We had the good fortune of connecting with Lauren Du Pree and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lauren, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
Living with a chronic illness has made me slow down and prioritize my health and personal life over work and perceived success. When I was younger, I was going nonstop and barely making any money, I might add. Being a successful actor was my top priority, and I made all of my decisions through that lens. I remember feeling like I was missing out on tons of life events with family and friends, but big dreams meant big sacrifices. When I started struggling with my health, I had a really hard time accepting that my body wasn’t capable of all that I thought it should be. Honestly, I still struggle with this concept. I’ve had eczema my entire life and always used topical steroids prescribed by doctors to treat it. After college, I started experiencing horrible full-body flares that left me raw, red, discolored, incredibly itchy, burning, and in constant pain. I decided to ditch the medication because it clearly wasn’t working anymore. Everything got exponentially worse, and I later learned that I was going through Topical Steroid Withdrawal, a debilitating condition caused by the misuse of topical steroids. My health has been up and down since 2012. For a long time, I was in denial about how sick I was and pushed myself to perform at a level that my body wasn’t capable of, but time and time again, this proved to be unsustainable. My body has literally forced me to reprioritize what’s most important. Without my health, I can’t do anything. Without fulfilling relationships and community, “success” doesn’t matter. At least not for me. So now, I’m much more mindful about how different business and creative opportunities will impact my overall well-being. My mental and physical health always comes first, and rest is a priority. Going nonstop doesn’t mean I’m successful, and I’ve learned the hard way that it negatively impacts my health. Do I have it all figured out? Absolutely not. But I’m learning to listen to my body and honor what it needs in every moment. Slowing down and accepting where I am in every moment has opened the doors for some amazing opportunities and allowed me to have more agency over my career and life, so I must be doing something right.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am the founder and CEO of Just Du Pree Productions LLC, a production company committed to creating content written by Black artists to inspire, heal, and create positive change. The lessons we learn during the challenges of life equip us to help others; that is the purpose of my work. Art should make us feel a little more seen and a little less alone. Most importantly, it is a tool for positive change.
After studying musical theatre at Howard University, I began working at theaters like The Kennedy Center, 5th Avenue Theatre, and Ford’s Theatre, until my failing health prophetically revealed how I’d been dimming my light to fit into an industry that was never created with me in mind. My health issues felt like an obstacle in the way of my purpose, but refocusing revealed my greatest strength was in my biggest perceived weakness. I began sharing my healing journey online through my blog, Just Du Pree, and started writing the stories I wasn’t given the opportunity to tell as an actor.
One of the things I say on my blog is, “do it afraid.” I’ve spent so much of my life feeling unequipped to do certain things or fearing the judgment of my work if I put myself out there. I’ve learned that I will never feel ready or fully equipped to do anything new, so I jump in headfirst and pray that everything works out. This mentality has continued to open doors for me. Now I’m much less afraid to take risks, and I attract the type of work I want to do with people who have similar values and goals.
Currently, I’m most excited about my musical film, Atopic, about my experience going through Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW), an iatrogenic disease caused by the misuse of topical steroids. Thanks to 4Culture Seattle, I produced a concept trailer and online fundraiser, which included a panel discussion with women from all over the country who have gone through TSW. You can learn more about the film on my website and stream the single, “Insomnia,” that’s featured in the trailer.
Before Atopic, I wrote, produced, and starred in multiple comedic shorts. My alter ego Carmen with a K, a fame-obsessed Instagram model, was featured in the Sovereign Film Festival 2020 and at King Street Station 2021 in Seattle as part of the Collective Power Fund Artist Development Grant. In 2019 I produced my first live show, A Night With Just Du Pree, combining all the things I love: good music, tasty food, holistic health, and comedy. In June 2020, my musical film shot in quarantine, Untitled: A Quarantine Playlist, premiered during the We Out Here Festival. In 2021 I was an invited resident for Village Theatre’s new BIPOC Residency Program and an Artist Trust Grants for Artists’ Progress Award Recipient.
Most recently, I was in East of the Mountains starring Tom Skerritt, which premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2021. My past theatre credits include: Orphie in Orphie And The Book Of Heroes (The Kennedy Center), Signature Theatre, Studio Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, The 5th Avenue Theatre (Ragtime, Man of La Mancha, Annie, Rock of Ages, The Pajama Game), and Village Theatre (Dreamgirls, My Heart Is the Drum, String). I’m an original cast member of the nationally syndicated PBS television show Biz Kid$, and in 2020 I started emceeing conferences and fundraisers, including Re-Imagining Behavioral Health in the 21st Century: Race, Equity, and Social Justice, the AFP Advancement NW Annual Conference, and the Washington Green Schools Better Together fundraiser.
I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned doing such diverse work. Each experience informs the next project and has given me the tools to thrive in each phase of my career. There are so many projects I’ve done with no budget, but I went above and beyond to see them through because I believed in the vision. When you bet on yourself and give it your all, your gift will make room for you. It has not been easy, but nothing beats the feeling of seeing what you imagined in your mind come to fruition. I never would’ve gotten where I am now if I didn’t do it afraid.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m new to LA, so I’m still figuring out my favorite places. However, I always find good places to eat first. I’m gluten and dairy-free, so I find myself working at Juicy Ladies in Woodland Hills a lot. I also LOVE Sage Plant Based Bistro & Brewery. The Paleo People is good for a quick healthy bite, and Amara Kitchen in Highland Park is a really cute spot. I’m also a big fan of Kale My Name. Gotta support auntie Tabitha! (that’s who she is to me in my mind) Will Rogers State Beach is beautiful. Hidden Treasures Vintage is also close to the beach, so you can make a day of shopping and lying in the sun. Grand Central Market is also cool! It has tons of food options, and then you can explore downtown LA. They also have a comedy show on Thursday nights and an open mic on Sundays. If you want to get active, I like the Culver City stairs. I’m also a theatre nerd, so I stay up with Center Theatre Group. It’s always worth it to see what they have going on. The Bar at Johnny’s is dope, and I’m a fan of the deejay…at least the night I went. I have to do some more exploring myself before I can give more suggestions, but these are places I’ve frequented so far.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Wow… there are so many people I could dedicate this to. I’ve been surrounded by amazing people since childhood who have supported my dreams and spoken life into me. First off, thank God for making me a storyteller. I honestly can’t imagine walking this earth being anything else. Shout out to my parents who were my first audience while I danced in the living room and copied all the characters I saw on tv. They’ve always supported me in pursuing acting, and I’m so grateful for them. My brother Marques helped me get in my director, writer, producer bag, which opened up a whole new world for me. Anita Kuroiwa, my dance teacher in middle and high school, Isiah Anderson, and everyone at the All Teen Summer Musical and Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, being involved in that program helped me realize I wanted to do this for the rest of my life, Mark Hoover, my vocal teacher in high school, my mentor Sharon Williams, my professors from Howard University, especially Kim Bey, Reggie Ray, and Darius Smith, without whom I would not be the artist I am today, and my family and friends for always supporting.
Michael B. Maine Mujale Chisebuka Nathania ten Wolde OutsideThinc Mark & Tracy Photography Nickolas Vaughan