Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Lauren Graham
Current Location: Southern California
Lauren, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Hello and thank you for this space to share a little bit about my journey so far. Quick summary of how I got to where I am through the arts - I was born in the South, in Atlanta, Georgia into a church-founding family. My father was the Pastor and my mother was the Music Minister. This was my first introduction to music growing up. Being a mama’s girl, I first started to sing because she did and I was part of our church music team starting at 8 years old.
That early love of music never left and I continued on to be involved in high school musicals and local productions. After high school I attended Saddleback Community College becoming heavily involved in the music department there – focusing on opera and musical theater. I then transferred to Cal State Fullerton where I majored and graduated with degrees in Vocal Performance -Music and Public Relations – Communications.
During this time in study I was part of more local productions of musical theater and opera. Through music, I travelled the world and performed in some of the richest art-filled cities such as New York, Paris, Rome, and St. Petersburg.
After graduating in 2017, I continued on in my section leader position at Harbor Christian Church in Newport Beach and joined Pacific Chorale in Costa Mesa as a professional chorister. Both of these positions were part time while I built a career in my other field of interest – marketing.
Can you tell us a little more about what you've been working on recently?
Today, I am the Music Minister at Harbor Christian Church – leading and organizing an adult choir, a children’s chime choir, a praise band and a music writer’s workshop. This Newport Beach church is heavily focused on areas of social justice and music plays a big part in promoting this message. This is my current most vital platform in using the Arts to heal.
When not at Harbor, I work as a commercial sales account consultant at Envise in Garden Grove, helping my clients save money by working toward better energy and mechanical efficiency in their facilities. Many of the skills I learned in the theater world have helped me in this career and many other areas of my life.
The road of the artist is a sometimes long and bumpy road. Have you had to overcome any on your journey?
Who would have ever thought that the girl with one-leg would be cast as a dancer in so many productions? That has to be the most ironic part of my journey so far and has been one of the biggest obstacles to overcome physically, spiritually, and mentally. When I was twelve years old I was diagnosed with an aggressive childhood cancer – Ewing’s Sarcoma – in my right foot.
Even with a year of chemotherapy, the cancer began to spread and we had a decision: radiation or amputation. Even then, I knew that I didn’t want to risk ever having this interrupt my life again so I decided for amputation.
Being in the world of theater, I always feared this would be something that would instantly discount me from being able to tell a story authentically, to be believable or to even be considered by casting teams.
I am happy to say that I was proven wrong at every point in my journey and ironically for Phantom of the Opera, Phantom, Anything Goes, The Merry Widow and Grease - I was cast as a dancer or dance heavy role. Challenge accepted!
Are there any lessons that you've learned along your journey so far? Something that you'd want to tell your younger self?
Through actual life experience, mentors, other people’s stories, and even through the story-telling of theater – the biggest lesson I have learned is that LIFE IS SHORT. Even though our years and days can be filled with so many rich moments, time doesn’t slow down for anyone. This big lesson, taught early on, made me realize to follow my joy in all things. If a hobby, a relationship, a job, a habit, a living space or piece of clothing didn’t make me happy – I find a way to move on from it! Life is too short to waste on anything but happiness so don’t stay in situations that don’t add to that – it's not worth it.
This mentality helped me in my artist career in so many ways but a big one was moving from opera back to musical theater. For a time, it was my whole world and I wanted nothing but to be an opera performer but after a while it wasn’t fun anymore. It didn’t make me happy and I felt like after all this time and effort it was a betrayal to move on to anything else. This was a lie I was telling myself and the moment I moved on to find my happiness again, I found my love of music again. Listen to yourself, be honest and follow your joy.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
“If you can think of doing anything else besides performing, do that.” I know someone wise and famous said this and it was repeated to me by a dear teacher but I don’t know who it was. The words still are important and taught me a good piece of advice that I want to pass on.
I think certain art institutions or spaces of training do a great disservice to students or young artists in unknowingly or knowingly making them believe that if they are “truly serious” they must dedicate their whole lives to their art or they won’t be successful or they aren’t really serious about the craft.
For my journey, I don’t believe this. I do believe that the path of an artist isn’t an easy one because of what our society believes is “necessary,” but if you are an artist – you will make art wherever and in whatever you are doing. You can create art in a meaningful conversation with a friend. You can create a masterpiece in a Saturday morning pancake breakfast. You can put on the performance of a lifetime in a roundtable business meeting.
If you can think of doing something else or you find yourself passionate or interested in other areas of life besides being a true, 100% performer – give yourself permission to do so. It doesn’t make you less of an artist. If you are an artist, you create art with your every breath.
What inspires you? Can you tell us about a moment in your life you found to be inspirational?
The moment that has inspired me most occurred during the year I went through cancer – and trust me, it isn’t a super original inspiring moment for a theater girl. In 2004, my grandparents convinced my doctors to allow me to go to a noon showing of a recently released movie. I was just happy to be out of my room and not heading back to a hospital – I didn’t care what we were going to see and didn’t even know the movie title.
I remember sitting in the theater with popcorn in hand, just my grandparents and myself for the early showing. The trailers went by and the film began in black and white at a dusty auction with little context. All of a sudden, a chandelier was revealed from beneath a tarp and the timeless opening chords began, “DUUUUUHHHHHHH – Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh-DUUUHHHHH.” For the next two hours or so, I was swept away from my reality into Andrew Lloyd Weber’s world - Phantom of the Opera. It was the year of the film release and I was obsessed, a common story I hear.
I played the soundtrack constantly, singing the songs wherever I was – hospital room, church, home, doctor’s office – wherever. The movie would play 24/7 in my hospital room and nurses would ask if they would get their concert that night as I sang along. All I wanted was to be Christine and after researching how to do so, many musical coaches advised that though this was a musical, most of the performers were classically trained opera singers. This got me to beg my mom for voice lessons and I was then swept into the romantic and emotive world of OPERA. A love I still hold dear today.
What do you consider your proudest moment?
My proudest moment was soloing at Carnegie Hall in New York City. I felt it in my gut even if I didn’t want to admit it that this was my Swan Song in classical singing. This was my mountaintop of knowing I had reached a pinnacle in this art form and after that, my love of performing in the classical world had a sharp decline. But that is my warmest and most proud memory to date.
The mission of The Rose is to make the arts accessible in the community. What purpose do you think the arts or artists play in today's society?
Artists and the arts have the responsibility of being the mirror to society. It may not be a direct reflection. It may be presented in the abstract, in fantasy, in the ridiculous or absurd but artists and their works are always rooted in the truth, the sometimes ugly and the sometimes beautiful truth, of the human experience and existence. The Arts allow us to look at ourselves in ways we can handle so that we can improve and remind us that no matter how bleak the world may seem, the fight for beauty, love, justice and harmony is always worth it. The “Happily Ever After” is always a possibility even if it turns out slightly different than you first imagined. The Arts give us hope. This is its past, present and future.
What are your hopes for the future of the arts?
In the near term, I cannot wait for this COVID pandemic to be behind us so that we can return to stages and concerts and festivals. In the long term, I dearly would love to see the arts treated with the same amount of importance, reverence, and funding with which sports programs are given. I continue to see sports programs in schools get so much funding while the budgets for arts programs are slashed or even eliminated altogether. I think this is an incredible disservice to our youth of today, and tomorrow. There are so many potential artists out there who deserve to have access to good, quality arts programs in school.
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