Do you remember your college theater days? How many friends from your drama club have you kept in contact with? Ask these questions to University of Michigan alumna Lauren Lopez; we bet her quick answer would be "mostly all of them." For Lopez and her former college theater buddies, who include Glee star Darren Criss, nothing's more fun than setting up their own theater company, StarKid Productions.
Launched in 2009 at the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theater, and Dance, StarKid Productions' first-ever show, A Very Potter Musical (AVPM), a parody based on J.K. Rowling's phenomenally successful book franchise and starring Criss as Harry Potter, was bound for an unprecedented worldwide success. AVPM's YouTube version reached more than eight million views; and Entertainment Weekly listed it as one of the Top 10 Best Viral Videos of 2009.
"We've an incredible following in this very specific niche of people. I think they're amazing. We actually always thought that StarKid's fan base was much younger than it is. But if you look at our views on YouTube, our biggest fans are 18 to 25. It just so happened that the most visible, the most exuberant, and the most excited ones are about, I think, 14 to 18, 14 to 16. They're the ones most likely to come out for all of our events, and to purchase merchandise, and all that stuff," said Lopez, who was recently in New York City to star in a staged reading of another parody, Twilight: The Musical (produced by Dreamcatcher Entertainment), and to watch StarKid buddy Criss make his Broadway debut in the current revival of the musical comedy How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
"StarKid didn't think of doing a parody of Twilight. We kind of went looking at different options," she added.
Right on the heels of AVPM, Lopez – who juggles her job as one of StarKid Productions' company managers and as one of its resident actors – and her former college buddies have produced new shows, including Me and My Dick, a musical that tells a teen boy's coming-of-age story; A Very Potter Sequel, a musical sequel to AVPM; and Starship, a musical about Bug, a human-sized insect who wants to become a Starship Ranger. All of these productions ran to sold-out audiences; and their YouTube versions also drove record viewership. StarKid Productions' first national concert tour, The SPACE (StarKid Precarious Auditory Concert Experience) Tour, was highly successful, with well-attended concerts in Michigan, Boston, and New York, among others.
Lopez stressed that, "We just want to keep growing, having fun, and making quality stuff that people want to see." However, running a theater company also has its business side. "Learning the world of business is challenging. We kind of had a crash course in it because everything happened so fast for us. We're not prepared or expecting it. So yeah, we're still learning as we go along. There were like hiccups here and there. But we're lucky to have such incredible people to go to for advice. We have our agent, who's amazing. We have agents and managers of friends, like Darren's people, who've been really helpful and really supportive of us."
Criss, in a lot of his media interviews for Glee and How To Succeed…, never fails to mention StarKid Productions' latest offerings. The next one is Holy Musical B@man!, an all-new Batman-inspired musical premiering on March 21, and will run until March 25 at Hoover-Leppen Theatre at Center on Halsted in Chicago. Although Criss has his hands tied filming Glee, he took time out to join his StarKid family in its concerts in Boston and New York last year. He also wrote the music for Starship. StarKid Productions is also reportedly working on its latest parody of Harry Potter. "Darren will always be one of us, whether he likes it or not!" Lopez exclaimed. "His mainstream popularity definitely doesn't hurt at all. Whereas before, we're only exposed among a small group of people; but we're now a little bit more spread out. He definitely helps with our visibility."