By Meredith McBride, Managing Editor, August 2019
Sunlight streams into a typical New York City apartment as Lauren Patten sits wearing an "I'm with Her" t-shirt. Occasionally her cat can be caught meandering about in the back of the webcam view.
Currently, she is preparing for the Broadway debut of rock musical “Jagged Little Pill”, in which she portrays Jo, a genderqueer teenager exploring a relationship with her best friend, Frankie Healy. The show traces the Healy family, tackling topics such as opiate addiction, racial identity, and the "Me Too" movement. The music of the show is mainly from Alanis Morissette's homonymous album, but features her other songs, including some written exclusively for the production.
Before becoming Jo, Patten played Alison Bechdel in "Fun Home" on Broadway, who comes out as lesbian. Roles that explore identity catch Patten’s eye: “Art helps people grow and understand themselves deeper, as an audience member and for the people working on it. I want to have more conversations about that; identity and your understanding of it is very fluid, and is going to shift throughout your life," Patten said.
As she began to discover her own identity, she also debated whether or not she should reveal it publicly. Although concerned about being typecast, Patten realized she couldn’t “rule [her] life or career based on those thoughts,” and recognized her opportunity “to be a voice and example for younger queer people who want to feel that it’s safe and normal and okay to be queer and successful in life,” which was “much more important than listening to any fears.” In particular, she is excited to share her experience as a bisexual woman in a relationship with a man, “which is not something that is often valued or talked about.”
Patten also loves the political firepower that comes with the show due to its “social nature.” She is involved with activism outside of “Jageed Little Pill,” advocating for change surrounding queer issues, gun control, and climate change. She recommends that young people become and remain involved with issues they're passionate about through clubs, protests, petitions, and education.
To Patten, voting is especially important: "Regardless of how broken or functional you view our political system, it's an enormous right and privilege, and to not vote when you have the ability to is a huge disgrace to democracy," she said. Patten also believes that even if you’re too young to vote, you’re never too young to discuss it. She herself exemplified it: when Patten was 16, she interned for Obama’s campaign, implementing her ability to make change before she could vote. Patten also utilizes social media to express political views, and although she thinks it can be a “great tool” for young people to debate, she points out, "it can be hard to have nuanced conversations on social media; nothing is going to replace being in a room with people."
Despite the political nature of the show, Patten finds the paramount message to be the value of honesty; every character in the show grapples with “trying to hide [their] pain and [their] truth to present something [they] think is more acceptable to others,” she said. To her, the show emphasizes the importance of undergoing the immensely difficult experience of being honest not only with others, but yourself.
There are equally meaningful takeaways from the music of the show. Because “Jagged Little Pill” is “a very formative album for a lot of people–– so huge and emotionally important–– to see it reinvented in this way, and for people to be able to experience it again, in a new light, is extraordinarily moving for them,” Patten said.
During the show’s first preview at the American Repertory Theater, she discovered that “tons of people had flown in from all over the world who were big Alanis fans. It was the first time it hit me that I was singing a song that people knew.” She described it as “exciting, and also a little scary” knowing how many people look forward to the performances of their favorite songs. However, as consistent and well-deserved standing ovations indicate, Patten is not disappointing fans, especially with her climatic renditions of “You Oughta Know” midway through the second act.
Although the show features songs over two decades old, the show feels modern and relevant in today's society: “Alanis's lyrics transcend the moment that she wrote them," Patten said. The show is unique because "it doesn't shy away from exactly what we're going through right now as a country. It just goes there without any layers of metaphors.”