MICHAEL JUDSON BERRY | New York | Find Your Voice!!

https://michaeljudsonberry.com

When the pandemic hit New York, I was an out of work actor who, like all of us, was trying to navigate this new quarantine life. I had no idea when theater or films would be auditioning again, and I felt so lost! I’m not athletically inclined enough to be fulfilled by push-up challenges, and I can only watch so much TV. Luckily, in the year before the pandemic I had become very involved in the improv scene at the PIT, and I had become close with some fabulous comedians and sketch writers. I was watching my friends create podcasts and virtual sketch shows, and I finally got the gumption to try to create something myself.

I had done Moira Rose (from 'Schitt’s Creek') with my friends and once at an improv jam, and I had been told I could do a decent impression of Catherine O’Hara’s iconic accent. One day I thought, “how fun would it be if Moira had her own talk show, where she would share a cup of tea and her very specific perspective on life in the pandemic?” So, my roommate lent me an old wig he had at the bottom of his closet, I popped on a black sweater, and QuaranTeaTime was born. I figured this would just be a fun, creative outlet and a joke among my friends; but now 104 episodes, 20 characters, and 30 wigs later it’s become a “worldwide streaming sensation” and I couldn’t be more proud…or surprised! When I began this journey, I had never written sketches, never filmed and edited videos, never styled a wig, and had absolutely no concept of how social media worked. I’m still not exactly tech savvy, but with each video I’m learning and improving. I’m challenging myself as a writer, an actor, and filmmaker in ways that I never thought I would, and it’s thrilling!



What were the biggest initial hurdles and how did you overcome them?

When I was creating QuaranTeaTime I faced the same personal challenges I’ve been battling my whole life: a lack of confidence, my inability to focus on something for more than 2 minutes, and my fear of asking for help.


Confidence: The first step was gaining the confidence to try my idea! I’ve had so many concepts and dreams before, but I was always too afraid to try them. Those little voices in my head would convince me I wasn’t funny enough, or talented enough, or worthwhile. It’s far too easy to talk oneself out of things that have real potential. It took a pandemic for me to take a giant “f*%ck it” pill and just make a video and post it!


Focus: I have had trouble focusing my entire life. I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, but fortunately I have a very smart and patient mother who also happens to be a clinical psychologist. My mom spent a LOT of time working with me, communicating with my teachers, and developing learning strategies. Even with all of those advantages, I still struggle with focusing to this day. I’ve learned I work best if I create lists and then physically cross tasks off. I also have created reward systems for myself, like I can check my phone or go buy a coffee after I cross certain things off my list. I’ve also found it helps to make these lists big and in places where I can see them…currently I have a whiteboard on the wall over my bed, so my “to-dos” are literally the first thing I see in the morning.



Help: I’ve always been afraid of inconveniencing people or making them feel uncomfortable. I’ll bend over backwards to not bother people, and that includes asking for help. Because I lacked confidence in myself, I didn’t believe my problems were worth bothering someone else with. A big part of getting QuaranTeaTime going was asking for help. When I was first starting, before I posted a video, I would have people look at it and give me feedback (which was SO terrifying at first), but those early critiques and words of encouragement gave me the courage I needed to keep going. Eventually my family and friends lent me clothes, jewelry, and wigs, and even helped me write scripts and come up with ideas. This whole thing never would have happened without the help of very supportive friends and family.

What books are you currently reading?

I just started Becoming Duchess Goldblatt - I’ve heard it’s fantastic and I’m very excited to dive in! Some all-time favorite books include A Gentleman in Moscow, All the Light We Cannot See, Little French Bistro, and Cutting for Stone. My sister also got me very into Mary Roach’s books and Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs.

Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your pursuits?

How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?

I’m very lucky, my family and friends have always been supportive of my pursuits. My dad is a lawyer but studied music and was a musician for a long time, and my mom always loved opera and theater, so from a young age, they both encouraged me to follow my artistic dreams. When I started QuaranTeaTime, my friends and my family all rallied to help me. My dad has never watched 'Schitt’s Creek' and was never interested in social media, but now he follows me on Instagram and TikTok and watches every video I make many, many times. He’s definitely my biggest fan…I’m pretty sure he knows my videos better than I do.


That being said, I’ve definitely had disagreements and misunderstandings when it came to some more personal aspects of my life. What I learned from going through those experiences is that people can only see life through their eyes and from their own perspective. You have to be patient with people who see the world differently than you do and give them the benefit of the doubt. It took me a long time to learn how to clearly express myself without getting angry or passive aggressive, and to really listen to what others were saying. It’s so much easier to find common ground when you respect each other’s perspectives, and work from there.

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your success?

Fearlessness. When it comes to performing, I’ve always been pretty fearless. Within the context of a character, I was never afraid to be weird or goofy, and look ridiculous or make a fool of myself. The more outlandish the costume, the more absurd the accent, and the more prat falls, the better! I feel so liberated and free when I can totally let go and just have fun within the confines of a character. I only recently learned how to apply that fearlessness to my own life, not just while acting, and it’s amazing! I’ve realized that allowing myself that freedom is itself a kind of bravery, and for that I’m very proud.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?

I wish I had known that I am capable of creating my own work, and just how much fun it is to be your own boss! I never thought I had what it took to be a writer or to make my own sketches, and I for sure never thought I would become a success on social media. Honestly, I’m not tech savvy at all, and was always afraid of venturing into the mercurial world of online content. While I am still very much learning and frequently have to ask for guidance, I have come a long way in a short amount of time. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you stop judging yourself and your abilities and just give it a shot!



What advice would you give to an upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?

Find your true voice, don’t judge it and don’t be afraid of it. Once you find your voice, the world is your oyster, and you can create beautiful things. I see so many people on TikTok and other platforms trying to fit into trends or shoehorn themselves into a style that just doesn’t feel true to who they are. Personally, I’m drawn to performers who genuinely love what they’re creating and believe in the stories they’re telling. Whether you have tens of millions of followers, or just ten followers, if you’re creating meaningful and honest work that conveys who you are, then you are a success in my eyes. If I can take an iPhone and a crumpled old wig and make something special, anyone can!


*** WATCH: QuaranTeaTime With Moira Rose ***

Social Media:

TikTok

Instagram

YouTube