by Greg Hugh
In the spirit of full disclosure and complete transparency, I am letting you know that I am writing this as a proud grandfather By Greg Hugh
after several staff writers had schedule conflicts. This is an article about Lauren Hugh’s career development and ultimately decided that I was actually the most qualified to write about her. Naturally, I need to refrain from being overly biased in reporting the facts here since there is a good possibility that some of this material may make it into a future issue of Playbill!
Lauren’s first exposure in the spotlight occurred when she was only 2 years old -- she appeared in an ad for Huggies Diapers (See front page) and ironically, she was posed sitting at a piano, an instrument she learned to play later. Her grandmother Linda (my wife), had heard about a casting call for models, so Lauren’s mother, Patty, took her for an audition and she was selected. Did Kimberly-Clark have a premonition of Lauren’s future?
Looking back on her childhood, Lauren along with her older sister Megan, loved to put on shows and perform since they always had a captive audience, their family. While she may have enjoyed an average childhood raised in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, she managed to earn a black belt in Tae Kwon Do classes she took with her father, Brian. Because she loved to sing, her mother decided to enroll her into the Chanhassen Dinner Theater (CDT) summer musical theatre camp when she was only 8 years old. At first, Lauren resisted; but now admits that had she not gone to those camps, she would probably not be in theatre today.
She continued with CDT for 10 years. She also started taking voice lessons from Michelle Barber, who oversees the camp and is married to Michael Brindisi, artistic director at CDT. After graduating from high school, Lauren accepted the job of CDT camp assistant. She then spent the next few summers at CDT continuing to share her love of theatre with the younger generation. In an interview with Lakeshore Weekly (“There’s no business like show business,” September 2014), Lauren described the weeklong summer camp as being filled with acting exercises, role-playing, making costumes and props, learning choreography and songs, leading up to an end-of-the week performance on CDT’s Main Stage for family and friends.
Baking is another one of Lauren’s passions, which she probably inherited from her mother. She actually started a business in 2010 called Peace of Cake Bakery. She wanted to earn money for college so she made time to promote the business and has catered events like graduations, baby showers, birthdays and weddings for a variety of clients, including family and friends. You can follow the Instagram account @peace_of_cake_bakery or check out her website, www.peace-of-cake.biz. She also considers herself a huge “foodie.” Lauren has always had a passion for food and food culture, so she created a blog and Instagram account to document her many food adventures around Minnesota. If you want a good source for finding a restaurant for your night on the town, read her blog at foodandforkmn.blogspot.com or follow her Instagram account @foodandforkmn.
Since Lauren also had an interest in art and graphics, I recruited and convinced her to be a cartoonist for China Insight. She was only able to squeeze this in for most of 2011 when she was a freshman in high school and already had a lot on her plate: the Chanhassen High School Concert and Chamber choir, the swim team, student council, president of the Thespian Society, member of the National Honor Society and performed in school musicals and plays, which included “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Almost,” “Maine,” “Curtains,” “Urinetown,” “The Small Poppies,” “The Boyfriend,” “Fortinbras” and “Crazy for You.” She, along with her cast mates, were invited to perform on the Orpheum stage with the production of “Crazy for You” through the educational theatre program. During this time, she was also on the improv team and took comedy training at ComedySportz Twin Cities.
Since it was obvious that Lauren was determined to pursue a career in theatre, she settled on attending the University of Minnesota Duluth to continue her education. The UMD theatre department had created a professional alliance with the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre a few years prior. Since Lauren was very close with Brindisi and trusted the opinion of her and her daughter, a UMD alum, Lauren decided to attend UMD to pursue her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre. Thus began a four-year marathon of family road trips up north to attend Lauren’s performances plus a side trip to Grand Forks, ND, where she played Benvolia in “Romeo and Juliet.” a North Dakota Shakespeare Company production. She is again scheduled to be in another of their productions later this summer. Another trip for her family!
To date, Lauren has appeared in many college productions: “Twelfth Night” (Maria), “Charlotte’s Web” (Fern), “Antigone” (Ismene), “Into the Woods” (Lucinda), “Dogfight” (Ruth Two Bears/Chippy), “Joseph Dreamcoat” (Ensemble/wife), “Nine” (Diana), “One River” (Sharon/Claire), “Spring Awakening” (Thea),” “Tribes” (Sylvia),” Legally Blonde:The Musical” (Pilar)
Two of the productions Lauren was involved in during her time at UMD, “One River” and “Antigone,” were invited to perform at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre festival in Des Moines, Iowa - one of the most prestigious recognitions for a college production, and UMD is one of the more frequently invited (13 times) colleges to perform in the region. “One River” even went on to receive national recognition in Washington, D.C., for the play written by Tom Isbell and for the ensemble.
Although Lauren did not need to pay her dues as a starving actor (yet), she did want to be productive during her college years and undertook an assortment of interesting gigs that challenged her. She took on the real-life roles of a character performer (as Moana and Mulan), brand ambassador for City Girl Coffee (she served Jessica Lange a sample!), cheese demonstrator for Elsworth Cooperative Creamery, deli clerk and Starbucks barista. Lauren also was the marketing manager for UMD’s student-led theatre company, Stage 2. She would volunteer her time to run the social media accounts, promote shows and do graphics. For the first couple of years, she returned home for summer vacations and was able to return to her lifeguard job at LifeTime Fitness while continuing at CDT as an instructor during its summer camp program. But as the summers went on, she began getting work in summer shows in the Duluth theatre scene.
What did she enjoy most, acting or singing? Lauren stated, “My favorite part about acting and singing is that I get to be a storyteller. I think that is what originally drew me to this type of art. I’ve always had a very wild imagination. In theatre, people sing when talking or screaming cannot express the magnitude of their emotions anymore. It is larger than life and I like living life in a big way. I even started writing plays this year because I took a class with my professor, Tom Isbell, and immediately fell in love with it. I hope that I can get them produced in the future and I want to continue to write, because at the very core, it’s about the stories we are sharing with other people.”
Although it may not be as unusual as in the past for a young Chinese American to be interested in acting on stage, it was Lauren’s decision to pursue this as a career. Lauren’s father is 100 percent Chinese and her mother is 100 percent European (Irish, Belgian, French). So this 50-50 Eurasian bicultural background, along with her diverse life experiences will likely come in handy in her interpretation of roles she will play. She definitely has had the complete support of her family as can be attested to by all the miles we have logged on our cars.
It was a proud day for the Hugh clan when Lauren graduated magna cum laude from UMD this past May 5. As for her future plans, first stop is Grand Forks North Dakota to play Maria in “Twelfth Night” with the North Dakota Shakespeare Company. But we know she will still be spending the remainder of the summer in Minnesota since she will be performing as part of the ensemble for the upcoming “Mamma Mia!” production at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts from July 17-August 5. In addition to other prospects for work in the Twin Cities area, she will be heading off to New York to pursue her dream of performing on Broadway.
For now, all we can say to Lauren is…break a leg!