By Byrne Harrison
Name: Lauren Epsenhart
Play: Pushing Daisy
Relationship to production: Playwright/Producer
When I was in the 8th grade, my language arts teacher, Mrs. Federico, brought recordings of various Broadway musicals to class, specifically Phantom of the Opera. I don't remember the lesson, or what it had to do with anything we were learning, but I was captivated. Laugh, but I call this my "gateway show". After coming to New York at age sixteen to see the Broadway production of Phantom, I was hooked.
Who are your biggest influences?
There are so many people who have influenced me and continue to do so, my family, my friends, etc. I wouldn't be pursuing a career in the arts if it weren't for them. They encourage me to reach for the sky but they also ground me, reminding me that, ultimately, none of this is worth it if there aren't people in your life to share it with.
What is your show about?
After graduating from college, Daisy Miller moves back home with her parents, Larry and Shannon. Shortly after returning, Daisy is diagnosed with cancer. Once surgery and treatments begin, she and her family face the challenges that comes with cancer and treatment. Daisy explores her identity, questioning her faith in a higher power and what her place in the world will be.
Struggling to overcome their own difficult pasts, Larry and Shannon question why this is happening to Daisy. Once a strong believer, Larry begins to turn away from his faith while Shannon rediscovers hers. Mother, father and daughter are tested in every way possible. For Daisy, this means learning to accept and believe in what she cannot see or control. For Larry and Shannon, this means coming to terms with the fact that Daisy may die. Along the way, all three learn what it means to love unconditionally, cherish life and push beyond pain.
What inspired you to write it?
Pushing Daisy is loosely based on my experiences with cancer and treatment. Shortly after graduating from NYU, I was diagnosed with cancer. The past two years have been a roller coaster of experiences, from treatment to surgery to recovery and everything in between. Like my main character, Daisy, I questioned my identity, what having faith meant, if I believed in god, and what would happen if I were to die. As a result, I started my own non-profit theatre organization, The Pushing Daisy Project. We utilize the arts by giving a platform to diverse artists of various genres to raise cancer awareness and charity for patients who are unable to afford the costs of cancer treatment.
Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity. What charity has your production chosen and why?
The charity I chose to partner with is the Martin Memorial Foundation, specifically, the Robert and Carol Weissman Cancer Center. When I was diagnosed I had just been booted off my parents health insurance policy and, because I was fresh out of school, I didn't have a full time job or health benefits. They treated me and took care of the costs of my treatment and surgery. To say I was lucky would be an understatement. I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for this hospital and it's amazing team of people.
What's next for you after Planet Connections?
I'm currently earning my second master's degree in Special Education at Hunter College. I am also working on various theatre projects and planning what The Pushing Daisy Project's next artistic endeavor/charity partnership will be!
If you could get any person, living or dead, to see this show who would you choose and why?
If I could have any person see this show, it would be my grandfather. He died years ago and I miss him.
Thursday, June 23 at 2:00PM
The Gene Frankel Theatre
24 Bond Street