We had the good fortune of connecting with Phyllis Katz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Phyllis, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
It’s what I was wired to do. I don’t remember being any other way. I was born into a family of gregarious, creative, funny, emotional people. Any form of inventiveness was rewarded. In the midst of wild dysfunction and moderate to high drama, making each other laugh and playing music had the power to dissolve or at least entertain a different perspective of the varying degrees of distress anyone might be experiencing. All my life I’ve had a passion to express myself and connect with people, at least in part, because I keep trying to understand the world better and, in some ways, fix it. I’m talking about both my personal world and the world at large. And I’ve learned that when you allow yourself to imagine, explore and recreate it, you sometimes find answers, sometimes find more questions, and nearly always find a world of insight, inspiration, and fresh oxygen. As a kid, I loved stories and read a lot. I always was writing something. This is going to date me, but I would come home from school, finish my homework, and then take waxed paper and transfer pictures from comic books to white paper and make my own comics with new dialogue. I loved to dance, sing, write songs, stories, and dialogue, create characters – and did all that without any thought of career. It was as much who I was as shooting hoops in the driveway for hours was the athlete next door. So, it’s no surprise I wound up acting, writing, improvising, directing, teaching, coaching and creating shows. I’m still that kid, only sometimes I’m lucky enough to make money at it. It penetrates all facets of my life. Whether alone or in collaboration, I feel whole to the point of getting lost in the moment when in a creative zone.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Thank you! I don’t think about my process so much as give over to it and engage it. Even when I’m totally dry of ideas or stuck on something I’m working on, I feel better for showing up, for writing something, for taking a class, for improvising a song, for calling a friend to brainstorm – for doing something expressive. Often it will remind me that I’m not empty at all, that I’m observing and making connections all the time. And I have to trust the way my brain processes what it takes in, even if it’s not on my preferred timeline. My husband has told me more than a few times that he never knew a writer who didn’t brood before coming up with the next consuming project. When I’m on to something, all my burners light up and I feel twice as alive while I’m working out the details. That and a good night on stage erase all the rejections and self-doubt in an instant. Improv is a microcosm of all that. One small suggestion, one look in your scene partner’s eyes, and an electrical charge seems to enter directly from Heaven, sending you off on an experience so intense, you barely remember any of it when it’s over. To answer the next part of your question, when people ask me how I got to where I am today, I never know whether to laugh or cry. My first thought usually is, “Where do you think I am?” This certainly wasn’t the plan, and yet I’m grateful for so much of it. I didn’t anticipate how difficult a creative professional life would be – or, maybe I should say I didn’t anticipate how long the struggle would endure. At first, the “starving artist” self-identification felt really noble. It grew thin pretty quickly. But I never for a moment considered quitting, nor did anyone I knew quietly take me aside and tell me I should rethink my plans. If you live long enough and pay attention to the world, you realize that most people struggle, and your responsibility as an artist is to uplift them through your work, to send some light their way through your perspective, and that’s a heart-filler for me when it works. I love what I do. All of it. I’ve juggled it throughout my life. When I was acting in a series, I still ran a musical improv class on Sundays. One time I finished an all-day corporate teaching gig and raced to do an improv show that night. All this isn’t to say that I’m in a constant state of joy. Far from it. Creative careers are tough. For most of us, they’re sporadic. But one consistent, important thought I carry is, “Stay human and humane, serve what you’ve been wired to do, and keep your sense of humor.” This also means stay curious, empathetic, use your power to help others. Be kind. Choose to care. Be patient, accepting, and grateful. It sounds like a long list, but they’re interconnected.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’d have my friend choose from these lists:
Dinner: Crossroads, Gracias Madre, Sage Bistro & Brewery in Culver City, Au Lac, almost any Sushi place in LA,, Toscana in Brentwood, Gangadin.
Lunch: Food on Pico, H.O.P.E. vegan Thai in Studio City, any Veggie Grill, The Getty and LACMA (paired with visits to the exhibits) The Ivy at the Shore. Breakfast: The Griddle, Hugo’s, Dialog Cafe, 101 Coffee Shop, my house, Aroma Cafe
Coffee: Coffee Commissary, Dialog Cafe, M Street Coffee, Toasted & Roasted, Blue Bottle
Music: Lots of music. We’d have to check what’s playing, and ideally there’d be something at The Greek, The Hollywood Bowl, Vibrato, and/or The Wiltern, in addition to small venues. But we have everything from The LA Opera to new bands performing in rehearsal studios at AMP. Also, LACMA has free Friday night concerts that can be paired with a museum visit.
For a drink: Skybar, Molly Malone’s, The Dresden, Formosa Cafe, Jones, Chez Jay
For fun: The Groundlings, The Taper, Museum of Jurassic Technology, Hike in Fryman Canyon, bike ride in Malibu, workout at Gold’s Gym, MOCA, The Hammer, The Last Bookstore, Japanese American National Museum, Chinatown, Amoeba Records (assuming they reopen).
And finally: Trying out places together that I’ve never been, and a lot of hanging out at my house.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
In terms of who else deserves credit and recognition, I could fill a book with the names of those who have taught, collaborated, inspired, and supported me along the way — my family and friends, teachers and students, friends, artists whose work uplifted me, people who passed through my life quickly, who did me kindnesses or who inspired me. So, to choose one would be to leave out the others. I’d like to dedicate this to all of them and give a special mention to a few who no longer are on this planet, and who made a meaningful difference for me: Josephine Forsberg, Ray Colcord, Lotus Weinstock, Gary Austin, Cynthia Szigeti, and Shirley Prestia.
Facebook: Phyllis Katz
Photos by Rob Lewine