The young Houston playwright, Lauren Belmore, brings her play to the Applause Theater in Houston. “She’s Beyond Good and Evil” is a series of five vignettes based on the music of St. Vincent. Lauren sits down with Free Press Houston to discuss her play, her thoughts on theater, and growing up in Houston.
Q: Tell me about your play based on the music of St. Vincent.
A: I am a student at the University of North Texas. [The play] was developed via a program we have at school called First Stage. It’s usually a director pitching plays but I decided to write a play myself after I saw St. Vincent at the Kesler in October 2011. It was a massive show and I was very struck by just how it wasn’t just this woman playing music. It was this strange confessional. Her persona, the rawness, the energy, the moods she created, I was like this could be some kind of theatrical experience. It was developed through [the UNT program]. Then I handed off the finished script in December 2011 to my advisor, Dr. Andrew B. Harris, his wife is Annie Clark’s sister’s boss. They handed the script off to Amy, who handed it off to Annie. She said, yeah this is great, she can have the copyrights, which is great because each vignette in the show is based on interpretations of the song that its named for. So there’s a vignette called “Cruel.” There’s a vignette called “Actor Out of Work.” So the mood I got from each song is portrayed in each vignette. The way I have it staged in the show is that the music is played before and after each vignette.
Q: What can people expect going into this show?
A: The play is a reflection of the human condition. The way I first presented it was situations or moods you wouldn’t talk about in polite conversation. And each of these characters are people you don’t ever imagine yourself relating to-one is a stalker, one is a prostitute, one is a guy who takes advantage of women at parties. At first glance, you’re like “Oh, these are scummy people” and after you understand who they are and why they do those things you start to sympathize with them. It will kind of unsettle you a little bit, you feel a strange sympathy towards them, but then again, that’s how St. Vincent’s music works. She starts out feeling a little weird, and you’re kind of into it, and then it switches, and you’re like “Oh, that’s crazy!” and that’s how I wanted the play to go, and how I wanted the reflections to go.
Q: Are these characters people you know?
A: The characters are imaginary. I made them all up.
Q: Did anyone ever question your ability to write about complex human emotion? Because you were pretty young when you wrote this, right?
A: I was 18 when I started writing this, and I’m 20 now. I think I did a pretty decent job at respecting people’s complexities. I find myself to be a very complex person. I don’t think it’s fair to call people shallow, or call people certain things. There’s that quote, “Be kind because everyone is fighting a hard battle.” Really, I’m paraphrasing because I don’ know the quote that well. I feel like everyone is complex. So when I was writing, I tried to think of myself in ways people don’t know me. They are ways I don’t really make public. These characters, I say I don’t really know people like that, but in each character there’s a little piece of me. Very dark ways of thinking and feeling that I’m sure everyone feels and everyone sympathizes with. But that’s the way it is; that’s the way people are. People can be embarrassed and ashamed, and they shouldn’t be. If anything, the play tries to make [you] come to terms with these ways of thinking and feeling and not feeling so awkward and embarrassed and strange about it.
Q: Embracing it a little bit?
A: Yeah. This is you; this is how you are. Other people are like this, too. I wrote this play because I’m on that thought train, too. Just kinda there to make you feel better and touched and sympathized and such.
Q: What was your role in bringing this play from writing the script to an audience viewing?
A: I obviously wrote this play and all last summer it was going through rounds of edits. I had a director; all of the cast and crew are students at UNT. At the beginning of this year I cast the show. My director did most of the directing but I played co-director to make sure she stayed true to my intent and what I felt with the music. I assigned her and said hey, listen to these albums, pay attention to these songs. I told my actors, listen to the song in this scene. My actor for “Cruel,” I said listen to “Cruel” as much as you can and try to get a sense of what your character is based on that song. All of them did that and all of them were spot on-were perfect.
Q: What do you think the role of theater should be in people’s lives?
A: I just had an argument in my theater history class about [how] plays need to teach a lesson. I don’t think theater necessarily needs to teach you a lesson. I think theater should be there to comfort you. It’s to escape the mundaneness of daily life. And I think it should be there to help you figure yourself out or figure out where you are. If anything, seeing a movie makes you feel inspired, it enlightens you. I think theater should enlighten. It’s there to be your crutch, to hold your hand. To be like, it’s all right, it’s cool. Things are going to figure themselves out.
Q: I feel like you touched a lot on what your play can do for people. Has anyone ever talked to you about their review of the play?
A: I was very worried about the reaction. It’s a very vulnerable thing. There are parts of the play where I’m like, that’s just straight from my head. There’s a specific scene that’s just very much me. This isn’t a play for kids. There are themes in here that are very mature and very sensitive and I was kinda worried about how people would react to that. And I don’t know everyone’s personal preferences. I don’t know everyone’s views and stuff. After each show I had friends in tears. They were just like, “I connected to it-it was great.” I was completely touched. [The co-chair of the theater department commented on] just how very deep and personal it all was. That was the best thing to hear, that people were touched by it because that’s ultimately the pay off. I don’t want people to say, “Lauren wrote a great play.” It has to be like, oh man, this really hit home for me.
Q: Since you’ve been attending UNT, do you have any retrospective thoughts on how Houston influenced you as a person or as a writer?
A: Yeah, I lucked out being near Houston, and being heavy influenced by the arts and the big theater community that’s here. I remember coming back for the summer and thinking this is the thing I want to surround myself with. It’s original writing and original theater and I think Houston does a great job of that. You have Catastrophic, Horse Head, Fan Factory. I like bringing that aspect into Denton, I think. I have friends at UNT that are from Houston as well, and I think we all recognize it’s had an influence on us.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add?
A: Come see the show! I’ll be there saying hi! I’m stoked.
She’s Beyond Good and Evil: A Series of Works Based on the Music of St. Vincent
Showing January 3, 4, 5 in Houston at the Applause Theater.
Performances begin at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $10 students, $15 GA online, and $20 at the door.