Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt, performers, Nancy And Beth
We get to use all these parts of ourselves that we hadn’t had the opportunity to practice in everyday life, without a bunch of ambitions behind it ...
Let’s face it – we’ve all spent quality time alone singing along with, and conjuring up our own choreography for, our favourite songs. Only a small percentage of us live out these fantastical performances in front of others – be it at the local karaoke night or while inebriated at the office’s Christmas party – but even fewer still turn it into a full-blown stage show with an accompanying live band. Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt are two such individuals, who decided to expand their creative repertoire (there’s a high chance you’ve seen been both ladies on our television screens) to include singing and dancing on stage with their punk-meets-vaudeville duo Nancy And Beth. The two friends-turned-collaborators are bringing their talented troupe to Australian shores this month, but ahead of their assuredly stellar set at QPAC on Wednesday June 19 we spoke to the duo to get the scoop on how their friendship began, to explore their love of music and choreography, and get the lowdown on what we can expect from their show.
We’re excited to have you both in Brisbane this month, but I was wondering if you could fill me in on how you first encountered each other?
Megan Mullally: We were doing an indie movie together in Austin, Texas. We met and Stephanie offered to show me around Austin, and then we became fast friends – we had the same sense of humour. Stephanie is a songwriter, and she played me one of her songs and asked me to sing along with her. I did, and when we heard our voices together, that was the turning point.
Stephanie Hunt: Then we realised we had a similar taste in music and loved to scour through songs to sing together.
Was there any spark or moment where you knew you had, not only a strong friendship, but possibly a fruitful creative partnership?
MM: It’s kind of like a psychic twin situation – we never really consciously made any decisions to start a band, or anything like that. It was just an evolution – a natural progression. We agree on all of the aesthetics, but we also get along as people. It all just kind of happened.
Nancy And Beth is, first and foremost, a musical outfit. Can you tell me where music ranks for you both in terms of your hobbies and passions and how Nancy And Beth has helped you explore it further?
SH: Music is certainly on the top for both of us. Both of us did music before acting in different ways, and I grew up playing music in my family so it’s always been an innate thing. That’s another part of our friendship – we’ve been allowed to explore that in a sense. Our band doesn’t really do songs in a normal way that bands do songs; they’re kind of reimagined in a fourth dimension – like how Megan does the choreography. We get to use all these parts of ourselves that we hadn’t had the opportunity to practice in everyday life, without a bunch of ambitions behind it. It’s definitely grown into something!
Are there any artists or styles that acted as a foundation for Nancy And Beth’s direction?
MM: Well, it’s all over the map. We do songs from all different genres and all different eras – there’s no real set of criteria. The songs that Stephanie and I freak out over are the ones we end up doing, and it’s as simple as that! So, it could be a jazz arrangement, it could be a country song, it could be a gospel song, it could be a song from the 20s, it could be a song from two years ago, it could be a rap song. It’s just whatever we like! We do whatever we want, is what it boils down to.
I can imagine for a project like this being able to do whatever you want would be freeing. Was that freedom important at the beginning when trying to figure out what Nancy And Beth was and could be?
MM: Well, it’s freeing because it’s just very rare. I love doing Will & Grace because it’s a group effort – you’re a cog in a very creatively run machine and it’s great and I get to play one of the greatest characters ever. But then this is something where Stephanie and I have complete autonomy, and we do whatever we decide we would like to do – the miracle of it all is that the audiences really like it (laughs). We’re just following our gut and then audiences like it too, so that’s the pay off. It’s also rare – especially as a women and especially as a woman of a certain age – it’s just rare to have a chance to completely express your creative nature unfiltered and unfettered without someone telling you to do it a certain way.
Can you talk me through the early sets you were building as Nancy And Beth? Was there any process behind morphing that freewheeling element into something that was repeatable and comfortable?
SH: I wouldn’t say there were any tricks involved in the band, because it’s very stream of consciousness rather than ambitious. We weren’t really trying to figure out a way to make it work in the creative process, it was just whatever we wanted [in the beginning] and then we started getting offered more shows and it’s started growing in an organic way so we’ve been able to preserve the true nature of the show.
What would you say have been the biggest changes that have subconsciously taken place or have been purposefully implemented since first taking the show on the road?
MM: Well, I think a big turning point was when we got headset mics rather than having to be tied to mic stands. Because, that opened up the choreography to where I could do anything and we could run all around the stage. We could go upside down, we could lay on the floor – so that was a huge change. That was when the band kind of gelled and came together. We rehearse in a dance studio, so for every song Stephanie and I really drill it in terms of being in synch with the choreography; in between songs everything falls to pieces (laughs). That’s part of the draw.
Yeah – it seems like choreography is a huge drawcard for the show! You’re both natural performers – is there any method to your choreography or is it instinctual?
MM: It’s an instinctive thing, yeah. Every song is different, and there are some songs that we love that haven’t revealed themselves to me yet – conceptually and how to make them work staging-wise. Basically what we do, Stephanie and I get in a room together and she starts video taping our song, because in the moment you forget it if you don’t have it on video. It’s kind of a question of do these songs bring something new to the set? We never like to repeat ourselves. Whatever shows you come to, we want you to feel like you haven’t seen it before. Each song is different from the rest.
SH: Megan’s ability to choreograph is pretty otherworldly with the amount of different dimensions and song genres – it’s a joy to do this choreography.
MM: I really enjoy it and it’s fun! A lot of the choreography has a bit of wit to it. The order of the set list is really important – the song choice is the most important part of it. Everything else comes after.
Being performers on stage and screen, is there an improvisational element that you imbue into your sets?
MM: Improvisation comes in between the songs, where we don’t really have anything set. We just lollygag around and talk about in the moment. That period is a bit of a free-for-all.
For this run of Australian shows, are there any songs and routines that are newly introduced that you’re excited to show off?
MM: We have several new songs that we’ve recently introduced, but there’s nothing brand new for Australia except for our attitude (laughs).
SH: Yeah, but on the other hand Australian audiences have never seen our set, so it really will be all-new stuff to most!
MM: We’re doing a few songs from our first record and some from our upcoming record, which is coming out next year – so a little bit from each!
Where do you hope to see Nancy And Beth grow in the future and what would you ideally like to get out of the project, if you haven’t already achieved it?
MM: As we build the band it’s getting a little easier to sell tickets, which is nice, and we don’t have to struggle as much. There have been times in the past where Stephanie and I have gone out into the street with tambourines and handed out flyers to people on the sidewalk. To not have to do that is nice! We might still do it, just for fun. We’d like to do bigger productions. It started as a bit of a joke, but it’s not as much of a joke now.
SH: Oh yeah.
MM: We’d love to do a show in Vegas where we can do a number underwater – like in a big tank of water – ride horses on stage or I can choreograph stuff on golf carts. It’s a little bit avant-garde, in case you hadn’t worked that out yet. There are so many possibilities – we hadn’t planned any of this up until now, so I don’t know that we have any – it keeps evolving and growing in a really good way, and so we just want to keep that happening in the right direction.
Catch Megan and Stephanie perform as Nancy And Beth at QPAC on Wednesday June 19. You can still nab tickets here.