Finding Balance, Artistic Identity and Veering off the Path with Actress, Singer and Stand-Up Katherine Duffy

Finding Balance, Artistic Identity and Veering off the Path with Actress, Singer and Stand-Up Katherine Duffy

Living in Door County, I know one thing to be true: the creative community here is like no other. I'm happy to say it's incredibly welcoming, genuine and inspiring. It makes you curious, what's different about the community of Door County? What draws creatives to this unique stretch of land in Northern Wisconsin? When I met Katherine Duffy for the first time this past summer, I knew instantly I wanted to hear her story. It's a common question at this point that locals are all too familiar with, "So how did you end up here?"

I met Katherine at her home in Baileys Harbor. Traveling down a county road, past farmhouses and grazing animals, I drove down a gravel driveway, waved to a neighbor and arrived at Katherine's sweet little spot filled with bows, books and rustic charm. Katherine greeted me through the window and finished getting ready while we chatted all things life in Door County.


Katherine wears the cotton block-print jacket with cotton balloon pants

KEEPER: Can you tell us a little about your connection to Door County?

Katherine: One of my first professional acting jobs was at Third Avenue Playworks in Sturgeon Bay. I was fresh off my first real heartbreak and got my first and only speeding ticket as I drove on to the Peninsula. The embarrassment of that was too much for my Volkswagen Beetle and she broke down two days later. So if you saw an ingenue fighting for her life on a blue bike with tears streaming down her face on Bay Shore Drive in the late summer of 2014, that was me! And fun peek behind the curtain, I was probably alternating between listening to British dialect tracks and Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine. Stars: they’re just like us!   
Since that auspicious beginning, I have been so lucky to appear in over ten productions on the Peninsula, I was an artist in residence at Third Avenue Playworks and became a company member at Peninsula Players. Door County slowly became an artistic home I returned to often to perform, but also recharge. When acting work unexpectedly stopped for me in 2020 (reasons still unclear, please report back to me if you know of a large worldwide event that affected others besides me) and I lost my housing in Chicago- I returned to the Peninsula again to mend. 

Katherine in Bridges of Madison County at Peninsula Players
Directed by Elizabeth Margolius Photo by Len Villano

KEEPER: What is it like coming back to Wisconsin after living in NYC, anything you look forward to?

I have found that both my work and life tend to operate in extremes. As an actor, I either like big budget musicals in thousand-seat houses or doing a DIY solo show in an empty apartment filled to the brim with people at the height of summer with no air conditioning. Similarly I like either being in the biggest city there is or living in a small town on the water in the woods. Both energies fuel me; provide lessons about community, and demand different things from me. I feel like these extremes and this tension also informs my style, both in what I put on my body and how I appoint my spaces. I love the contrast of clean lines with natural fibers; I balance eccentric vintage finds with sleeker pieces.

KEEPER: Do you have a creative/work space, what does it look like?

Katherine: I have learned to be pretty flexible with what I need for a workspace since I have had many different living arrangements on the Peninsula. Some of them sound very romantic: I've lived in a lovely room in an apartment above a toy shop across the street from a candy store and on an estate with beautiful gardens that used to be a one room schoolhouse; but in reality a lot of the arrangements are a result of the lack of affordable housing on the Peninsula. This apartment where I've spent the end of the season was actually a result of a joke I made about not having a place to stay live on stage opening for Door County's elite, premiere and only improv troupe The Knobs. So many people approached me afterwards wanting to lend a hand, and I think as an artist it's important to be transparent about how we manage to scrape by when it comes to housing on the Peninsula- for me it has been a combination of employee housing, community support and rental assistance (shout out Lakeshore Community Action Program!).

Even though I am pretty transient at the moment, I do always make any space my own. I cart around my command hooks so that I can hang pieces from my rag tag, yet treasured art collection. I tote around these great vintage wood fruit boxes and find different uses for them in whatever space I'm in. When I'm writing, I get disparate ideas down on post it notes and then when I'm ready to put them all together, I get them up on the wall- so as long as I have a bit of wall wherever I am, I can get my work done.

The large market bag - in blue gingham

KEEPER: Before a show, do you have any kind of routine? What gets ideas flowing for you? Do you listen to any music to get ready?

Katherine: I think one of the benefits of doing so many shows back to back at Third Avenue Playworks when I was still pretty early in my career means that my pre show routine is pretty minimal because doing shows became so familiar to me. For me, the act of sitting down and doing my makeup and hair as the character is all I really need along with making sure the voice is warm and the body is ready. If it's stand up- I have to prepare to be... myself, can you believe? How does one even begin to perform as oneself? How does she do it! 
For the last three years, I've picked a song for the year and whenever I need to ground myself, I blast the tune! 2021 was Resilient by Rising Appalachia, 2022 was Don't Lose Sight by Lawrence, and this year was SUPERBLOOM by MisterWives. Haven't decided on 2024!

Katherine wears: Reclaim Creative Vintage Quilt Coat with The Meadow Dress 

KEEPER: As a local, are there any favorite spots in Door County you'd like to share?

Katherine: I've been going to Ironwood Yoga for years and I love how it has remained a constant for me in Door County, no matter where I am living or working in the county, it provides a peaceful reset or an activating challenge. [And I] can't go by without shouting out some of the places i've worked in Door County; Third Avenue Playworks, Peninsula Players and Trixies. 

Third Avenue PlayWorks' renovated facility was completed in 2021 and has relatively new leadership, curious about what artistic identity will emerge; the potential for intimate productions reflecting contemporary movements in American theater right here in Door County is thrilling!
Peninsula Players is America's oldest resident summer theater and to be a small part of its long history is so special to me. That kind of longevity is rare in theatrical institutions. My outlook on my acting career has been so informed by getting to know creatives who have spent their lives working at Players, sometimes with regularity, sometimes with decades between. I look forward to the day that I can go back and perform at Peninsula Players and be more seasoned than when I began.
I started to work at Trixie's during a very difficult time in my life, my entire adult life had been about becoming a professional actor and against the odds, I'd actually done it. So it felt like a huge failure to find myself working as a waitress in Ephraim. But I have learned so much from working at Trixie's; It has deepened my respect for this country's service industry workers and I've had the privilege to create relationships with so many people who have built beautiful lives here. Being a hot girl at Trixie's (trademark) taught me the dignity of all labor, the glamour in losing it all, and the exhilaration of veering from the path.

KEEPER: Any big projects or happenings you're excited about in the coming year?

Katherine: I'm currently developing a solo show about my time at Trixie's with plans to produce it at Fringe Festivals next summer with fingers crossed for a Door County run next fall. If anyone is interested in following along with that journey, please go here on my website to join the list for my newsletter taking flight in January. A huge goal of mine in the new year is to reach exactly 1,430 followers on instagram, currently hovering at 1,416- make a poor girl's biggest and most earnest dream come true. 

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