educating these kids from all around the world about life on campus and who they can turn to for help.
It was really something special.
When did you know you wanted to perform?
I knew I wanted to perform when I was in first grade. I was obsessed with being a mouse, and I knew there was a mouse role in the Nutcracker with my name on it, so my mom signed me up for ballet class.
The first time I got on that stage I got SO INTO IT- I was showing off all of my best mousie behaviors that I’d learned from watching Secret of Nimh six billion times.
It was such a rush and I immediately became addicted to it.
Starkid is a theater company that was started by a group of my friends in College. We used to do theater together at the University of Michigan, and every year Nick and Matt Lang would work on a new parody. My freshman year we did a parody of “The Hobbit,” where I was lucky enough to play Gollum.
They continued to do more parodies and musicals, and my senior year they did “A Very Potter Musical,” which was a huge success on campus.
They filmed a performance of it and posted it on YouTube, and it immediately went viral.
Since then Starkid has gained a substantial following. They’ve produced nine musicals, six of which I’ve had roles in. We have also done a few sketch shows, for which I’ve written and performed a number of sketches, and I even played percussion in the band for our recent parody musical “Ani.”
We have also had two nation-wide concert tours, and made appearances all over the world for different conventions.
What's it like being in Starkid?
Being in Starkid is always amazing. I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel to places I would never be able to travel to otherwise.
I’ve performed in almost every major city in America, and have met tens of thousands of people who know and appreciate our work.
And it’s all self-made- that is the incredible thing about the internet today.
I am working with my best friends, doing what I love, and creating things I would normally never have the opportunity to create.
We are so lucky in that respect.
As far as struggles go, I’d say being tired is the biggest one. I’ve always worked a day job, then will almost always have shows or rehearsals at night, so there are times when I am on my feet for seriously sixteen hours a day, for weeks or months at a time.
Also, honestly, there are always difficulties that come with being a woman in comedy. When I first got out of College and moved to Chicago, I focused solely on standup comedy for my first eight months.
While I found success doing that almost immediately, I was mostly getting booked for shows like “Ha-Ha-Hotties! All Ladies Standup Night!” or being introduced as “This next sexy lady coming to the stage,” etc.
There’s also an unspoken competition between women in comedy, like we are all trying to fit into this “man’s world,” and some women feel the need to do that by shutting other women out.
So, I’d say struggling to find your individual voice, and not feeling like “the female counterpart to the funny guy,” is always going to be a struggle for any woman out there.
Just remember to support each other ALWAYS!!
Social media has been EVERYTHING in my career.
Starkid would be nothing without it and without Starkid I wouldn’t be where I am today.
We promote all of our shows almost exclusively using Twitter, Tumblr, etc. I use YouTube to promote myself and have booked gigs with videos of my standup. I also have had a lot of success with my band because of it.
We are able to promote our albums and shows purely using Twitter and Facebook.
It is amazing what you can do to promote your creative endeavors today.
My main aspiration is to have my own show on Animal Planet. I already have a pilot idea- it involves animals and sketch comedy.
But if that dream doesn’t work out, I am happy to continue working project-to-project. That has never bothered me, and it keeps life exciting and fresh.
Top 5 Moments
5. I went to a tattoo panel at LeakyCon, a yearly Harry Potter convention, where a number of women were sharing stories behind their Starkid and Harry Potter tattoos.
Some of these women’s stories were so touching and it really hit home to me that our little group of friends have impacted some people so permanently, to the point where they would want to decorate their skin with our quotes or our art.
There were even girls with lyrics I’ve written for my band tattooed on them.
It was a real gift to be able to attend a panel run by fans as opposed to them coming to see us goof around all the time. It really resonated with me.
I owe everything to the Harry Potter series and it is amazing to see how it brings thousands of people together.
4. My band, Jim and the Povolos, went on a “Mini-Tour” in April 2013, and this was a big step for me. I did a lot of work on my own, booking gigs and funding (almost) the entire thing with my bandmate Mark.
We were really proud to be self-sufficient, and even though we only played four cities, it was seriously the biggest responsibility I’ve taken on in my adult life. But it was a success! So, I am proud of it.
3. This past summer I did an hour-long standup set. Some of it was new material, but a lot of it was a collection of successful bits I’ve been saving over the years.
It was probably my greatest achievement as a comedic writer; and even if it’s not the greatest standup in the world, I am so proud to say I did it!
2. Selling out Roseland Ballroom on Starkid’s second tour was definitely way too incredible.
It certainly helped that Darren Criss, our “Harry Potter,” was there performing with us. He was cast as a new lead on Glee a few years ago and has helped our following grow substantially over the years.
I believe Roseland seated 3.5k people, and Beyonce had just recently performed there not too long before us. Performing for that many cheering people takes your breath away.
I’ve never sung harder in my life.
1. SEAN ASTIN. We first met Sean at C2E2 in Chicago. He was signing autographs next to where we were signing autographs and came over to meet us! We then invited him to our panel, telling him he should wear an extra costume we happened to have with us.
Even though we were half kidding, he agreed to do it, and showed up to our panel wearing our friend Dylan’s scarecrow costume! I was so excited I started crying.
We then attended another convention called RingCon in Germany with him. At the time I was re-reading The Hobbit to get ready for the new movie to come out and as I was telling this to my friend and fellow Starkid, Joey, Sean Astin joined our conversation.
He said, “Meet me on the 13th floor in 15 minutes. Bring The Hobbit.”
Obviously, we obeyed and ended up reading "The Hobbit," aloud with Sean Astin for three hours!
We were even joined by Miltos Yerolemou, who plays Arya’s Dance Instructor in Game of Thrones.
It was definitely my favorite memory working in entertainment, if not my favorite memory ever.
What is something that people don't know about your career that you wish they did–misconceptions, etc.?
As a YouTube actress, I lead two separate lives. Most of the people surrounding me in the Chicago community have no idea that I have a substantial following elsewhere.
And most Starkid fans don’t realize that I have a job, take classes, audition, and struggle outside of Starkid projects.
There is a high level of freedom that comes with success in social media that you normally wouldn’t get with a career in TV or movies.
Since getting involved with improv here, I’ve been happy meeting new people and performing around the city more. Sometimes, I forget that I have this incredible second life and I try really hard not to take it for granted.
Also, I am a very private person and have given myself strict rules when it comes to social media.
I never share anything too personal, (i.e. my love life, emotions, etc.), and I have a VERY strict NO NEGATIVE TWEETS policy. Sure, I’ve broken my own rule in the past, but while I believe it is always important to have opinions, I really try to restrict myself to POSITIVE OPINIONS ONLY.
Because of this, Twitter and Facebook always feel like a safe place for me. It is easy to feel the opposite, so I am lucky!
What is your creative process?
My creative process when it comes to writing comedy involves a lot of silent thought.
I am a big day-dreamer, so I will think over an idea really long and hard, and then am usually able to sit down and write it out in one sitting, making very little changes later. But getting to that point involves a lot of alone time and spacing out.
To prepare for my career, I started acting when I was about ten.
Being involved in plays is always the best education for an actor.
I then auditioned and got into the acting program at the University of Michigan, where I ended up getting my BFA in Theater Performance.
Since moving to Chicago I have been through the improv program at iO- Improv Olympic, as well as starting classes in Second City’s Conservatory.
My earliest inspiration would have to be my brother. He was always so funny and successful in theater, and I certainly followed in his footsteps.
Since I was shy and ugly and awkward growing up, comedy really brought me out of my shell.
I also aspired to be exactly like my brother’s friend Denise Donovan. She was not only SO FUNNY, but she was also kind to everyone she met and always had a billion friends from all walks of life.
Emulating her really changed my life for the better, and now we are still, to this day, working together in Starkid! It really is a dream come true.
I am currently writing a book! I got cast with Second City performing on a cruise ship this past winter, so for the four months I lived on the ship I brought one project with me, which is a novel I have wanted to write for years.
Not sure yet what I’m going to do with it when it’s finished, but keep an eye out, especially if you are a nerd like me and LOVE Jane Austen. (It’s completely inspired by Miss Austen’s genius works.) Also, my band, Jim and the Povolos, is working on some new music right now.