By Abigail Trabue
Growing up I wanted to be a meteorologist, veterinarian, doctor, architect, pilot, artist, investigator, chef, farmer…the list goes on and on. And by being a performer, I can be anyone or anywhere I want to be.
Lauren Braton has been working in Kansas City theater for over a decade, she has graced the stages of KC Rep, Starlight, Spinning Tree Theatre, Quality Hill Playhouse, MTH Theater at Crown Center, and The Kansas City Civic Opera Theater, to name a few. As PerformInk Kansas City kicks off its “Profiles” series, it seemed only fitting to interview an actor who’s name has crossed my path numerous times in only a few short months.
A graduate of UMKC’s Conservatory of Music, Braton holds a BFA and an MFA in vocal performance, and when asked the obligatory “what’s in your book” question, she answers with exactly the kind of response you’d expect from one who’s spent the majority of their adult life studying music. “I have a big mix of styles in my book. Musical theater, jazz, opera, pop, country.” Expanding on her Musical Theatre selections, a genre which Braton has spent the majority of her career working in, her audition book reflects a wide arrange of options, but also a sense of knowing who she is as an artist and where she is strongest vocally. “I’m a big Adam Guettel fan, so I’ve got ‘Through the Mountain’ from FLOYD COLLINS, and some LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. I have PHANTOM OF THE OPERA selections, selections from VIOLET and NINE as well. I have music from THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (Francesca), and some belty jazz standards. I even have some Kurt Weill and a couple of Opera arias!”
Braton received her Equity card back in 2010 while working at Quality Hill Playhouse. When asked if AEA was a goal right out of college, she explains that establishing herself first in the arts community was her main focus, while also taking time to earn her teaching certificate in K-12 Vocal Music.
I was curious why she would want to earn another degree after receiving her Masters when so many artists are ready to shed the educational world and dive head first into their profession. Braton’s response is one I could relate to, and one I think we all experience at some point in our artistic career – panic. “I had a moment after my master’s degree when I panicked. I said, ‘can you really make this performance career work, will you survive?’ So I immediately enrolled in the certificate program at UCM, and completed it in two years. Then I got out of the program and literally looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘Girl, you’re going to regret not trying this performance career. Get out there.’ So I worked my butt off, started auditioning like a mad woman, and broke into the scene somehow. I did my first professional show around 2006-2007.”
But Braton hasn’t set her teaching aside. In fact, she’s found a way to meld her love of teaching with her love of performing. In addition to substituting in the Lee’s Summit school district, she has her own voice studio through Kansas City Young Audiences. “I really love teaching. I love music directing. And have the best of both worlds. And I could see myself fully devoting my life to [teaching] someday. But not now. I feel [acting] is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
If you get a chance to look over Braton’s resume you’ll see she clearly has nothing to regret and has found a home in the Kansas City theater community. With highlights that include NINE (Louisa Contini), VIOLET (Violet Karl), MUSIC MAN (Marion Paroo), GUYS AND DOLLS (Sarah Brown), FIRST DATE (Casey), SHREK (Princess Fiona), PASSION (Clara), and the currently running SHE LOVES ME (Amalia Balash) at MTH Theater, Braton has carved out a career that shows her versatility and her likeability on the Kansas City scene.
I asked Braton if she had a few past favorites. “I loved playing Violet. It was one of the most challenging and incredibly satisfying artistic experiences for me to date. I learned a lot about myself too and faced some of my own fears and insecurities while developing that role. Charlotte Malcolm in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC was a delight. And I adored Princess Fiona in SHREK at The Coterie. Currently, I’m really enjoying Amalia Balash in SHE LOVES ME at MTH Theater at Crown Center. I love having a crack at the comedic stuff from time to time.” And what about roles she’d like to add to her repertoire? “I’d love to play Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY (before I get too old!), Francesca in BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, and when I’m a bit older, Margaret in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA.
It is obvious Braton is settled here in Kansas City, but I still had to ask, with as much experience as she has, why has she stayed in KC and not tried for the New York or Chicago scene? Her response was genuine Kansas City. “Kansas City is such a wonderful place to live. And there’s so much opportunity here. I haven’t felt the need to leave. Our community has tremendous support for the arts. And it just keeps growing and growing. Also, I’m a small town country girl. And I love my family too much to leave them behind. We’re all very close. They are my rock. Honestly, big cities give me anxiety, and I don’t feel myself. I think I’d feel stifled in a big city.”
But of all the above, the most revealing, and most exclamation-inducing responses came when Braton and I learned we both grew up obsessed with Sarah Brightman, adoring PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and enjoying many a Saturday night listening to George Harter’s A NIGHT ON THE TOWN on KXTR. As we emailed back and forth about our similar childhood paths towards a musical theater career, laughing over how we both recorded a NIGHT ON THE TOWN on our cassette tapes, and of late nights spent reenacting scenes from PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in our bedrooms, I got the distinct impression that Braton is a pretty likeable person. Her positive attitude, her focused work ethic, her enthusiasm to talk to me about art, and her vivid childhood imagination make it easy to see why, out of all the careers she pondered as a kid, she landed in the world of theater.
There has to be something deep within that keeps us motivated to stay in a career that asks us to go to incredibly vulnerable and raw places on a regular basis. For Braton, that something is the ability to live a thousand lives in one single lifetime. “I can be anyone or anywhere I want to be. It’s incredibly difficult at times, but my goodness, it can be amazingly rewarding. I love the challenges it brings, I love studying people and history while developing a role. I have to…and want to be creating all of the time. I love the magic it brings to my life. It fulfills my soul. Without an artistic outlet, I am completely lost.”
A sentiment I think many of us who work in the arts can agree with.
Lauren Braton can be seen in MTH Theater’s production of SHE LOVES ME through April 9th. For tickets visit mthkc.com.
For more information on Braton visit laurenbraton.com.