Lauren Elder’s path to songwriting did not begin with a brilliant moment of inspiration or shattering heartbreak. Instead, her introduction to playing the ukulele and writing her own music began with nudity.
When preparing to audition for the role of the “naked ukulele girl” on the television show Boardwalk Empire, Elder purchased a ukulele so she could learn the song for the audition. She did not get the part, but will be appearing on the third season as a different character and, in the time between her first audition and now has learned to play the ukelele and written several original songs with it.
“The ukulele sat untouched for almost a year, until one day last May I had a song inside of me that had to come out,” Elder said. “I picked up my uke and tinkered around a bit, until I heard the notes that sounded right.”
The result was a song called, “What Is this,” and many more have followed. Elder has performed several concerts of her original work as well as covering other songs, playing piano, percussion and harmonica, and also whistling.
“I guess you could call my whistle another instrument as well,” she said. “It does appear in almost every song!”
The actress and singer/songwriter has performed in numerous shows in New York and recently finished a role in Homunculus: reloaded with the Homonculus Mask Theater company. Elder, always knew she wanted to be a performer, first made her stage debut at age 10 as a Siamese princess in The King and I. After studying acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. she moved to New York to pursue her dream and attended Circle in the Square’s Professional Musical Theater program.
After performing in the anniversary concert of Hair, she was cast in the Broadway and then the West End productions. Performing as a member Tribe, Elder personified the attitude of teamwork and “The show must go on” after breaking her toe in the middle of a performance – and continuing to perform. While running into the audience during the title song, Elder tripped on someone’s purse and went flying into a chair. Thinking she had only stubbed her toe, she finished the number. After a fellow cast member noticed her toe and told her to leave the stage, Elder decided to – but finished the scene she was in first.
Elder loves performing in musicals and lists Queenie in La Chiusa’s The Wild Party and Mrs. Walker in The Who’s Tommy as two of her dream roles. While pursuing those parts, she is also writing and performing her original songs. Elder, who cites Ella Fitzgerald as her favorite singer and Andrew Bird as her favorite contemporary artist, along with Rufus Wainwright, Harry Nilsson and Jenny Lewis.
The majority of the song she writes, according to Elder, come from what she described as a place of “overwhelming emotion” that she can only express through music.
“I don’t plan most of them,” she said. “They just kind of happen, and I have to be ready.”
In a modern twist on the quaintness of the ukulele, Elder utilizes her cell phone to record bits of songs when they first appear in her mind and pieces the bits together at a later time.
“One of my favorite songs – Wintry Vacation – I actually wrote most of the lyrics six years ago, before I wrote the chords on my uke,” she said. “It’s been a really exciting process, and I’m truly in love with songwriting!”
Performing her own work in public was a frightening experience at first for Elder, who said, “I’ve always been afraid of putting my songs and feelings so out in the open, but once I started doing it, it felt almost like a relief. I’m not trying to change the world with my little love songs, though it makes me very happy when people can connect with them and hear a little bit of themselves in them.”
The connection Elder feels when performing gives her a great sense of accomplishment.
“There’s definitely a rush I get from it,” she said. “And I think the audience kind of experiences that, too. It’s kind of this cool connection you make with a big group of people all at once. It’s also been really incredible to see people connecting with the songs I write.”
Elder will be performing at Rapture Lounge (34-27 28th Ave. Astoria, NY) at 8 PM on Thursday, April 26th. E-mail TheTheatreSource@gmail.com for a free CD, self-recorded and self-produced EP, by Elder!