Life On & Off the Stage with Lauren Patton, Associate Artistic Director at Theatre Prometheus
Lauren Patton is the Associate Artistic Director of Theatre Prometheus, a not-for-profit theater company in the Washington, D.C. area. Patton directs, acts, and produces for the company, primarily focusing on topical stories that shine a spotlight on the human condition.
Patton’s journey to her current role with Theatre Prometheus was one of preparation, hard work, and collaboration. She has experienced the ups and downs of the creative world, the struggles of auditioning, the joys of artistic expression, and the discipline needed for success in her field.
Theater, like many other creative industries, is notoriously a very difficult industry to break into, yet Patton is proof that focus and dedication pays off. She consistently produces important and relevant theater productions with an extremely talented group of artists by her side.
Lauren Patton attended college at Loyola University New Orleans where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts and Mass Communications with a focus in Journalism. After graduating, she moved back to her hometown in the Washington, D.C. area where she became heavily involved in the local theater scene. Her most recent work as a director includes Theatre Prometheus’s production of 1 2 3: a play about abandonment and ballroom dancing, written by Lila Rose Kaplan for the 2018 Capital Fringe Festival.
The Importance of Networking
Patton began her involvement with Theatre Prometheus in 2014 in an unconventional way. She had been working as a freelance writer when she first met one of the company’s founders at a shop in downtown Maryland. This was not a planned meeting — just two strangers striking up a conversation about theater. The woman that Patton ran into was Tracey Erbacher, the Artistic Director for Theatre Prometheus.
What began as a brief conversation turned into a networking opportunity. Patton told Erbacher of her past work as both an actor and a stage manager. The two exchanged contact information, and eventually Patton was brought on as the Rehearsal Stage Manager (and for a few small acting roles) in Theatre Prometheus’ first main stage large-scale production of Twelfth Night. Patton describes her experience as, “super fun and crazy. And I wore so many hats […] I stayed late… I did as much as I could to make myself invaluable.”
“After the show ended, I just remember [Tracey] handing me a check. And I was very confused. Because the whole time, for like three and a half months, I thought I was volunteering. I stayed late, I helped paint, I went above and beyond. But I firmly believed that I was volunteering and so I was very confused when she handed me a check. And that is the first art that I did for money.”
“And then I continued to, kind of, orbit around this group of artists […] continued to just stay in their sphere so they didn’t forget about me. And they asked me to come on as just a regular company member. We were really small. There were like five of us. But I was in on the ground floor. I was really excited.”
Patton started as a general company member of Theatre Prometheus in 2014, eventually moving to Company Stage Manager, then briefly to Managing Director, before becoming the Associate Artistic Director, a role she has held for the past two and a half years.
Collaboration Is Key
As an associate artistic director, Patton is, in her words, “the Artistic Director’s artistic right hand”. She works closely with Erbacher and Literary Director Caitlin Partridge to plan and execute the company’s seasons. This involves reading a lot of plays, as well as directing and producing throughout the year.
Patton also has a background in casting for television, so she is deeply involved in the company’s audition processes. It’s a complicated element of pre-production that she has come to understand from the perspective of both a director and an actor.
Preparation Builds Confidence
Patton has been acting for the stage since she was a child, moving into producing and directing later in her theater career. Though she has years of theatrical experience to rely on, she still faces relatable challenges in her role as a theater director.
“For me one of the biggest things as a younger, greener director is facing my own personal imposter syndrome of going into a room and having more seasoned actors… people who have been in the D.C. theater for a while or have done my job… confronting that and knowing that…I’m good at what I do.”
This feeling of having to constantly prove oneself is true across any field when you are first starting out. More often than not, there is going to be someone in the room who has more length or breadth of experience than you. The takeaway? Know yourself, be confident in your strengths, and keep learning. Soon, people will be considering you the intimidatingly experienced one!
For Patton, she uses preparation to boost her confidence before embarking on a new directorial venture.
She explains, “I go in [to a rehearsal] with as much explanation of my vision as possible so that those [more seasoned] actors have more of a substantive reason to trust me. I prepare a lot.”
In this way, she is able present herself as a collaborative, thoughtful, and confident leader from day one.
Storytelling as an Art Form
Directing and producing a theatrical production takes long hours of casting, rehearsals, design meetings, and technical planning. The driving force behind Patton’s passion for this challenging style of artistic expression is the power that theater has to cross boundaries, tell stories, and move audiences. Patton’s dedication to her work with Theatre Prometheus can perhaps best be explained by the company’s stated mission:
Theatre Prometheus is a not-for-profit company of directors, designers, actors, writers, and other theater artists based in Washington, D.C. We produce both classical and contemporary works, we share a goal of exploring and promoting women-focused, diverse narratives. We believe in the power of local theater and are committed to providing opportunities to local artists, creating productions both by and for the communities we live in.
Patton recognizes the importance of producing pieces that communicate underrepresented narratives in order to introduce the audience to a new perspective that they may not encounter in their day-to-day lives. For Patton, theater taps into the true essence of humanity. She believes that theater has the ability to touch the hearts and minds of everyone in the space — from audience members to the stage crew to the performers themselves.
“Something that’s amazing about live theater, and that has been proven historically, is that when you see and put a face to an issue or a population, you empathize with them more…and you are less likely to have the ability to harbor hate and negativity towards that group.”
In December 2017, Lauren directed Soldier Poet by Darcy Parker Bruce, a piece about the Syrian civil war. She felt good about the impact that story made on the audience.
“I was able to get groups of people to come into a theater space and sit for 90 minutes and watch a human story.”
Hustle to Succeed
An actor is constantly auditioning, sometimes spending more hours at casting calls than as part of a cast. It’s a profession that requires thick skin, relentless hard work, and incredible passion. After working as an associate artistic director, producer, director, and actor, Patton has seen the challenges on both sides of the audition room.
“9 times out of 10, if you don’t get the job, it’s not about your performance or your attitude. It’s that you weren’t what they were looking for for that part. But know that you’re coming into that room as a solution… as a possible solution to the director’s problem of not having a cast.”
She went on to explain how, even after years in the field, she still has to rebuild that thick skin every time she goes to an audition as an actor.
Her advice to young performers? Hustle.
“My biggest thing is hustle. It’s something that [actors will] be told forever and by everyone. You have to want it. And it’s a lot more ‘no’ than ‘yes’.
“I don’t like being in an audition room on either side of the table. It’s stressful in different ways. No one in that room wants you [the actor] to fail. They want you to be what they’re looking for. They want you to be brilliant.”
The Power Of Theater
Patton’s favorite quote is from J.K. Rowling, as a self-proclaimed “huge Harry Potter nerd”.
“Words are […] our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”
“I think that that’s just such a beautiful sentiment, by J.K. Rowling. I think it applies really well to directing and acting and life in general — the power of words. Especially when they’re delivered in a certain way.”
As the Associate Artistic Director for Theatre Prometheus, Patton is able to impact audiences by translating the words of a script into an emotional journey on the stage. It is her belief in the shared human experience and her passion for storytelling that propels her to consistently produce and direct eye-opening theatrical productions with Theatre Prometheus.
For more on Theater Prometheus’ upcoming productions, visit their website at theatreprometheus.org or follow them on Twitter at @PrometheusDC.