Marisa Kouroubacalis is a singer, songwriter, and drummer who goes by the artist name Dynamyte. After enrolling in Berklee Online’s Writing Hit Songs course, Marisa achieved exactly what she set out to do: wrote a song that went viral on YouTube and TikTok, garnering nearly 1 million combined views to-date. This opened up opportunities for her to move to LA to study acting, tour with Greyson Chance, and land a principal role in Disney’s The Hip Hop Nutcracker, streaming on Disney+ on November 25.
“It’s so cool to see the same moments in the story revisited with a hip-hop lens,” says Marisa. “To see how you can dance all of those same roles in a different style, and how it tells the same exact story but conveys it in a completely different way. I think it’ll be especially cool for people who are familiar with The Nutcracker to see how it’s transformed into a modern hip-hop version.”
Marisa plays a drummer in The Hip-Hop Nutcracker, which is narrated by Run-D.M.C.’s Rev. Run. The role was a perfect fit for her because she’s been playing drums since age eight. She says that Disney was specifically looking for a female drummer for this role, which Marisa appreciated.
“I’m really glad that they look for that representation,” says Marisa. “Even at venues when I’m setting up, they’re like, ‘Who’s the drummer?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s me.’ The reaction now I realize is like, ‘Oh, you’re going to drum?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I didn’t think that was unusual.’ But I love defying stereotypes and I would never think to let stereotypes or expectations stop me.”
Throughout her youth and teen years, Marisa played drums in a band that she formed with her brother Michael in a project they called Michael & Marisa. Together they have performed more than 350 shows around North America, notably opening for Ariana Grande on The Honeymoon Tour tour in 2015.
“It’s a passion for both of us and it was always how we bonded,” says Marisa about performing with her brother. “Our parents aren’t musical, but we just always love to do that together.”
A year apart in age, Marisa and Michael went their own ways when they reached college. Marisa attended Brown University to study sociology, and Michael went to Berklee College of Music to study electronic production and design. He’s currently a hyper-pop artist and producer who goes by MkX professionally. He also produces Marisa’s music, which leans more old-school R&B. She says that studying sociology provided some welcome distance after spending so much time performing as a child and teen, and helped inform her songwriting.
“I think most songs are about people, or a relationship, or something along those lines,” says Marisa. “So it really strengthened me as a songwriter, just understanding people in new ways and why they behave the way they do. I really enjoyed it for that reason and I definitely use it when writing lyrics.”
Marisa frequently visited Michael at Berklee, and enrolled in Berklee’s Summer Program between her freshman and sophomore year at Brown. She graduated in 2019 and Michael graduated from Berklee in 2020. At that point, Marisa and Michael were living at their parents’ home in Massachusetts, sheltering in place because of Covid. Marisa found herself with extra time and wanting to get back into songwriting. This was when she enrolled in the 12-week songwriting course at Berklee Online and wrote her viral song “Show Me You.”
“I just remember being on my bedroom floor and writing that song and doing the coursework,” says Marisa. “It’s super interactive with other students and you get feedback from them. But I really had never written any songs by myself, so I didn’t know if anything I was doing was good. But as soon as I wrote that one, something about it just really stuck with me and I really resonated with it. And I feel like that course really transformed me as a songwriter.”
After releasing a few more songs that took off online—“Something’s Off” and “Flattery”—Marisa moved from Massachusetts to LA, where she enrolled in acting classes to expand her social circle. She used to act as a child, and it turns out she still had a knack for it as an adult.
“When I came out to LA, I really wanted to make friends and meet people,” says Marisa. “As a kid I had done acting, so I thought it would be fun to take an acting class and was super nervous, because I figured anyone in an LA acting class was going to be really good.”
It turns out that she was also really good, and after taking a few courses, the acting school connected Marisa with a booking agent, who submitted her for The Hip Hop Nutcracker role.
“She just asked for some drumming videos and then she called me up and was like, ‘Oh my God, you booked a Disney movie!’” says Marisa. “Then I was at Paramount Studios filming with all these incredibly talented people. So yeah, I was just so grateful and couldn’t believe that I got something like this.”
One of her favorite scenes to film was the battle of the mice and soldiers, where she led the toy soldiers in combat.
“It’s funny because none of them [the soldiers] were drummers, but they had to pretend to play soldier drums and then I had to be the one in front of them drumming on a full bucket drum kit. So I was leading them in this battle, which was just really cool because they were all so talented and I was lucky to even be in the room.”
Marisa will be finishing out the year touring the US with Greyson Chance, a former child star who went viral with his cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” in 2010, and rose to fame with the help of Ellen DeGeneres. The relationship with Ellen eventually soured, and Greyson recently revealed what went down, and how he’s still working to build his career back up in an extensive Rolling Stone interview. Marisa has toured with Greyson a few times as Michael & Marisa, but this is her first time touring with him as a solo artist. Otherwise Marisa is looking forward to a new year of possibilities in both music and acting.
“With the tour and this movie, hopefully it’s a stepping stone in my career,” says Marisa. “I’ve been doing this independently my whole life, but would love to just see where it takes me now. This year has moved my career forward so much, so I’m excited to see what happens in 2023.”