The Broadway production, Fun Home, is based on the graphic novel written by Alison Bechdel. In the show, we get to know Allison at three important stages in her life. I had the chance to chat with Lauren Patten who is currently playing Medium Allison. We spoke about DWSA, her favorite number in the show, and so much more.
What was your first exposure to Broadway and musical theater and how did it influence you?
The first musical I remember seeing was Show Boat on tour in Chicago. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be on stage. It’s been a part of my psyche since I was a young kid. I think I just loved the idea of performing for people and getting applause. I was a rather precocious child. Thankfully, it’s grown into much more than that for me now.
What’s the first Broadway show you saw? How old were you?
I’m actually not sure what my first Broadway show was! I do have distinct memories of making my mom go to Les Mis over and over again. We would go multiple nights in a row. I was obsessed. I actually saw the revival last week and cried a lot. So much de-ja-vu.
Any funny mishaps on stage?
Luckily nothing too traumatic. I did trip over a big set piece during one performance of A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre. I was 12, and completely mortified. There was a large student group in the front row that openly guffawed at my clumsiness. That moment shaped some of my adult insecurities, I’m sure.
Who is the person you want to work with in the future?
Mark Rylance, Mark Rylance, Mark Rylance. Elizabeth Marvel. Laura Linney. God, there are so many great actors, how do I choose?!
What was it like being in Deaf West Spring Awakening in LA did you know ASL beforehand?
Working with Deaf West was one of the seminal artistic experiences of my career. It will influence how I look at the power and purpose of theatre forever. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for it. I didn’t know any ASL beforehand, not even the alphabet. The deaf actors were incredibly generous in helping us learn the language. It’s a beautiful way to communicate.
I study part-time, which makes it a little easier. It’s all about time management! I enjoy school (mini Hermione Granger), so that makes it feel less like work.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
I’ve had a number of people who have influenced my work, people who have taught me how to be a better artist and to serve the audience instead of myself. But truthfully, my family has influenced me more than anything. My parents were enormously supportive from the moment I started talking about performing. They taught me to stay true to myself, to do the work I enjoy instead of the work I feel like I should be doing, to focus on telling the story rather than getting the praise. I owe everything to them.
What is your favorite number to perform in Fun Home? What is favorite moment in the show? Why?
Of course, “Changing My Major” is so damn fun. It’s just the perfect song. But my favorite is “Flying Away,” the finale. I am so in awe of Jeanine’s and Lisa’s ability to create this beautiful, soaring, satisfying finale out of just three voices. When do you see that in musical theatre? It’s so moving to me to experience the three Alisons coming together at the end.
In one sentence, describe your job
Explorations and discoveries in tighty whities.
Do you think theater is important?
YES. Yes. Of course. Art is important. Art is our culture, it’s how we communicate to people we wouldn’t know otherwise, it’s how we express our essence and our thoughts and our needs as a community.
What have you learned about yourself while playing Alison?
How important it is to communicate, and speak your truth. All of the Bechdels kept everything inside, and her parents never lived the lives they wanted to live. Alison got to break out of that and went on to create work that meant so much to the LGBT community, like Dykes to Watch Out For.
Which of your performances has left a lasting mark on you?
I carry every show with me, in some way. I did a production of The Diary of Anne Frank at the Rubicon Theatre when I was 14, and that was the first show that taught me just how much theatre could do for communities. We had a lot of school groups come to the show, and to talk with kids my age about the show and their experience with it really shaped how I approached my job afterwards.
Tell me about your worst audition, a horror story.
Oh God. I’ve blocked them all out. I’ve fallen in dance calls, forgotten lyrics to songs because I’m nervous. Singing in auditions terrifies me. My hands shake. Nightmares.
What do you wish you’d known before you started acting?
That every actor has their own individual journey. Other actors’ success or failure has nothing to do with me. It’s so easy to fall into being jealous and competitive, but the work suffers if everyone is trying to get ahead of the person next to them. I became a much happier and more useful actor when I celebrated everyone’s success, not just my own.
What is your dream role?
Viola in Twelfth Night. Make me a willow cabin at your gate, and call upon my soul within the house!
Did you always want to be on Broadway?
Yeah. Of course! It’s THE dream. It still bowls me over that I’m here, in this incredible show. It’ll just hit me as I’m walking into the theatre for half hour. That magic doesn’t go away.
If you had to pick a different profession, what would it be?
I’d love to be a bona fide rock star. Play bass in a band and have a really scratchy rock voice. More realistically, I would be that person who had four different Master’s degrees. I’d be an English professor with tenure at some beautiful university with a campus and ivy-covered brick buildings. Maybe I can still do that.
What is the most played songs on your iPhone/mp3 player and your go-to Karaoke song?
According to my iPhone’s “Top 25 Most Played,” it’s a tie between “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift and “Her Mercy” by Glen Hansard. I think that’s a pretty accurate representation of my two music categories: gym music and subway ride music.
Anything else you want to add about playing Alison
I don’t know. Get back to me in five years! I don’t think I’ll be able to truly process all of this until after it’s happened. This experience has exceeded every expectation and hope I’ve had for my life as an actor. It doesn’t get better than Fun Home: the script, the family we’ve created, the audiences, its connection to this important time in our country. I stumbled into something so pure.
What was it like meeting the real Alison Bechdel?
It’s strange to know so much about a person before you even meet her. Her memoir is so deeply personal, and I had studied her Youtube videos and interviews to try to get inside her head. I was so intimidated by her for the first few times she was around. I didn’t know how to talk to her, because I admired her so much. And I had been spending every day thinking about her and attempting to inhabit her. Thankfully I’ve gotten over that (somewhat), and I love when she comes to visit us. She’s just a badass, man. Possibly the most cerebral, intelligent person I’ve ever met. And so generous with us and the show. She really let Lisa, Jeanine, and Sam do their thing. It took so much trust.
I still know every word off the Les Mis OBC and Rent OBC. So. You know.
What is the best Day Off Activity?
Seeing another show! Hands down. I’m not good at relaxing.
Favorite Guilty Pleasure: Food.
I’ve managed to incorporate peanut butter into my daily diet. I gleefully eat peanut butter every day. I’m like that Oprah commercial with bread, but with peanut butter. You feel me?
Hidden Quirky Talent.
Annoying people sitting next to me in theatres with my gregarious Italian laugh.
East of Eden by Steinbeck.
All-time favorite show.
30 Rock! Somebody bring me some HAM!
Favorite thing about NYC.
Taking long walks in a new neighborhood. Without fail, if I’m feeling sad or lonely, an hour’s walk in the city restores my spirit.