Texas Tech University

An Interview with Lauren Carlton

Shane Strawbridge

January 24, 2019

Lauren Carlton

Lauren Carlton is a third-year MFA Performance and Pedagogy student with a focus in directing. She is directing "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" in the 2018-2019 season as her thesis project.

Shane Strawbridge: What brought you to Texas Tech?

Lauren Carlton: Texas Tech was a little bit of an oddball in the landscape of graduate schools, but I mean that in the best possible way. The marriage of performance and pedagogy is pretty rare in higher education training programs. Usually you find MFAs in acting, directing, or theatre education which is typically geared at TYA (Theatre for Young Audience) populations, but I found Tech blended all of those elements in the MFA P&P program. I knew I wanted to have opportunities to act, direct, and teach in graduate school while furthering my individual research. Ultimately, Tech has been incredibly supportive in all of these endeavors throughout the past three years.

SS: What first drew you to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson?

LC: Oddly enough, I really disliked this show when I first encountered it! I thought it was super rude when I saw it in 2012, but it stuck with me throughout the years because it left me feeling so funky. When I first started seriously thinking about my thesis proposal in 2017, I felt like I was living in the twilight zone. As an artist and an educator, I was grappling with a landscape that was more mindful than ever of sensitivity and trigger warnings and a political landscape that seemed to have thrown those ideals into the garbage and lit a match. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson personifies that dichotomy. Since I've been at Tech, I haven't seen a work this highly satirical presented in the season. As a life-long fan of political comedy and musical theatre, the moment seemed incredibly ripe for this show.

SS: Why is this show important for audiences to see now?

LC: This show IS now. Originally performed during the Obama administration as a clap-back to the Tea Party movement, the show resonates quite differently today. BBAJ deals with bigotry, hate speech, the objectification of women, anti-intellectualism in politics, and racism using rhetoric that is surprisingly contemporary despite its 19th century happenings. Our current president cites Jackson as an inspiration. This musical asks, what happens when a man, who is told he's a rock star, is given the keys to the Oval Office?

SS: The show has been met with controversy at nearly every stop in its brief history. How have you navigated that for yourself and with the cast in preparation for audiences in Lubbock?

LC: This is a show that's been picketed, protested, and even in several cases, shut down in regional and academic theaters across the country. That's frightening. Our goal in this production isn't to alienate the cultures Timbers and Friedman portray unrealistically in the libretto. The portrayal originates from Jackson's own ignorance. He doesn't see folks unlike himself as worthy of the same rights and that's a huge problem that we've been grappling with since the founding of this country. It's important for us as a cast and creative team to recognize that Jackson's ignorance is not a "Get Out of Jail Free" card, but rather an opportunity for us to mine issues that are controversial.

I tell folks all the time, I don't have all the answers. None of us does, but what we can take the time to research the actual past and current perceptions of the work which we've done heavily throughout this process with the aid of our dramaturg Collin Vorbeck and our AD, Kenney Morris. We've tried to be respectful in the telling of this story while presenting the work itself.

Sometimes it boils down to listening more than speaking.