by Ryan Meehan
Raised in Hawaii, Lauren Hennessy is an actor, singer, and podcaster in NYC. Hennessy won the FRINGE NYC award for ‘Outstanding Performance’ and was the only foreigner nominated for the 2012 Icelandic Academy Awards for the film Clean (which won). Hennessy and co-host Emmy recently recorded a live taping of their podcast Bottoms Up With Hennessy for the NYC Podfest. Lauren was featured as a guest on the Ari Shaffir podcast Skeptic Tank: episode ‘Gender Bender’ and makes frequent appearances on the Keith and The Girl show. She’s currently working on a one-person show set to open soon, and she’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: What was the first live performance that really drew you to theater and the performing arts? What was it about that performance that moved you to follow that career path?
LH: I was 5 when I saw my first live show, Jerome Robbins Broadway-just a big compilation show of the choreographer’s greatest musical numbers. As I was watching I wasn’t sure if I loved it or hated it. It was a musical. It was weird. These were adults. What’s happening? But when the curtain closed on the first act, I panicked. I wasn’t ready for the show to be over. Then my mom explained “intermission” to me and the relief I felt-that there was a whole other half-was too much to ignore. Those were my people up there. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing. It was very instinctual. Also I fell in love with the 3 strippers in the Gypsy number.
RM: How did you come to be involved with the Keith and the Girl podcast?
LH: In 2009 I was in a gypsy rock-musical called Viva Patshiva!. One of my co-stars was Chemda, an incredible singer and also half of the podcast Keith and The Girl. Chemda thought I was funny and had me on the show. Shortly after, we began dating and I became a part of the KATG family. Now I help out the podcast from time to time working with them occasionally during busy parts of the year and am on the show here and there. I also have a podcast under their VIP program called Bottoms Up With Hennessy, a bottom-1o list show. One of their listeners has my autograph tatoo’d on his bicep. I’m basically living the dream.
RM: What is it about that format that you think has made the world of podcasting so popular?
LH: Keith and Chemda are pioneers in the podcasting genre and have busted their asses over the past 9 years and almost 2,000 shows growing the show’s success. Their format is honest, opinionated and lends a pretty open door to their personal lives. Coupled with an impressive guest-list, and their endearing-at times controversial personalities, people can’t help but become addicted to them. Their format and history has intrigued and inspired some of their listeners to start their own podcasts like The Black Guy Who Tips. They’ve inspired and helped some of the biggest podcasts out their now get their start like Marc Maron’s WTF. They care about the quality of what they do and love helping people get started on their own shows so they recently released The Ultimate Podcasting Guide, ever increasing the world of podcasting. They broke the ground and paved the way for others to enter the genre with their own ideas and shows, making podcasting what it is today. It’s pretty impressive. Even if I’m not engaged to the host.
RM: Compared to some of your other roles, was “Paprika” much more difficult to do because of the difference in linguistics alone?
LH: In Dave Jenness’ musical Viva Patshiva! Paprika was a saucy gypsy (Roma) woman that loves family, dancing and fighting with her semi-abusive Roma husband. For some reason I’m able to pick up some accents almost immediately. Something in it just makes sense and clicks in my head. This was one of them. Before rehearsals started I studied the accent through an online international language and dialect bank. I may not fool people from eastern Europe but my Balkan/Romanian accent at least wasn’t terrible enough to pull you out of watching the show. People really enjoyed the show. We even had some legit recurring Roma fans. I learned some Roma phrases and cussing we could play around with. Paprika was a lovely bitch and I had a lot of fun with her.
RM: You listed “Midwestern dialect” as a special skill on your resume…Is that hard to come by out East? I’m from Western Illinois…Do you think maybe I should put that on my employment resume or would it not do me any good?
LH: The ‘special skills’ section of the actor resume is one I’ve always had a hate-hate relationship with. -I’ve always been told that when my pidgin-Hawaiian accent comes out I sound semi-Midwestern. So I began exploring that dialect and now enjoy doing Midwestern accents from Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. To be honest it’s all the same accent…but I’m damn good at it. Does Illinois even have an accent? Sure, put it on your resume! You can blame me for it after the awkward interview.
RM: You were in two separate theater productions of variations on Romeo and Juliet where you played two different characters (Romeo and Mercutio)…What were the main differences between those two experiences and could you compare and contrast as if you’re explaining it to someone who knows nothing about theater?
LH: Ampersand was a musical re-telling of the R & J story written by Mariah MacCarthy. I played Romeo as a local indie-rock star that got the straight-girl socialite Juliet to fall in love with her. Meanwhile both of their moms are running against each other in a heated election for Mayor. It takes place in Verona, Iowa and addresses issues still sadly prevalent in today’s world regarding who we have sex with and why our family members, the church and government are so obsessed with that. In this version however, only one of them dies at the end. GASP.
I played Mercutio in yet another version of R & J, again addressing human rights of the LGBT community. In the play, Mercutio and Tybalt basically kill one another. In this version both characters were played as transgender men. I played Mercutio, a man that doesn’t feel the need to have an operation to be a “real man” but lives as a man in a woman’s body and “whoever doesn’t ‘get’ it won’t and who cares?” Tybalt was played as a man that has transitioned physically so that his mind and body match. He feels as though he is more of an honest and real man because of it and that Mercutio is living a lie, thus tensions build. It sounds convoluted but there were ways in which the original text went so perfectly with this storyline, I thought we stumbled upon Shakespeare’s lost intention for the show.
RM: You were cast as Leocadia in Michael John LaChiusa’s, “Hello Again” … Was it a huge challenge for you to play a character of that personality type at two very different periods in American history? What was the best part of working in that show?
LH: Hello Again follows the passing of an STD from the turn of the century through to the 20th century. It begins in the 1890’s with a whore (Leocadia) and a soldier, and ends again with a whore and a soldier in the late 90s, both played by me. It’s such a sexual play and I found it funny that my character, ‘The Whore’, was in the least two sexual scenes of the show. It made her more of an equal and more of a tragically beautiful person. Character-wise I pretty much played the same personality in both eras, with a bit of a vocal change to update the speech to be more modern-sounding in the more modern scene. The biggest challenges weren’t character-based but more technical. As the 1890’s whore I had to find a way to realistically have sex with a soldier through a girdle, stockings, some skirts and a petticoat while hanging from a ladder. The 1990’s whore was a tank and underwear-that’s it. You can see what I’m talking about in the gallery on my website. All I did in between the beginning and end of the show were squats.
The best part of working in that show was that I got to begin the story and end it. I think it made it a different journey and experience for me than the other actors. That almost never happens.
RM: How did you meet Tim Haskell and what were some of your favorite horror/suspense films when you were growing up?
LH:I began working with Tim at one of the biggest haunted houses around and Tim’s creation, Nightmare New York. I got the job hours after I got turned down to tour with a children’s theatre company because I “sounded like I wanted to eat the kids.” It was a perfect union. We became fans of each other and over the next Halloweens, I served as an actor, run ‘Kids Day’, was a line-speech-giver, producer and merchandise manager. Nightmareis family to me now. I wasn’t a huge horror fan growing up but I did like the psychological ones. 2 that I was particularly into was The Red Room Riddle in the 80s and Blair Witch Project. I saw it the first week it came out when everyone still thought it was real, so the experience was amazing.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
LH: I’m finishing up my one-person show, Typecast that Judy Gold has been helping me with. I’m starting to show it very soon so sign up for updates on my site if you’re interested!
Official Website: http://laurenhennessy.com/
Lauren on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurenhennessy
Lauren on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LaurenHennessy
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