Lauren Pritchard, known professionally as LOLO, is a Composer, Singer/Songwriter, Orchestrator, and Music Producer from Jackson, TN. Her Off-Broadway musical Songbird was a New York Times Critic’s Pick, and she originated the role of Ilse in the original Broadway production of Spring Awakening. She was also a writer (and featured vocalist) on Panic! at the Disco’s hit single “Miss Jackson,” and she later re-created a sample of “Tom’s Diner” by Susanne Vega for American Rock band Fall Out Boy’s single “Centuries.” Her full-length album In Loving Memory of When I Gave a Shit was released in 2016 by Atlantic Records, and her debut feature film (Romance) In the Digital Age was released by Comedy Dynamics in November 2017. Pritchard composed the song “(Romance) In the Digital Age” for the film in addition to starring in it.
A Conversation with Lauren Pritchard
Jamie Maletz: So first of all, you are no stranger to the Broadway world, because you were in the original cast of Spring Awakening. What was it like to be a part of that production and perform on Broadway?
Lauren Pritchard: For most of us in the cast, since we were really young, it was our first real big boy job/big girl job, and it was a very interesting and overwhelming way to enter the professional theatre industry. In a good way. I was living in L.A. when I got cast in the show, and I had to move to New York. I was a senior in high school. It was crazy. It was an amazing learning experience. I had never really been through anything like that before, so it wasn’t like I had any expectations. You know, I was just there doing and learning as I went along. Especially now that so much time has passed— almost 14 years— there are times where it almost feels like it didn’t really happen. Because it was so long ago and it was such a crazy experience. But it was amazing.
JM: So how did you get cast in the show when you were living in LA? Did you audition at an open call or did you have an agent?
Lauren Pritchard: I had an agent. And they mostly completed all the casting from New York. But they did a few trips elsewhere. They went to Chicago. They went to Denver. They went to San Francisco, they went to LA. I think they went somewhere in Florida. I was the only person that they cast from quite literally out of town. Gideon Glick was from Philly. Remy Zaken commuted from Connecticut for a while. And we had a few people that were really young and still commuting. But I was the only person that came from, like, literally across the country. I auditioned, and at the time it was for a workshop. And that workshop was leading into the last workshop leading into Off-Broadway. I went on the audition. I didn’t hear anything for two months, and then I was at home in Tennessee visiting my family and I got a phone call saying “Can you fly to New York for the final callbacks?” And so I did, I flew to New York the week before Christmas for callbacks, and it was a crazy couple of days. I went in two days before, they gave me a whole bunch of material to learn. I actually auditioned for the part that I originated, which is Ilse, but I also auditioned for Wendla which is the part Lea Michele ended up originating. I wanted the Ilse part, but the Wendla part was the part that at the time had the most material. So they were sort of making all the girls audition with it. And then the final callback was, like, an eight hour day. And they were letting people go, keeping people and whatnot, just kind of like a revolving door— a crazy day. And then at like 7:30 at night, Jim Carnahan and Carrie Gardner pulled me into a side room, and they were like, “because you traveled so far for this audition, we just wanted to let you know that when you come back from Christmas you’ll get your official offer. We want you to play Ilse.” And I was like, WHAT?!
JM: And who told you that—the producers of the show or the director or—?
Lauren Pritchard: It was the head of casting and his associate, because everybody else from the creative team was still in the room. And they were haggling over who was going to be Melchior, Moritz, and Wendla. And it wound up being Jonathan Groff, John Gallagher, Jr., and Lea Michele. But because I had traveled far, they wanted to tell me that night that they were offering me the role. And I was like, “Yes, of course. Oh my God. This is crazy.” Because… well, what they actually said was, “We want to offer you the role of Ilse, unless you want to stay in the room and haggle it out for Wendla.” And I was like, “I don’t want that part. This is the part I wanted.” And they were like, “Great. Well, it’s yours.”
JM: That’s so crazy, because normally you hear about people who have to wait a million years to hear anything, if they hear anything at all.
Lauren Pritchard: Yes, exactly. It was pretty surreal, honestly.
JM: I’ll bet! Okay, now I’d love to talk about your musical that you wrote, Songbird, which was a New York Times Critic’s Pick. What is it about, and how did you come to write it?
Lauren Pritchard: Songbird is loosely based off of the Anton Chekhov play, The Seagull, and we have taken the story and themes of that play and dropped it into modern day singer-songwriter Nashville. So instead of having the mother and son lead characters be an actress and playwright, we have a mother who’s a massive country music star and a son who is a songwriter, and it revolves around them doing various things within the industry and the Nashville community. Michael Kimmel wrote the book. Even though I grew up in Tennessee and I spent a lot of time playing and singing and existing around country music, I had never written it. So it was a new experience for me, and it’s kind of all different levels of country music. It’s a little bit country, a little bit bluegrass, a little bit folk. And, you know, first and foremost, I’m a piano player. I play bass guitar, I play electric guitar, but piano has always been my main instrument. So working on a show where I was also having to write fiddle parts and cello parts and guitar parts, it’s a totally different thing. And so that was interesting, but for Michael and me, it was just a very natural collaborative process. And we wrote the show pretty quickly. And you know how the world of theater works. You can work on something forever and it never ends up on the stage. But we have two producers who’ve been with us the whole time who have been just the most incredible champions on our behalf: Allison Bressi and Diana Buckhantz. They made sure workshops happened and got us a one-night-only staged reading at Joe’s Pub. That sold out in a day, and Michael and I were like, what’s happening? It was such an interesting response, because nobody asked us to write the show. No one hired us to do it. We just kind of did it. We believed in our show, obviously, but you just never really know what is going to happen. And so we did that, and then we did a couple more workshops, and then the people at 59E59 Theaters just really got behind our show. And getting the review that we got and becoming a New York Times Critic’s Pick was also crazy, because as you know, you cannot control any of those things ever. So you believe in what you’re doing with all your heart. And you hope that when you hurl your child out into the world, people are going to play nice with it on the playground, but you just don’t know what is going to happen. So we were incredibly, incredibly grateful for the response. And I literally wasn’t even able to be at opening night because it was a scheduling nightmare. I flew in the weekend before it opened just so I could see it before we froze it and make sure everything was all good. But I was in St. Louis on opening night, and I was backstage opening up for an artist called Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness. And my agent Kevin called me and he’s like, “Oh my God, we just got it [the review].”
JM: Oh, wow. So for people who don’t know what you mean when you say “before we froze it” … obviously people know that when you’re working on a new musical, there’s a ton of rewriting that goes on in the developmental phase. And then even when a show is in previews, the writers are still making changes. Can you explain what happens when you “freeze it”?
Lauren Pritchard: Sure. So there’s a lot of different ways that process can go down. Off-Broadway, during previews you literally figure out the technical elements of your show— any corrections, fixes, whether that is staging or a song or lyrics or dialogue, you fix all of those things. And then you have to freeze the show. [No more changes.] And the process on Broadway is longer; previews on Broadway can be anywhere from five weeks to, as we learned with a show like Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, forever. And all of that has to be approved through Equity. I’ve been through that now on both sides of the table; I had to go through it as an actor, working on Spring Awakening, and I’ve also been through it now [as a writer] with Songbird.
JM: That’s cool— so you have great perspective on the process. The next thing I wanted to ask you about is that you can do some serious name dropping with some of the people that you’ve worked with. You’ve lived with Lisa Marie Presley. You’ve played and sung with Panic! at the Disco. And obviously, you performed on Broadway with Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff and the rest of the original cast of Spring Awakening. Do you have any favorite stories or gig memories that you’d like to share?
Lauren Pritchard: I mean, I feel like it’s all been one big giant, crazy, hysterical blur. And I would say that I’ve done six years of work with the Panic guys at this point. One of my favorite stories to tell just kind of in general is the very first project I worked on with them. For their album that came out in 2014-2015, which was Too Weird to Live, Too Weird to Die, I did a song with them that I wrote and also featured on called “Miss Jackson.” I was in the music video. We shot the music video in Barstow, California. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there. It is literally in the desert. It gets so hot that you have to park your car in certain covered places, otherwise your tires will melt. It was 131 degrees outside when we went there to film the video. We filmed from seven at night till seven in the morning because you can’t be out during the day. When the sun went down, it was 110 degrees. It was so hot. We had these big fancy portable bathrooms that they had brought. And like, nobody was peeing. We were all drinking tons of water. Everyone was just sweating out all of the moisture, nobody had to pee. Anyway, the location for the video was on government land, like where the Marine nuclear testing goes down, and it looks like the surface of the moon. And at one point, it was like four in the morning. It was pitch black outside except for all of these huge spotlights we had surrounding us for the filming. And in the distance we see like, as though it’s a UFO, we see a bunch of lights coming towards us. The closer it gets, we realize it’s five trucks. Just regular pickup trucks, and it’s a bunch of Marines. They came over, and I don’t know what they thought was going on. I mean, clearly we had permits to be there. We weren’t filming illegally and the record company had paid for the video filming. But they were just soldiers on base, you know, and until they actually got closer, I think that they thought it was people messing around or whatever.
They get close. They realize it’s a film crew. And then a couple of the Marines are huge Panic! at the Disco fans, so they recognize Brendon [Urie], who is shirtless because in the music video, he literally beheads Katrina Bowden. She plays the evil witch character in the video and he literally cuts her head off while he’s shirtless. And these Marines are like, losing their minds over the fact that they’ve just turned up at a Panic! at the Disco video shoot. They had no chill, you know, all they wanted to do was take a photo, and so Brendon was like, “Yeah! I’ll take a photo with you guys.” So they park their cars in this really specific formation. And then they all climbed up on their trucks and did this whole thing where Brendon was up on the trucks with them. And it was literally four o’clock in the morning. It’s hilarious, but he’s a lot of fun. He’s super talented and super lovely. He’s one of the most grateful people to his fans. So he certainly goes above and beyond for them. It’s very sweet to see someone who’s been through as much as he’s been through, and the highs and the lows of his career, and just still be so gracious with everyone he meets. That’s one of my favorite Panic stories. And it was so hot, we were also delirious, like, what’s going on? And as soon as they drove away, he was like, did we hallucinate that?
JM: I love it. So how did you first get involved with Panic! at the Disco?
Lauren Pritchard: I got a phone call when they were working on that album, specifically that song. The song had a sample in it originally— the part that I wound up writing— and the sample didn’t get cleared. So they had to figure out what to do about the portion that had the sample in it. And so I got a phone call that was like, “Hey, Panic’s working on this thing and they had a thing happen with a sample, and it’s got to be written, and do you want to try to write it?” And I was like, “Well, sure.” Like, it may not work out. But I mean, hell, always give it a try. And it did, it totally did. And it was really cool. The first time I ever performed the song with them was at the Barclays Center. They were opening up for Fall Out Boy, literally in front of 16,000 people. It was the first time I ever sang with them. It was awesome. The song had been out for two months, and they called and were like, “Hey, we’re in New York. Do you want to come sing the song with us tomorrow?” And I was like, “For sure!”
JM: And how did you end up living with Lisa Marie Presley? That was a random fact I read about you and I was like, what?
Lauren Pritchard: Lisa’s oldest daughter, Riley Keough, has been a long time very close friend of mine. When I met Riley in high school, I had no idea that her mom was Lisa Marie, we were just friends. We hung out all the time. And she and I became really good friends. And then one night, she was like, “Hey, I’m having a sleepover, it’s like a big slumber party. Do you want to come?” I was like, “Sure, I’d love to come.” And we drive to her house and Lisa is there. I grew up an hour from Memphis — so Elvis is everywhere. And there’s a picture of Lisa as a child and Elvis like, on their piano in their living room. And I was like, “What’s happening here? What in the world is going on? Where am I, and what is going on right now? What is happening?”
JM: It’s so funny when something happens and you’re just like, Is this real?
Lauren Pritchard: Yeah, so I lived with them because my younger brother had gotten into a really bad skating accident, and so we had to leave L.A. and go back to Tennessee. So I went around saying goodbye to all the friends that I made. Riley was one of those people, and she was like, “You can’t leave, you can just live with me.” We’re in high school; I’m like, “I can’t live with you. But I love you. And I’ll be back to visit soon.” And three days later, Lisa called my mom and she was like, “Hey, so Riley told me what happened to Grant (my brother) and that you guys are leaving. And I know that she’s working on all this stuff, and she has her agent, she’s been doing all this writing.” They were incredibly supportive of the music I was writing. I would play my original music for anyone who would listen, I was one of those people. And so Lisa was like, “We love her, and she can just stay with us.” I’ve always been so incredibly grateful to them for taking care of me and letting me stay with them, because quite honestly, if I hadn’t stayed in L.A., I would have been back in Tennessee. And I certainly would be doing this in some capacity in the industry, but my journey would have been very different. I never would have gone on that Spring Awakening audition, and that’s a tremendous part of my life that if I didn’t have, I would be very sad. So I’m very indebted to them, you know. It’s the kind of thing where there’s no way you can really repay people for having that kind of generosity.
JM: Yeah. So another thing I wanted to ask you about is your stage name, LOLO. Is there a story behind that?
Lauren Pritchard: LOLO has been a longtime nickname of mine. My theater life and my singer-songwriter life are not sonically the same, they don’t sound the same. And so, for my own sanity, it felt very important to have them be different things. And my first record deal and the first album I put out was with Island Records and Universal, and the record ended up being put out under my given name. I wanted to put the record out as LOLO, and the record company was very strongly against it. They were like, “From a marketing standpoint, you’ve done this Broadway show, and it was very successful. And we want to use that as leverage.” And I was like, “These things don’t sound the same. I’m not making a musical theater album. I’m making a totally different thing.” And I wound up losing the fight. And I shouldn’t say fight— it makes it sound more dramatic than it was. But honestly, it was very difficult because I felt confused, you know? They weren’t the same thing, and I didn’t want them to be the same thing. So it was a very frustrating thing to go through, and once all of that ended, I was releasing music independently for a while. That’s when I started doing all my solo stuff as LOLO, and it’s been helpful for my own creative brain to be able to have the Lauren Pritchard theater life over here and the LOLO life over there. It’s just like, you know, I’m working on two albums for the LOLO project and I’m working on Songbird and five other musicals, and I need them to be two different people.
JM: I get that. Also, that’s so cool that you’re working on so many interesting projects. On your website, I saw that your song “Wild” is the official anthem for Zumba’s We Dance for ALS campaign. I would love to hear more about that.
Lauren Pritchard: So a lot of how that came together had to do with my publishers, actually. I’ve been with Sony ATV for 11 years, and they’ve been incredible to me and they’ve always been in my corner and very supportive with everything that I’ve done. I wrote that song [“Wild”] with Fran Paul and Mike Sabbath. And the people from Zumba approached Sony and said that they had this campaign to raise money to stop ALS and wanted to find something that musically would capture the spirit of being able to rise up and bring your best self to the table. So Sony pitched “Wild,” and they were like, “That’s totally it.” They put together videos and clips and shot this incredible trailer for the fundraiser that they did in January. And they also created a dance for it and all this stuff. It was incredibly moving the first time I saw the commercial; I wept like a child because it was so beautiful and so touching. ALS is such a devastating disease, and it comes with a vengeance and it doesn’t discriminate. When it goes in, it is a force, so being a part of helping to find a cure has been really wonderful. The people at Zumba were wonderful to work with. And it was an international fundraiser that they were doing to raise awareness and support for ALS. It was so cool to be tagged in videos from like, Malaysia and Turkey and all these places in the world that were doing the dance to the song that I wrote. It was so crazy. It was awesome, really special. I’m honored that they picked this song.
JM: It’s such a great thing to be a part of and such a great cause. Can we also talk about the movie you were featured in? What was that like? How did you get involved with that project?
Lauren Pritchard: The project came about while I was working on In Loving Memory. I was in L.A. and I had a songwriter friend from New York, Anthony Natoli, and we had worked on a couple of songs a few months back. And Jason Brescia, the director— he and Anthony grew up on Long Island together. Jason was working on this movie called (Romance) In the Digital Age, and he was looking for a female rock singer. And Anthony was like, “I think you should talk to my friend Lauren Pritchard. She sounds like Janis Joplin when she sings.” So Anthony hit me up and he was like, “Do you do movies?” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” He was like, “Are you in movies? Do you like to do those?” I’d never really done that before. But if it’s the right thing, sure. Maybe. So Jason and I met and talked about the movie and talked about the role, and then we filmed for I guess about six weeks on Long Island the following year. And then it was a really cool process because I got to work with John Nolan from Taking Back Sunday. And we did the writing for the score of the movie because it all had to be like, alternative pop punk songs, so I got to write a couple songs for the movie and sing them. That was a really cool process. I had never done anything like that. And then it was submitted to a couple of film festivals, and the music wound up winning a couple of awards at those festivals. We wound up winning a Joan Jett Award for the music.
Lauren Pritchard: It was also really funny, because one of the actors was a wrestler in the WWE. He had just been moved up to where they were making him a focal point in the WWE, and he was blowing up, and we were filming on location in Long Island at random places, bars, restaurants, wherever. At one point, we were at this restaurant and all these people were like, Oh my God, you know, totally fangirling over him. People were stalking him in this restaurant, trying to take pictures of him. And at one point he walked over and he was like, “You know, you can just ask me for a picture, you don’t have to act like you’re not taking a picture.”
JM: So when you were working on the movie, what was different than you expected it would be? And what was exactly how you expected it would be?
Lauren Pritchard: The biggest thing for me, really honestly, is that my acting life had always been live on stage. So unless there’d been a recording of that, I didn’t see it. And so it was weird to watch a movie and watch myself in a movie. That was the most unexpected, strange part of the experience. Being able to watch it back and see myself on camera. It was like, “Oh, that’s what I look like. That’s what I sound like. That’s what that face looks like when I make that face.” So, yeah, it was interesting. And I thought it was going to be a more tedious process than it wound up being.
JM: Did you not have to do as many reshoots as you thought you would?
Lauren Pritchard: No, and because the movie is a rom com, it wasn’t like we had to do any crazy fight sequences or things like that. There weren’t high stakes or situations that could have harmed us. There certainly were times where it took a little while to get the takes right, or you think you can shoot it this one way but then you actually realize you have to set it up with more space or less space or whatever it is that they’re needing for shots. And so some of that process could be tedious, but it was all much easier than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to take way longer, you know, I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe we did all of that in six weeks!”
JM: Okay, I have to ask this: what is LOLO x Talking Animals Pinot Noir? Because I clicked on it. And it looks like you have your own wine named after you.
Lauren Pritchard: Well, I made my own wine. I partnered with that winery. It comes from Folktale Winery in Carmel, California. And I’ve done a lot of work with them.
JM: Okay, so you made your own wine, and it’s named after you. You’ve done it. You’ve won. You don’t have to do anything else.
Lauren Pritchard: Yeah, I’ve been really close with the people at Folktale for a couple of years now. They’re awesome. And also, it’s like the most beautiful place on the West Coast, truly. It was interesting all the way around because, you know, there are people that will do booze partnerships. Whether it’s liquor or beer or whatever, but what we did was once we sold X amount of wine, then music became downloadable for free. But for the first 1,500 or 2,000 bottles or something like that, you could only get the music if you bought the bottle of wine and used the code on the back of the bottle. And it had never really been done that way before. But also, they couldn’t say that they were selling music. And I couldn’t say I was selling wine, technically. It was so funny, because part of the promo that we did for the wine was that I went on Rachel Ray and performed and talked about the wine. And we had to be so specific about how we were talking about the wine because of how the distribution has to work. Also [making the wine] was a really fun process, because I went out there and spent some time like literally with the grapes. Really interesting process.
JM: That’s so cool. So you mentioned you’re working on several musicals other than Songbird right now?
Lauren Pritchard: Yeah, there’s a bunch of musicals I’m working on that are all in pre-production phases. We’ve done a couple of workshops of some of these shows. And then some of them are super new and coming to life. I’m working on a show called Pink Boxes with my friend Megan Dobkin, who is an awesome producer and writer from Los Angeles originally. And that’s about nine women in a pole dance exercise class and how their lives intertwine. I’m working on a show that has a working title of Beethoven. And I’m working on that with my friend Morgan Siobhan Green. She’s amazing. She was just in Be More Chill as an actor. She’s also an incredible writer. And the story is about a woman who was a child in the Mid-1920s race riot that happened in Oklahoma. We’ve done a couple of workshops with that, and Rachel Sussman is helping us bring that show to life. That’s been an incredible piece to work on. I’m working on another show called Finding Helena. That’s set in the Second World War, about a German girl and a Jewish boy who fall in love and then get separated and ultimately try to find each other again after the war is over. That’s been a really beautiful show to work on with. Alexandra Conroy wrote the script, and I’m working on the music and the lyrics for that.
JM: Those all sound really interesting! Okay, now for the big question: Why did you join Maestra?
Lauren Pritchard: Because I think it’s incredibly important for women to represent themselves. And I think that Georgia [Stitt] is amazing. Obviously, we all know that.
JM: And why do you think Maestra is important?
Lauren Pritchard: I think it’s important because I think outside of us being in a space where we can fully represent ourselves, it’s also important to know who each other is and know who you’re connected to and surrounded by. Obviously social media and the internet in general have helped so many people, so many groups, be able to find and unite and build communities. But I think that beyond just the social aspect of it, for the emotional part of all of us in Maestra, it’s important to know what our community is, and really know what it looks like and sounds like and feels like, both through the struggle and hardship and also through the goodness and joy. I think especially in the creative world, no matter what you’re a part of, whether you’re on the stage or off the stage, there can be an isolation and loneliness. And I think it’s important for something like Maestra to exist, to do away with that isolation. Beyond all of the awesome things that Maestra does to represent women in this industry as working creatives, it’s also as people, as humans.
JM: How has Maestra helped you or people that you know so far?
Lauren Pritchard: I know that it’s helped in obvious work ways for sure. Connecting people, and helping women reach out to the women that they maybe didn’t know. But I also know that it’s helped people, myself included and so many people that I know, to feel the emotional connection to other people. Even if you may not be literally working on a project with someone, you might be going through a similar thing that someone else is going through. It’s that understanding that whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone. There are resources. There are emotional resources, beyond work resources for what you need, and it’s so important. I think it’s a game changer. I really do.
JM: And why should people care about the services that we offer— like the directory, the community, the classes, and the goals that we’re working towards?
Lauren Pritchard: I think that ultimately, all of that makes sure that everyone is very correctly represented, especially with something like the directory, right? You can go there and you can see exactly how people see themselves. And I think that is something that everyone struggles with to a certain degree, not just in our industry, but any industry. So I think it’s so important that people are able to accurately say: this is who I am, this is what I can do, and this is what I want to do.
JM: Absolutely. Last but not least, is there anything else that you want to share about yourself, your work, or thoughts about Maestra?
Lauren Pritchard: I feel incredibly honored to be a part of the Maestra community. Especially on days when I might be having a hard day or I might be frustrated with something I’m working on, I find myself being able to look towards the Maestra community. And, you know, it goes back to that unity, knowing that we’re not alone. We’re all in this together, ultimately. Everybody’s just constantly— without sounding too watered down— we’re all working towards the same goal. Meaning we all have our creative desires, whatever they might be. We all have our individual hopes and dreams and goals, but we’re all working for the larger goal, which is visibility, representation, equality, understanding, love, truth. And watching all the other women in our community constantly do incredible things, it’s very inspiring, and it makes you want to keep working and keep going and keep doing whatever we can to make things better.
Special thanks to Lauren for sharing her story.
Read more of our Women Who Wow Us series, including interviews with Nancy Ford, Anessa Marie, Elise Frawley, Erin McKeown, Meg Zervoulis, Masi Asare, Britt Bonney, Jennifer Isaacson, Emily Grishman, Rona Siddiqui, Sheilah Rae, Kathy Sommer, Kristy Norter, Elena Bonomo, Ann Klein, Lynne Shankel, Irene Sankoff, and Carmel Dean