First Published December 2019
“SPEAK YOUR OWN TRUTH”
I love the word tribe. And I love it all the more the older I get. Because I understand it all the more. The people who make up your tribe are a lot of different things. They’re the ones who have your back. Not just when it suits them to, either. But always. When you need them, they’re there. They’re the ones who support you wholeheartedly when you chase your dreams. The ones who cheer you on loudest when success comes your way. And the ones who are first at your side when life hurts most. Moving in close to you quietly but swiftly, no fan-fair, but just being there.
If life is a boxing match, then your tribe are those in your corner, taking care of you between rounds. Patching up that cut over your eye. Telling you what you can’t see for yourself when the blows are landing fast. Advising you on what’s the best course of action to take next. Whispering whatever they know you need to hear so that you get back on your feet again, and make it through one more round. Then one more after that.
Your tribe are the people you look up to as well. The ones who inspire you with how they face their battles. And how they chase their dreams. And battle their demons. And how they treat others. And how they do it all with honesty, integrity, class, compassion, character. Your tribe doesn’t necessarily have to be your family, or even your closest friends, although they can be, of course. Sometimes the people in your tribe find their way to you in the strangest of ways. But that ‘how’ doesn’t matter. It’s just the finding their way there that counts.
Lauren Pidgeon is many things. A mother, a daughter, a sister, an actor, an entrepreneur. And somehow, Lauren has found her way into my tribe. What I admire about Lauren is that she always speaks her own truth. And that’s a kind of courage that we need more of. Lauren is the founder of the Little Theatre School of Drama, so when we sat down for this chat, that’s where we began…
“Well, years and years ago, before I even set up the Little Theatre School of Drama, I always had a dream to set up a drama school. But I never, ever thought that dream would become reality. I don’t know why. I suppose like a lot of our dreams, we let them just sit there, take a back-seat, and we don’t take action [on them]. I think a lot of us are like that. I was encouraged to go to drama school by my mum and dad. In 2011, the recession was in full-swing, and I suppose nobody really knew what to do. Everybody was going for safe choices. And a lot of people, even though they had dreams of going into music or drama, they said, ‘Well I’m gonna get the back-up degree first.’ That was a saying – the ‘back-up’ degree, ya know. But my dad would be of the opinion to do whatever makes you happy and everything will work out from there. Now I was scared, but I was really happy that they – my mum and dad – encouraged me to do that. There’s many parents that don’t at all. In my third year of my degree, I got pregnant. And it turns out that was one of the best things in my life, because it made me far more ambitious. I did my fourth year, and after that, applied for an internship in Midlands 103, where I did loads of different things and I really enjoyed my time there. I did current affairs which just wasn’t my thing at all, so I was moved into the arts show and the breakfast show, which were far more fun, and more engaging, and far more artsy. So there was more for me to enjoy. And it just so happened that I was put in an office space beside a lady from Portarlington, who told me that there was no drama school in Portarlington. And that was literally it. She told me that, and from there I just went for it. I was about twenty-two, going on twenty-three.”
Lauren said she had the idea about starting a drama school for a long time, but when was the moment when she actually realised that was what she wanted to do?
“It was when I had Noelie [Lauren’s son], and this little child brought so much joy and so much laughter, and so much love into my life. I realised very quickly the joy that children bring. Then in college, facilitating workshops with children was a module I did in fourth year, and I really enjoyed it. So from there I realised that I was really good with children, and that I could really do this. This is my thing. That was it. It was Noelie that brought so many fresh concepts and ideas into my life. I have so much to thank Noelie for. I was twenty-one when I had Noelie, and I know for so many people, that’s a frightening concept. And rightly so, I’m not encouraging anyone to have a child at twenty-one [laughs]. For me, Noelie is the driving force behind so many things that I do in my life.”
From realising that was what she wanted to do, to going ahead and doing it, how did all of that happen. Because there’s a big difference between the two. A lot of people have ideas, but not everyone follows through on them…
“I started by applying for a job as a drama teacher at a school, and it went from there really. I found a lot of the things about running your own business to be the most stressful part. Because while I have the creative ability to organise classes, and a programme, and a syllabus, when it came to the business side of things, organising accounts, tax-returns, that’s just not my forte! But my dad is a wonderful, wonderful man, and I just can’t thank him enough. He supported me so much, and he’s got a real head for maths. He’s an engineer by trade, but I got none of his brains when it comes to those sorts of things [laughs]. He came to the accountant with me, to the insurance broker with me, he did all of that with me. It was very stressful, but I was so happy he was by my side for all of that. He’s kind of let me off now on my own, which is kinda scary! [laughs]. Ah no, this is the fourth year now, so you get used to it.”
As well as being a teacher, Lauren also acts herself…
“Yeah, but I think acting has taken a back-seat a little bit because of the drama school. That’s full-time, it’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Then I have Noelie. But it’s still in me [to act], and I do enjoy it when I can. I’m the vice-chairperson with TADS and I do voice-overs at Midlands 103. Yeah, it’s in me. I had so many plans this year, but I’ve had to put them back a bit because I said to myself I actually can’t do everything. I wish I could! [laughs]. I think life is too short sometimes for the amount of things I’d like to do. And the day is too short for the amount of things I’d love to do. Honestly. And it’s a good complaint to have. But I have to be…not selfish, but practical. And I have to put Noelie first, because he is only five and I’ll never get this time back again.”
But mostly, though, Lauren is a creative person. At the same time, however, she is also a businesswoman, an entrepreneur. Does she think of herself more-so in that way now, four years in?
“Yeah, I definitely do. I can’t imagine working for anybody. Maybe in the future, because you never know what that holds. I definitely feel like an entrepreneur because everything you do, you do yourself! From advertising, to planning classes, to running down to the accountant, to keeping all your records together. There’s so much to it. Even the way you dress. Everything about you, is your business. You ARE the face of your business. So you have to be self-motivated to get up every morning and know what’s coming and what has to be done. All my work is evening work. I wish it was daytime, but it’s not. So that leaves a lot of the day to think about it. But you can’t really do anything, you’re stuck there waiting for the evening to come. But look, it’s really enjoyable.”
What’s the biggest challenge for Lauren as an entrepreneur?
“Organisation. I’ve had to become very organised. My dad gave me one or two warnings in the very beginning! [laughs]. But I think that’s just the creative side of my personality! Organised chaos is what I call it [laughs]. For me, it’s that anyway. that might sound crazy to some people. Everything is organisation. From keeping money safe, to looking after your roll-book.”
Something that Lauren is really passionate about is the position – or non position – of drama in Irish schools…
“I think there’s such a rich heritage in Ireland when it comes ti the dramatic arts, and I think it’s a shame that drama is excluded in the Leaving Cert syllabus. It’s purposely excluded. There’s subjects like music, and art, and graphic design…all creative subjects, so why is drama excluded? Drama is so good for children. And even Irish. I’d put drama on the same level as Irish. But we still have Irish. And a lot of people would argue that there shouldn’t be Irish. But why shouldn’t there be drama? There are so many people in this country capable of teaching drama. It would open up so many opportunities for people, and so many more for students. Even across the pond, if you go to England and you look at some of the people there, I feel like confidence just oozes from them. They’re a lot more confident, a lot more outgoing than Irish people, and I definitely feel like it’s because drama is in the secondary school curriculum. And I think it would be so, so good for children to have that opportunity. But they don’t. The only ones who do are the children whose parents will pay for them to go. And even at that, it’s very difficult to step outside your comfort zone to something that you’ve never had any experience of, have never dabbled in, to go and do that as an extra-curricular activity. Most teens will only go if there friends are in it, and the period of time they’re involved is short because they’re becoming so insecure very quickly. I only had a talk with them very recently in my class about this. We speak about a lot of things that are current and that they can relate to. We’re preparing for a radio-play in Midlands 103, and I’m writing four scripts. One of them is body-image and social media. I sat down with them, almost all between the ages of twelve and sixteen, and they told me about all their pressures. And they’re absolutely unbelievable. Unbelievable. Like, we had nothing like this [to deal with]. It [social media] was only starting when we were teenagers. We had BEBO! [laughs]. And even at that, we went to the Harriers with dresses down to our knees, and cardigans, and no make-up on, and no alcohol! Honestly, that was my group of friends. I’m sure there were other groups of friends that had alcohol or whatever. But mostly, we were so innocent towards now. The pressure is massive. And that’s why they’re not coming to drama. It’s all part and parcel of it as well. There’s an awful lot of pressure in schools in Ireland. There’s a very bad work/life balance here. There’s so much attention on work. People live to work here. But where’s the life in that? When you go to other countries and see people running down to the beach after work in beautiful weather – and maybe it’s something to do with the weather as well – and their coffee shops are open all night long…but here, there’s the pub. It’s a very bad work/life balance, and I think that seeps into the education system as well. Everybody is so focused on work, and what they’re going to do after school, and continuous assessment is a massive thing now as well. They just have so much pressure, they really do, God bless them.”
The fact that drama doesn’t have a place, never mind a place of prominence in the Irish education system, did that make Lauren’s decision to found the Little Theatre School of Drama feel like more of a risk?
“It did, and it didn’t. It’s a risk because a lot of people don’t value the arts. And a lot of people don’t value drama for their children. I had somebody last week who asked me what my job was WHILE I was taking her child in to teach her drama. I said THIS is my job. And she replied, ‘Yeah, but what’s your day job?’ Ya know?! Then another parent piped in, someone who’s known me for years, and said, ‘Well she has a little boy as well’, kind of making an excuse for me. Which I’m sure she probably didn’t mean. And the other woman was like, ‘Oh well that’s a full-time job in itself!’ I was just thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe this was actually a conversation. THAT side of things, yes, a risk. But the other side is that I knew there was a place for it in Portarlington. And by the way, those conversations have happened more than once! When they do, I just say yes, this is my full-time job. There’s no point in getting into it beyond that.”
But where did Lauren’s own love of drama come from?
“It’s literally innate, I think. I started with Mary Dolan in Tullamore, then I moved onto Regina McCarthy, then Backstage Theatre in town. From drama school to drama school. I’ve just always loved it. And my mum, as cliched as it is, has said I’ve always been dramatic. I could sing before I could talk. And I would, there’s so many videos of me making my own songs up, and directing my sisters in plays. And I’d write little plays for them when they were very small. It’s just something that’s always been there. And I don’t think I realise how ‘into’ it I am, until I’m sitting in the car with my boyfriend playing songs from musicals and I know EVERY single word! [laughs]. While he’s sitting there going, Oh my God! [laughs]. And I’ll be spouting off poems and rhymes! And he’s into it himself too, but I’m REALLY into it! [laughs]. But there’s a side to it too where it’s very stressful. I find with myself I put a lot of stress on myself because it’s very important to me. But I have great friends that will calm me down, and great family that will sit me down, too. I tend to catastrophise everything in my head, and worry. I’m terrible for worrying. I do a lot of mediation, and mindfulness to calm my own mind. And I’ve brought a lot of that into my classes. I’m starting a class soon in Creative Mindfulness for Children in Athlone, so I’m going to incorporate a lot more mindfulness into my classes.”
Lauren mentioned that she was working on FOUR different scripts at the one time, which must surely take up a lot of creative energy…?
“To be honest with you, the most important thing for me was to first sit down with the children and get their opinions on things, and then just write, write, write, all of their opinions, and their thoughts, and their experiences, and then just go from there. Then I’ll read through what comes out of that with one of my family, maybe with a friend, take advice from them, and that’s how it all comes together. I just really, really enjoy it. For some people I know that’s a nightmare, and they couldn’t do it. I know because I live with a person like that, my dad [laughs]. Like I say, maths is his thing, so he just winces at scripts and is like, ‘How does she do this?!’ [laughs]. It’s not like a job to me, it’s really enjoyable, I just love it. The only thing I have to do is try and find the time.”
Often times a lot of people who are artists, or musicians, or actors and in the public eye, can seem quite extroverted in those roles. But in private, the opposite is very often the case. Is that something Lauren has experienced?
“I know a lot of people in the creative field, dance teachers, acting teachers, singing teachers….and they’re some of the deepest people I’ve ever met. But they suffer from anxiety…For some reason, they’re people who have gone through an awful lot as well. And I’ve had some of the best conversations with these people. So yeah, I think to do what we do, there needs to be a certain depth to you, an emotional side to you. And a lot of these people suffer from anxiety, it’s a known fact. Look at Robin Williams, one of the best examples. I’ve said this to my friends as well, with me, everything is so well put together on the outside – and it is, the drama school is something I work so, so hard at – but nobody sees the other side of things. The bad days. Where I’m worrying. Or I’m crumbling. But it doesn’t matter what kind of day I’m having, I walk into the drama school and I leave so, so happy. Children bring so much happiness to me. Isn’t there a saying about, to lie with the beasts and the babes? Children and animals, because they’re always living in the present moment. That’s children. They have no real concerns about what’s going on in the world, and rightly so. And they can bring you into that energy, and it’s so good. The other day, I was having such a dull day. It was the 2nd of October or whatever it was, it was cloudy and dull, I was on the way to a little village…the buzz of that, like! [laughs]. But when I got there, there was a little boy waiting for me with flowers in his hand that he picked in his garden, and he said ‘I got you these teacher’, and it was just lovely.”
What has been Lauren’s proudest moment as a businesswoman and entrepreneur so far?
“I don’t think there’s any one thing that stands out, to be honest. Everything together, that’s what I’m proud of. All the children who have grown before my eyes. I’ve had some children for the last four years, and I’ve seen the difference in them, and their parents have seen the difference. So I suppose that feedback, that sincere feedback that I get, is something that I’m really, really proud of. ”
Has there been a moment that stands out for Lauren as a teacher?
“There are many, many moments that stand out for me. And kind of not drama related, either. I’ve had children come to me to speak to me about things that have been troubling them, because they feel that they can. And I feel like I’ve helped them emotionally, they’ve told me. And I’ve had parents come to me and told me about moments where their children have grown so much in confidence. I don’t want to put it all down to me, because it’s not just me. It’s drama, it’s the process. But I guess I can facilitate it. That’s what I’m proud of, that I can do that for children. It’s small things. Like I’ll have days that are show-and-tell days, or bring your own blanket and pillow and we’ll have sleepovers, and their creative mindfulness classes. And they really enjoy this sort of thing because they’re children. So what I do, is I try and think with the mind of a child. So what did I like? What did I enjoy? And I’ll do all of those things, and that’s what they love. It’s through those little activities that they come out of themselves, and they don’t even realise it. There’ll be days where we’ll make a mask or make an instrument – we’ll do some art every now or then, but it’s always drama related – and they’ll stand up and present it to the class. And they’re very proud of their piece and the story behind it, but without even realising it, they’re public speaking, in front of twenty or thirty children. That’s what’s really powerful. And little by little by little, they’re growing.”
From all of Lauren’s experience as a businesswoman, from being a mum to Noelie, and just from life in general so far, if she was to pick one piece of advice that has really helped her along the way, or that she has learned herself…what would it be?
“I would say to speak your own truth. Speak your own truth, and be true to yourself. Because not everyone is going to like you. So at the end of the day, as long as you’re kind, and you’re good, and you’re true to yourself it doesn’t matter that certain people don’t like you. Because it doesn’t matter what certain people think. To care too much about what other people think is so damaging to your soul and to you as a human being, because life is so, so, so short. And you’re a prisoner of other people if you care too much about what they think. So don’t be a prisoner! [laughs].”