Lauren in the Limelight
Prior to leaving for the Miss America 2023 pageant in Connecticut, Miss Hawai‘i Lauren Teruya reflects on how the performing arts have positively impacted her life.
Lauren Teruya remembers downing a concoction of Worcestershire sauce and a raw egg to cure a fictitious hangover during her ambitious audition to play Sally Bowles during Diamond Head Theatre’s production of Cabaret. At just 14, she didn’t get the part, though she was named the understudy.
“I thought she (actress Liza Minnelli, who plays Sally Bowles in the 1972 film) really did it on stage, so I went all in,” recalls the reigning Miss Hawai‘i 2022 with a laugh. “It’s a bit of a risqué role for a 14-year-old but I wanted so badly to be Sally Bowles. I did all the homework: read and reread all the scripts, watched the movies, even the Alan Cummings version.”
That dedication shows not only her commitment to the task at hand but also her willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve her goal. Those traits will serve her well as she flies to the East Coast to compete for the title of Miss America 2023. Plus, she’ll finally have her opportunity to play Bowles on stage when she performs the iconic role for the talent portion of the competition.
Being on the big stage is nothing new for the ‘Iolani School alumna, who also sang a Broadway number on the way to her Miss Hawai‘i win. She grew up in the world of thespians, starting with Diamond Head Theatre’s Shooting Stars program at age 9. It took her three years and seven auditions to finally land her first role — part of the ensemble of Cinderella — and as they say, the rest is history. One year, she even did four shows in a season (of which there are only six).
“I was addicted,” she says. “I loved the stage. I would go to school, doing my homework right after for three to four hours, and get to the theater in the evening to practice from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 2-6 p.m. on weekends. I lived there.”
While the time commitment to a grueling theater schedule seems daunting, it led Teruya to hyperfocus her efforts. She did better in school, her confidence grew, and it pushed her to work hard to be able to continue her passion for performance.
Her pageant platform — Arts for All — is inspired by those experiences growing up. In particular, Teruya remembers struggling throughout elementary school and bringing home less-than-stellar report cards.
“They would talk about how I was reckless and wasn’t paying attention, wasn’t focused,” she recalls. “I was a busybody. I had to stand up and move while I ate.”
So when she found theater — she’s also well-versed in jazz and ballet — she felt like she found the answer to a longstanding problem.
“I recognized that I learned from doing and moving,” she says. “It got me to thinking about things in a different way than was being taught in the classroom. I want every child to have that accessibility to unlock an intelligence that they may not be fully activating in the classroom.”
The integrating movement aims to get arts into classrooms regardless of funding or having a full-time arts educator. And she has done extensive research on the myriad benefits the arts can have on a child, from cognitive growth to social and emotional learning.
“Kids are five times more likely to stay in school when they have access to arts education,” shares Teruya, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s in journalism from University of Southern California.
One effort she’s particularly proud of as part of Arts for All is Popscotch — think the traditional game of hopscotch but with nods to pop and local culture. The concept, Teruya says, is simple and really fun. In normal hopscotch, children jump through numbers from one end to the other. In Teruya’s Popscotch iteration, though, things get a little more dynamic — and a lot more enjoyable.
“Popscotch activates more of the body,” she says. “They spin, crawl through shapes, strike a pose, clap, there are so many different activities.”
The “pop” part of Pop-scotch incorporates local pop culture into the structure. For example, at one Popscotch location, children crawl through a lava tube and must decide to go the ‘a‘ā (stony lava) route or pāhoehoe (smooth lava) route. At other locales, Pop-scotch takes kids island-hopping or celebrates rainbows. There’s even one made out of “rubbah slippahs.”
“It can be unique to your culture,” explains Teruya, who hopes to expand Pop-scotch all over the world. “Every town and city has so many things unique to their culture that can be brought to life.”
When she’s not working on her local community projects, Teruya is preparing for the upcoming Miss America pageant and looks to family, friends and supporters who have cheered her on along the way, including some who have since passed on. This includes her maternal great-grandmother, Dora McBeath, who was a Radio City Rockette back in the day.
“She was 6 feet tall and my great-grandpa would call her ‘Legs,’” she says. “She was this gorgeous woman, and I’d like to think that even though I didn’t have the opportunity to meet her, that she’s in my heart and body and family.”
In fact, Teruya’s three sisters — Sophia, Kathryn (Miss Hawai‘i 2017) and Anya — are also performers, which she believes is her grandma’s light shining within them all.
“I remember the night of Miss Hawai‘i, me and the other women were standing in a circle all holding hands and someone told us to close our eyes and picture someone or something that is going to guide you through the night,” Teruya says. “I remember seeing this collage, it wasn’t a single person, it was hundreds of people — co-workers, friends, family, mentors — and that is what I plan to keep with me as I travel all the way to Connecticut. I have gratitude for every single person in my life.”
The Miss America 2023 pageant takes place Dec. 15. Visit missamerica.org for showtime and more information.