Lauren Weinberg knew she wanted to be an actor from her earliest memory and has barely looked back since. She broke through professionally playing Adelaide in Guys and Dolls on the national tour in 2014, a role she adores. Lauren has gone on to play Adelaide two more times, earning a Helen Hayes nomination for her work in the process. This summer I had the pleasure of seeing her honest, earthy portrayal of Belle in Beauty and the Beast at Theatre By the Sea.
She recently sat down to speak with me about balancing self-doubt with confidence, discovering the smallest moments of intention for the characters she portrays, how psychology and acting are similar, and why she sometimes feels like one of Pavlov’s dogs.
How did you get involved in theater? When did you know you wanted to become an actor?
I was four years old. My mother put me in one of those Broadway baby summer camps. At the end of the camp you put on a little show. We did “Putting On the Ritz”. I had a top hat and a cane and I stood there frozen. I didn’t sing anything, I didn’t say anything. My mom came up to me and said, “Oh my god, we never have to do that again. I’m so sorry, I thought you’d enjoy this.” And I looked at her straight in the face and I said, “But I want to do it again.”
So there was never any doubt for you.
I remember the day I moved to New York. It was the summer after I graduated. I was all packed up with my parents driving. It was somewhere in Ohio I remember questioning myself, “Oh my god, did I ever re-ask myself if this was something I wanted to do?” because it was always the plan. Besides that, it was never a question. And I got really lucky with my parents because they just kind of believed in me. I think I was a talented kid, enough to have potential to be trained. They are my biggest, biggest fans
When you were standing there frozen at the age of 4, do you think you are more of an introvert who can be outgoing or are you an extrovert?
As an adult, definitely, an introvert with the ability to be extroverted. As a kid, no. As I grew up I realized the competition and it goes from a hobby to a job, the doubt set in. In college I had a professor tell me that I apologize when I walk into a room, without even saying it. I apologize for being there, for taking up their time, thinking I’m not good enough. That’s something that I’ve worked on ever since becoming a professional, knowing my worth and just trying to have no fear.
I think that’s a particular problem that women have, that we apologize a lot.
For sure. But I think in this industry it goes for all genders. You are not selling a product, you are selling yourself. You are your brand, so when someone says “No” to you over and over and over again, it’s not just the work you did, it’s literally who you are. That’s really hard to swallow. And yet we are supposed to keep this really fine line between confidence and foolishness. I struggle with that. I wouldn’t go into Wicked and say, “Well I’m the next Idina Menzel”. But at the same time I should definitely go to my manager and say, “Why am I not getting appointments for Wicked?”
You said that it’s not about selling a product, you’re selling yourself, you are the product. Do you ever feel like it’s about fit and timing? Does that help reframe it for yourself?
One hundred percent. But you can’t leave that all up to luck. And eventually after years of success or lack of success, you say, “Well there must be something tangible that I must be able to change.” The biggest role I had was on tour, in Guys and Dolls as Adelaide, I got cast in 2014. And that really opened the door for me for a lot of different things. But I think I got a callback because the director went to Penn State. He saw it on my resume and he gave me a little joke about it and I responded back to him. There were 300 other women in there that day who could have probably easily played that role. You wait and take solace in knowing that my time will come, it has to be just right. But that doesn’t settle well with someone who is trying to get to a goal. So yes, it definitely has to do with timing but I don’t think that calms me down at all.
How do you prepare for an audition?
I like going in the mornings. I will always warm up, fifteen minutes to half an hour, usually just a vocal warm-up. I think dress is really important. The casting directors, it’s their job to have an imagination, but at the same time they are seeing so many people that day, you don’t want to show up for Carousel in your jeans and your high boots. You want to make it a little easier for them.
Do you use self-talk before an audition to help prepare mentally?
I’ve done hundreds of auditions that now I think it’s a Pavlovian response. When I get to certain buildings my anxiety level rises, I can feel my heart beating. I’m really lucky that I’ve been in this career long enough that I see really friendly faces wherever I go so it’s almost like social hour [at an audition]. I just try to focus on my material, trust myself, breath, and walk in.
How do you prepare for a role?
I love table work, I love finding things out. I think it’s really important to find intention of a scene before you do it so you know why you’re there, what you were doing right before. I was trained in Meisner in college. For example, when I played Adelaide in Guys and Dolls I had to figure out what she wanted beyond getting married. What is she doing today and why is she crossing this block right now? If you think of the smallest detail, it transports you.
What role does self-care play when you are in a show in terms of maintaining your instrument and your stamina?
I think this profession is very much like being an athlete. Physically, whether you are a dancer or not, because you are your brand, you have to know your type. Physical condition also helps whether you’re trying to do 8 shows a week, whether you’re dancing or not.
I take a lot of vocal care. I think sleep is the biggest factor. I steam in the morning. Depending on where I am, those allergy pills are amazing! I’ll do a nasal spray. Sometimes if I’m feeling it down there [in her throat], I will take a Mucinex. The coolest thing I picked up from speech and vocal therapy was that when you wake up in the morning, any kind of talking or voice is not warm yet. So I always do a short little, narrow in range speaking warm-up when I wake up. I will do all of that and I will opt out of the alcohol and the loud places. It’s all about self-care because you can get injured just as much as the next person.
How does the audience response impact your performance?
I love doing comedies because you can always measure their enjoyment by their laughter. From the first applause, from the first laughter, from the first groan, that energy affects every performance. I admire the people who say “Well, it doesn’t matter if I have an audience or not.” I truly need it, especially in musicals.
I think that’s the great thing about live theater, it’s a symbiotic relationship. There is not live theater if there isn’t an audience. And there is no live theater if there aren’t performers on the stage. We need each other to make this thing that only exists in that moment and never again in that exact way.
I feel bad because it’s kind of like we’ve captured them for three hours. It’s the purest form of free speech. You paid money so that I can tell you things that you might not want to hear, but you’re going to listen to it and you’re going to see it in a new way and you’re hopefully going to have some kind of emotional response to it, whether it’s good or bad. And there’s such power in that.
You can actually feel yourself get picked up by the material in the audience and moved somewhere else from where you started.
Absolutely, where you question your own opinions or your own feelings or thoughts. Company, I think it has flaws but it’s my favorite musical because on a personal level it tells you things. In “Sorry/Grateful”, the first time I heard it I thought, “That’s just a man song, they don’t know what they are talking about.” I was mad about it because they were talking truth. It makes you question things without talking down or explaining things to you. You are being transported in art and hearing it that way. It’s letting you come to term with things.
Let’s talk about Eponine in Les Miserables, who is such a tragic character. Playing such a heavy role like her, how do you contain the emotionality of playing the character so that you are not bringing her home with you?
I think what definitely helps is the energy and dynamic of the people you are working with. It was very easy, that particular production, it was very easy to feel loved. I had a really great Marius. He was very kind, so it was kind of easy to fall for him every night. I was in a healthy relationship at the time myself. So it was pretty easy as an actor to have arms to hug you at the end of shows from the people I was with and my boyfriend at the time. It was a short contract but it was a pretty dark three weeks. When you are in the theater and you are transported with the music and the lights and the costumes, you feel everything right there so I don’t really have a problem with bringing things home with me.
You’ve played Adelaide in Guys & Dolls three times [for which she earned a Helen Hayes nomination]. What do you think makes Adelaide tick?
I find Adelaide and Nathan probably one of the most relatable couples in musical theater to date. People will argue that with me because it is a Golden Age musical and they are supposed to be the comedic relief. There is the main love story, which is between Sarah and Skye, this gambler and this goody-two-shoes, who fall in love in one night. Then there is a couple who love each other so much that after 14 years neither of them have given up on each other. They are both so independent and they have such resolve, something is not letting them get to that final goal. They know each other’s habits and they know what pushes each other’s buttons. They also know backwards and forwards what makes each other happy. It’s just so darn relatable.
You recently played a Disney princess [Belle in Beauty and the Beast at Theatre By the Sea]. How did you reconcile the manhandling by Gaston and the Stockholm Syndrome undertones with Beast as a modern woman?
That one was a tough one for me. It definitely took a lot of table work time for some guidance. The two things I had a tough time with was the way Gaston handles Belle and how polite she is back to him and there are three pages between [Belle saying to Beast] “Promise or no promise, I won’t stay here” and [singing] “There’s something sweet and almost kind.” I had to figure out how to do this. For the Beast, our director, Bob Richard said, “She is so used to finding these one-dimensional people in her town that she doesn’t relate to and she knows she’s different. She doesn’t have friends and she’s not sure why. She just knows that there has to be something else out there.” When she meets this Beast, there is this sense of adventure that she is drawn to, there is so much depth to him. He intrigues her to dig further to find what this is. Then at the start of Act II they do the wolf chase and he saves her life. She then has the choice to leave him for dead or to help him back and she takes him back to the castle voluntarily. From that moment, I think it is a conscious choice to stay.
With Gaston, the director also helped us. We talked about whether this is a case where she is being polite to him and she’s getting annoyed or is this something that has been happening over and over and over again and she has been done with it for years. We decided it was the latter. You can always strive to find truth in those situations, even if it takes you outside of your comfort zone.
Next up for you is Ilona in She Loves Me at The Wick Theater. Is that kind of a siren easy for you to play or will you have to work hard to pull her out of yourself?
I think a happy medium between the two. I don’t think Ilona is very bright and she’s okay with that. She’s very emotionally sensitive and in touch with those things and she has respect for herself. I’m really excited to live in that world. It’s challenging to play someone who isn’t very bright because when you are trying to find your intention and your explanation for it you just think, “Well, she would just say this and think this.” But she doesn’t. So maybe that might be a stretch, working on keeping her sincere but true to the character written.
Can you talk about a recent performance you’ve watched that has moved you?
LW: I just saw Hello Dolly on Wednesday, I feel like I can’t talk about anything else! Bette [Middler] was wonderful. I knew I would love Bette but her acting was so good. She brought me to tears in those short little monologues that she had. We were just smiling the whole time, it was so infectious.
What is your favorite thing about live theater?
The ability to evoke emotion in complete strangers. It’s so powerful. Like I said before, it’s the purest form of free speech.
Lauren is as much a delight in person as she in on the stage. The thoughtfulness she puts into her craft is evident in her stage work, which never feels false. If you are in the southern Florida area, take the opportunity and grab a ticket to see her in She Loves Me at the Wick Theatre. You can find out more about Lauren at her website .