By Valerie Guy
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to meet one of your heroes, you may have an idea of how I felt interviewing the incomparable Lauren Culver this week. I was struck by both excitement and nerves in equal doses, struggled to form complete sentences other than the ones I had pre-written, and found few words other than “that’s amazing” to use in response to her inspiring answers. But when you get the chance to speak with the actor behind several readings of the incredible character of Rhoswen, who has become one of your heroes, and then discover throughout the process that the actor proves to be an inspirational hero in her own right, it’s easy to become awestruck.
Lauren’s professionalism and passion for what she does are readily apparent. Her love of researching and diving deep into the characters she portrays is compelling. Her drive to never stop learning is truly a quest (or “not quest”) we should all aspire to do.
What was the first professional show you were in?
Lauren: The first professional company would have been Footloose. It was comedically miserable. It was in rep [repertory] with High School Musical, Bye Bye Birdie, and the play version of Cheaper by the Dozen. It was a bit of a hot mess. We had squirrels in our cabin. We literally had to chop a bed out of a tree. They wanted us to use a bed that had been left in the woods and a tree had grown through it… on our stage.
What’s something you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting out as an actor?
Lauren: The validation that you are seeking doesn’t exist or matter. The people who don’t understand why you choose this field never will. Many people from the outside will never fully understand the craft, the work, the energy, the time that goes into doing this job well. I do this because I love it. And my why is what matters, not what anyone else thinks. My purpose is in telling stories because I think it changes lives. I do it because I believe in it. I wish I would have gotten a hold of that a lot younger.
If someone made your life story into a show, who would you want to play you?
Lauren: I cannot think of a single human. My best answer: someone I haven’t met yet. My brain goes, “why on earth would anyone write a play about my life?” I think my biggest thing is that I would want someone to put as much work into the character as I put into characters.
Tory: Lauren, for 28 years in the business, I have rarely… I will dare say never, I have never found somebody as dedicated to character work as you. You never stop learning. You never stop researching. It astounds me every single reading.
How does Off the Beaten Path compare with the other shows that you’ve done?
Lauren: It’s rather unique. The first time I read it you could feel the depth of character that you do not get in a lot of other musical librettos. I’m gonna brag about you Tory…it’s awkward that you’re here…Tory truly has a special gift for creating character in a script. The years of playing D&D as these characters, shows up on the page. There are so many different levels to this character, to this whole show. It’s amazing and the more I come back to it the more I find. This is an incredible piece.
What have you discovered about Rhoswen since the first time you started reading for her?
Lauren: Honestly Val, how long do you want me to talk? I literally have at least 6 pages of just notes on her. She is [a] beautifully written, complex female character. Which, thank God, is being written in the world. Tory does such an excellent job with that. I realized a tiny thing, that she doesn’t need to try to be funny, she knows she’s funny. It’s been really fun to discover and layer more with what’s going on with her when Rhoswen is not speaking. There are so many points in the show when something really triggering comes up for her. And then to try and find a way to show “Rhoswen’s going through a thing right there.” In a human being, a character has depth that you can’t know or portray until you spend time asking questions and sitting with the answer. Rhoswen is a complex character in a complex story and there’s always more to discover.
THE FALLEN: A TALE OF JACK THE RIPPER
What do you think will surprise people about The Fallen?
Lauren: Off the cuff, the first thing I thought of was the portrayal of Jack. There are clues, as Tory’s known to do, in the stage directions. And the portrayal of Jack specifically and what it speaks to about humanity is deeply important and resonated with me. Also, expect to laugh. I don’t go into something like Jack the Ripper being like ‘I’m gonna laugh at this.’ Even in the darkness, there are moments that crack me up.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge reading for Mary?
Lauren: Honestly, the biggest thing I can think of is that it’s just acting in a new medium. Coming into a zoom read, especially the first read, there is something very different. It’s such a cool and normally intimate thing that the cast gets to experience. The great thing about these online readings is that we get to do that but in front of people. Never reading these words aloud to another human and then doing it on zoom and figuring out how to be in that moment and tell the story.
What’s something new The Fallen is bringing to the Jack the Ripper story?
Lauren: It shifts the focus. It takes the perspective off of the lunatic and puts it on the victims. This brings to life that these were women with lives and conflicts of their own and love and despair. I love that we are taking the time for these women. To be able to tell some of their story and breathe that into light and show that they were just doing the best with what the world gave them. They are imperfect and complex and just real people.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Lauren: The stories we tell matter. The narratives we tell matter. And both of these stories, in their own way, are telling the story I want people to be hearing. There’s so much complexity and depth and love and laughter. There’s conflict but they help one another through it. There are so many important messages being told.