Broadway legend Ms. Patti LuPone visited Hill’s Center For The Arts on Friday, March 24, 2023, to speak with the Hill community about her renowned career in the arts and film industry. Hill Theatre students and community members had the chance to ask her questions and get insight into what life looks like as an aspiring star. Ms. LuPone’s visit to campus was made possible through the recently established Class of 1968 Endowment for Student Creativity and The Arts.
A three-time Tony Award winner for her performances as Joanne in Company, Madam Rose in the Broadway revival of Gypsy, and Eva Peron in Evita, Ms. LuPone paved her way to the top out of grit, self-determination, and having a strong power of knowing who she was as a person and performer. She was part of the first-ever class of the Drama Division of New York’s famed Juilliard School. After Juilliard, she became a founding member of John Houseman’s The Acting Company and performed all over the country on tour in shows like Accidental Death of An Anarchist, The Water Engine, Edmond, The Woods, and Stage Direction. She also performed in the musicals Pal Joey, Anything Goes, The Cradle Will Rock, Oliver!, Working, and The Robber Bridegroom.
Later in her career, she appeared in world-renowned musicals, such as Fantine in Les Misérables, Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Desiree in A Little Night Music, Fosca in Passion, and Cora Hopper in Anyone Can Whistle.
In the film and television industry, she has starred in Life Goes On as Libby Thatcher, American Horror Story: Coven as Joan Ramsey, Law and Order as Ruth Miller, and Penny Dreadful as Joan Clayton.
As a rebellious child in her youth, Ms. LuPone knew she was destined for more. She enjoyed school for the chance to be on stage in her arts classes but didn’t thrive academically.
When asked if any teachers helped her in the long run, she praised the teachers she did create bonds with at a young age which carried through to her professional career, but was candid about not getting along with them all.
She expressed how strenuous and difficult her years at Juilliard were. Because of her rebellious side, the teachers tried driving her out of the school by throwing difficult roles at her. What they didn’t know, was that Ms. LuPone could handle any role given to her with grace. While other students were getting the same old roles, Ms. LuPone sculpted herself into many characters to strengthen her resume.
“There is nothing worse than being dismissed as an artist,” Ms. LuPone reflected. During her role as Eva Peron, Evita was a controversial production given its harsh plot, and, at first, people were skeptical about seeing it. Once people started giving it a chance and attending the performances, critics hailed Ms. LuPone for her work in the show.
When asked how she was able to get people to trust her and the show, she said, “The audience makes the character. The audience dictates how your character is viewed and they loved Eva Peron.” She won her first Tony Award for this role.
After starring in the original London production of Les Misérables as Fantine in the mid-1980s, she starred in and was nominated for her role in Cole Porter’s revival of Anything Goes, as Reno Sweeney. She and her co-star, Howard McGillin, both received Tony Award nominations for their performances.
In the 2000s, Ms. LuPone performed at the Chicago Ravinia Festival in Stephen Sondheim musicals for the next six years. She returned to Broadway where she received another Tony Award for her performance in Sweeney Todd as Mrs. Lovett. After the Revinia Festival, Ms. LuPone took on the role of Rose in Gypsy and received another Tony Award for her performance.
She most recently won her third Tony Award in 2022 for her performance playing Joanne in Sondheim’s production of Company.
Ms. LuPone was adamant with our Hill students and community members regarding the hard work and true commitment this industry demands from you. She had some of the best and worst times navigating her way through it all and wouldn’t change a thing or role she played.
“All the roles I played, I played for a reason. I never went out searching for a role. I waited for them to come to me. The arts is a rejection industry. If I went out seeking a role and was rejected, I would be crushed. It was already hard enough,” said LuPone.
She answered genuinely and honestly. One student asked about stage fright and how to overcome that fear to which she responded, “Embrace it. Embrace the fear. I still get nervous leading up to the start of the show but as soon as I’m up there, the fear goes away.”
She kept reminding the young people in the crowd to be yourself. A student asked for advice on picking a song/monologue for auditions, and her advice was to find a piece that is “you,” something that you can relate to or feel deeply.
One of the last questions she was asked was, “If you could sum up all of your years in theatre into only one word, what would it be?”
Without hesitation and much thought, she responded, “Joy,” with a bright smile on her face.
Ms. LuPone’s love of the arts and the next generation of artists really shone through during her visit. The main theme of her talk was how authenticity and staying true to oneself is the way to be successful in this industry. You need to have a “won’t back down” mentality no matter what is in the way. We are grateful to Ms. LuPone for spending an evening with our community, and for paving the way for young performers to a career that demands a lot but gives a lifetime of joy.