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THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY – Lauren Elder of SIDE SHOW - La Jolla Playhouse Blog


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In last week’s edition of THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY, Side Show cast member Lauren Elder shared her excitement and experiences in preparing for the production during its earlier stages. This week, she gives us a peek at what’s been happening as she and her fellow performers, guided by the creative team, dig deeper into their roles as carnival oddities, the “freaks” of Side Show. Read on to find out more!

This much-anticipated musical begins its run at the Playhouse this week! Click here for tickets and information.

By Lauren Elder

One of the very unique elements of working on Side Show is that our director, Bill Condon, is a film director.  He’s not a stranger to musicals, though. He wrote the Chicago screenplay and directed the Dreamgirls film (which featured music by Side Show’s composer, Henry Krieger, who wrote the iconic “And I Am Telling You!”) Bill also happens to be an Academy Award winner (Best Adapted Screenplay in 1998 for Gods and Monsters), so we’re in pretty good hands!  He has always wanted to direct a stage show, and now it’s happening!

He brings a new twist to our method here.  Rehearsal and preparation for film is very different from how we go about things in the theatre world.  For one, screenplays are much more apt to change during rehearsal and filming. However, in theatre, you usually have a script that has gone through many changes and is pretty set by the time you show up to rehearsal.  But by merging these two worlds, we’ve been going through a very new process.  Bill likes to have an open dialogue with his actors to identify challenges, issues, etc. To find these moments, Bill has added time to the schedule for “table work.”

Table work is when the actors in a scene sit down around a table with Bill and go through the scene, finding different beats, raising questions about why their character is saying and doing what they are.  Then a dialogue opens up about everything that’s happening and if it’s serving the piece well.  If not, there are conversations about how to alter the scene, character or situation.  Then Bill meets with Bill Russell, who wrote the book and lyrics for Side Show, and they find a way to make these alterations work. Many of our script changes have come about this way. It’s been a fresh new approach to the material and a really cool opportunity for the cast to be a part of the creative process.

Another unique part of this procedure has been our character development.  Besides the Hilton twins, who were very real people, many of us play “freaks” in the side show, who are also based on real people.  Bill asked us to take a deeper look at them and figure out their stories: where they came from, how they ended up in this side show, and what their relationships are to the twins.  We all sat in a circle and talked about this with one another.  My character is the Living Venus di Milo, based on Frances O’Connor, who was born without arms and used her feet to eat, drink, smoke and shoot a gun!  We also learned about The Bearded lady, The Three-Legged Man, The Dog-Faced Boy, The Geek, The Lizard Man, The Tattoo Girl, The Half Man-Half Woman, The Fortune Teller, The Hottentot, and The Cannibal King, as well as The Roustabouts who worked the show.  All of these were real attractions at the side shows of the past, and some of today.

I’ve got to get back to tech rehearsal now, but I’ll be back next week to let you know all about what happens when we get into the theater with lights, sets, costumes and an orchestra! See you soon!

Lauren Elder has performed in Hair (Broadway, West End, Shakespeare in the Park/NY Public Theater) and As You Like It (Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival), and has also appeared in HBO’sBoardwalk Empire. She performs regularly in nightclubs around New York City, including Joe’s Pub, Birdland, 54 Below and Jazz at Lincoln Center. She recently recorded her debut album of original music. Hear it and learn more at

From a SIDE SHOW rehearal in the Play Development Center. From left to right: Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper ("Roustabout"), David St. Louis ("Jake"), Matthew Patrick David ("Geek"), Emily Padgett ("Daisy Hilton") and Erin Davie ("Violet Hilton"). Photo by Sandy Huffaker.