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How Jagged Little Pill Helped Kathryn Gallagher Find Her Voice — And Use It

The singer-songwriter reflects on her 'crazy, tumultuous year' and the 'Grey's Anatomy' marathons that got her through it

Kathryn Gallagher sweeps her fears under the rug where they belong. That's not to say she's completely fearless, just that she saves those fears for a cloudier day. But right now, she's content to sit and wax poetic over her favorite subject: Grey's Anatomy. "What a way to leave a show," she says, eyes shining as she recalls Christina Yang's exit from the long-running hospital drama. "He may be dreamy, but he's not the sun you are," the singer-songwriter recites perfectly. "It's literally a poster in my dressing room," she adds. "I was going through a terrible breakup and all of my friends kept sending me that meme. So now I look art it every day." Or, roughly eight times a week.

Gallagher is currently starring in Jagged Little Pill, an explosive new Broadway show inspired by the music of Alanis Morissette and written by Diablo Cody. She plays Bella Fox, a role she's helped developed from the beginning — from the pleading 2013 email she wrote when the stage musical was announced to the first Boston lab rehearsals of the show in 2017. Bella evolved from an ensemble part to a central character in the second act, whose sexual assault ignites a suburban community. It's a vulnerable place for Gallagher to go night after night, but it's helped the songwriter find her own voice. When she's not watching Grey's in her dressing room, she's writing her own music — oftentimes between scenes.

In this conversation with MTV News, Gallagher opens up about her "crazy, tumultuous year," her own connection to Alanis, finding her own catharsis in Bella's story, and why theater kids are not-so-secretly the cool kids.

MTV News: How would you describe your own personal relationship to Alanis Morissette's music? 

Kathryn Gallagher: I've been listening to her music since I was a little girl. My mom's been playing her music in the house since I can remember. When I got the job, I already knew all the words. It was the easiest job I've ever had. It's truly dream come true for me.

MTV News: What was the first song that resonated with you?

Gallagher: The first song I ever loved was "Hand In My Pocket" because I would ask my mom to play "the cigarette song." I don't know if that's cute for a five-year-old or disturbing. But as I grew older, I think "Forgiven" was a really big one for me. My favorite all time Alanis song is "Hands Clean." It's just so good — so, so good. But I find a different song I love every time.

MTV News: Watching the show made me realize Under Rug Swept is my favorite Alanis era.

Gallagher: The brain that it takes to create that one, Under Rug Swept. It's like, "OK, you're a genius, bye." She's amazing.

MTV News: You heard about the show in 2013 and knew you had to be part of it. How did you manifest it? Because it takes a lot of confidence to go after what you want. 

Gallagher: The original script was a totally different show. There wasn't a part for me initially. But they had a general ensemble call for the lab [in Boston]. And [my reps] were like, "You can do this if you want." So I went in, and then they ended up calling me back for this featured ensemble role, Bella. She popped in and out of the ensemble, which meant I was changing my clothes every other number and dancing in all of the scene numbers and pushing the panels between sets. So it was a very different role than I have now, but it grew in this really beautiful way. I have no idea how I manifested it. I think I just got lucky. Sometimes it's just right place, right time, right gig.

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MTV News: How did Bella become the character that she is now, from that first lab in Boston to Broadway?

Gallagher: No one really anticipated the role getting the response that it did. There was such a hunger to hear this story told on a big platform. The world was growing at the same time that this role was growing; we were in the room working on the show when Me Too broke, when that became a saying. We finished the show in Cambridge, and a month later, Dr. Christine Ford gave her testimony. And so there was an urgency, like, "We need to do [the] show now." And I had a huge number of people writing to me or telling me at the stage door, even in Boston, that seeing this on a stage freed them of this shame that was not theirs to feel, from an experience like Bella has, in their own life. So the world informed us that there was a place for this story to be told and to dive in deeper.

MTV News: Teing with something from the very beginning is that these productions are a living, breathing thing. So there is room for collaboration and to try different things. What was that experience like to create a character?

Gallagher: I had only done one Broadway show before. I did the revival of Spring Awakening. But this was my first time originating a role. And I've done workshops and the 29-hour readings from 79 different musicals. And so I always knew what questions I like to ask it and whatnot. But having the opportunity to live inside this role for two-and-a-half years, I got to research it. I got to live it. I got to experience it through. And I got to grow with it as a person.

MTV News: Has Bella changed you as a performer? 

Gallagher: Hell yeah.

MTV News: How so?

Gallagher: Number one, doing eight shows a week is bootcamp. It's just like doing that same thing every day. Finding new things consistently showing up and bringing your A game is just going to give you a certain level of commitment and drive that you wouldn't necessarily have. It's a constant challenge. And Bella, in particular, has changed me as a person just in the way that she is brave as hell. And she's fearless. And she's taught me that when you tell your truth, you find your people and that there will always be people that will try to delegitimize your story and try to poke holes in your truth — that will make you feel fucking crazy, and only you are the keeper of your story. And only you are the one that carries it with you. So find those people that make you feel that you're smart and brilliant and worth it. There are always going to be people that are ready to hear you and are ready to stand with you.

MTV News: That seems like a really invaluable lessons to learn as a singer-songwriter too. Do you feel like that's a more vulnerable experience for you? 

Gallagher: Bella is hard in a different way every night. I find it very interesting playing her because this has not been an easy year for me. It's been a crazy, tumultuous year. I've learned a lot. I've pushed every boundary I've possibly known. And when I was starting rehearsals, I was in a really emotionally intense time in my life that was feeding the role and vice versa. So being able to bring those aspects and the things that I learned from that situation into Bella, into this character that is consistently going to a super intense place and a dark place, is a vulnerable place to go every night. And I feel very lucky that I get to be the person that tells a story that has been healing for so many people. It's been healing for me. But when I'm writing my own music, that's really vulnerable too. You definitely write songs when you need to hear them. So I've been doing all this writing while I've been doing this show, and it's all feeding each other and I'm just lucky that I get outlets for it. You know, the show is cathartic. The writing is cathartic. It's been a time of great catharsis in my life, I would say.

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MTV News: You'll look back on this period of your writing and know exactly where you were in life.

Gallagher: I was writing the other day, and I was like, "Forgive the show in the background. That's just Elizabeth Stanley, like belting it out." I have my old travel guitar in my dressing room and I'll just start writing between scenes. You just got to strike while the iron is hot, you know?

MTV News: That's incredible.

Gallagher: When it's been a shit year and you can look back and be, like, "Nah, I'm doing cool shit right now. This is great." I feel really grateful. Sometimes some bad shit has to happen for you to look back and be like, "I'm here now, and that's really awesome."

MTV News: Jagged Little Pill is a heavy show but it also has a lot of energy. It's propulsive. And it's coming at a time when young people are finding theater again. 

Gallagher: Broadway is cool again! All of us grew up as total theater geeks, and we're weirdos. I hope my castmates aren't reading this, like, "Speak for yourself, Gallagher." But I firmly believe that when you grow up as a theater geek, you're probably on the outskirts of the cool kids. There's something that inspires such individualism and a true sense of self at a young age when you know that the shit you like isn't necessarily cool. You're just like, "But this is who I am and this is what I like and, yeah, I know all the words to every Sondheim show, and that's just where I'm at right now."

MTV News: I think you and your friends, Beanie [Feldstein] and Ben [Platt], are proving that theater kids are cool, or will one day become cool.  

Gallagher: I'm really proud of our group from high school because we're just a bunch of theater geeks that like to have slumber parties and like dancing to Carly Rae Jepsen, and everyone is kind of crushing it right now. Like Beanie and Ben were both nominated [at the Golden Globes] — that's so cool.

MTV News: Obviously, you pour a lot of yourself into Bella, you pour a lot of yourself into your music. But when do you feel like most of you? 

Gallagher: When I'm watching Grey's Anatomy. I don't know. They're all different aspects. Bella is so deeply ingrained in me as a person now that she forever will be part of me. But writing songs has been what I've been doing since I was 11 and it's definitely the thing I'm most studied in. It's how I express myself. When I'm sad, I write. When I'm happy, I write. It's always what I'm returning to.

MTV News: And Grey's Anatomy

Gallagher: Zoning the fuck out and watching Grey's Anatomy for four hours is self-care. I don't care what anyone says. I think it's important to just constantly check in with yourself, like, what do I need right now? Do I need to go take a dance class, or do I need to sit on my ass and let Meredith Grey and Christina Yang tell me their gospel?