Lauren Ash-Morgan is Founding Co-Artistic Director of the new theatre company Speech of Fire, and served as the Artistic Director of Seoul Shakespeare Company (SSC) from 2014 to 2019, having been an actor and board member for SSC since 2011.
While Artistic Director of SSC, she also served as the company's producer, costume/set designer, composer/music director, and text coach. Though generally leading from within the acting ensemble, in her final year she made her debut as a director (and lighting designer) with SSC's King Lear.
Acting credits include The Show Must Go Online's Richard II, Prague Shakespeare Company's The Two Gentlemen of Verona directed by Ben Crystal at the Estates Theatre (Silvia/Ensemble); Seoul Shakespeare Company’s The Merchant of Venice (Portia), Garage (Susan), The Winter’s Tale (Paulina/Time), Much Ado About Nothing (Beatrice), Titus Andronicus (Tamora), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Oberon), Hamlet (Gertrude), The Tempest (Alonsa), Macbeth (Lady Macbeth), Shakespeare's Love and Despair (Lady Macbeth, Trinculo, Gertrude, Tamora, Desdemona) and Shakespeare's Gore and Madness (Portia, Queen Margaret, Gertrude); Probationary Theatre Company’s Popcorn (Farrah), Betrayal (Emma), and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Martha); Eurasia Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Richard III (Queen Elizabeth) at the National Theater of Korea; and the independent feature film Amiss.
She holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education (Voice) from Ithaca College and an M.A. in Ethnomusicology, specializing in Korean traditional music and dance, and is exploring ways to utilize Korean traditional dance and vocal technique in theatre training.
She is now Founding Co-Artistic Director of the new theatre company Speech of Fire, currently located in Seoul, together with her husband, New Zealand actor/director/playwright Michael Downey. The company is currently focusing on producing small-scale shows that have the ability to travel, as well as offering acting classes to the public, and is planning on eventually moving to a new home and further developing as a theatre company.
Photo by Robert Michael Evans
Lauren Ash-Morgan began performing in theatre at age ten, starting with theatre workshops and quickly joining the youth theatre ensemble Kids' Company for six years, as well as performing as a child actor in Connecticut Repertory Theatre's production of Fiddler on the Roof, acting in school drama productions, and eventually playing Hero in her first Shakespeare production, Much Ado About Nothing, with Break-a-Leg Productions at age 18. She took particular interest in Shakespeare at school, while also being equally involved in music performance, and participated in the Amherst Early Music Festival for two summers.
In college, she majored in Music Education (Voice), earning a Bachelor of Music from Ithaca College, during which time she developed an interest in musicology (particularly the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods), and then in world music and ethnomusicology. During college she performed klezmer music and Yiddish songs as the vocalist and djembe player in the band The IC Klezmorim, studied Irish traditional songs at the Blas International Summer School of Irish Music and Dance in Limerick, Ireland, and played Javanese gamelan as a member of Cornell University's gamelan ensemble.
After graduation, she spent a year in Seoul, South Korea, working as a music teacher, and there began studying Korean traditional music, particularly gayageum and janggu, at the National Gugak Center, while applying for masters programs in ethnomusicology in the U.S. She then attended the University of Maryland, College Park, studying under Korea expert Dr. Robert Provine, and earned her M.A. in Ethnomusicology with a focus on Korea. During her studies, she took private lessons in gayageum and janggu and spent two years learning traditional Korean dance and pansori at the Washington Korean Performing Arts Center. She also joined the Washington Kayo Charity Association (WKCA), performing Korean trot songs in the Washington, D.C. Korean community, after winning first place in the annual KORUS Festival's Korean song competition and being invited by the judges to join their performing group. She performed particularly regularly as a leading member of the pansori performing group Washington Sorichung, and won gugak competitions in New York City twice for her solo performances.
While focusing on graduate studies and gugak performances, she began making an effort to reincorporate acting into her life, taking a film acting class at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and a Shakespeare scenes class at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. During her final year in the D.C. area, she began to perform again in theatre and film, appearing in various independent films and in the Washington, D.C. Capital Fringe Festival.
At the end of 2010, Lauren was accepted into the National Gugak Center's International Gugak Workshop in Seoul, and she remained in Korea to continue her study of traditional Korean music and dance while teaching English at Kwangwoon University.
At the beginning of 2011, she auditioned for Seoul Shakespeare Company's (then called Actors Without Bard'ers) first fully staged production, Macbeth, and was cast as Lady Macbeth, meeting her onstage husband--and now actual husband--Michael Downey during that production. She was then asked to join the board of the newly-named Seoul Shakespeare Company, and served on the board, acted in SSC's productions, assisted with costume construction, proofread programs, helped troubleshoot and assist as needed, and created SSC's first website. As an actor, she quickly became heavily involved in Seoul's English-language theatre scene, playing major roles in all of Seoul Shakespeare Company's productions as well as with Probationary Theatre Company at the White Box Theatre, and in Eurasia Shakespeare Theatre Company's Richard III at the National Theatre of Korea. She also played a major role in the independent feature film Amiss.
In 2014, with the departure of Seoul Shakespeare Company's original artistic director, Lindsey Higgins, Lauren became the company's new artistic director, as well as its regular producer and costume designer. Her first production as artistic director was Titus Andronicus in 2015, during which she began a process of increasing the company's production budget, advertising, fundraising, and audience reach. Titus was followed by a smaller-scale show later that year, Shakespeare's Love and Despair, a bare-bones production of scenes from Shakespeare, performed over two weekends, mostly featuring scenes from SSC's past productions and celebrating the company's five-year anniversary.
For its 2016 production, SSC engaged Lauren's husband, long-time SSC actor and board member Michael Downey, to direct Much Ado About Nothing, and together Michael (as director and text coach) and Lauren (as producer, costume/set/sound designer, and text coach) took the company in a new direction, utilizing music, continuous action, minimal set, an "Elizabethan" costume style, energetic pacing, use of direct address to the audience, actor play and improvisation during rehearsals, and a focus on the ensemble as a whole, to create a joyful and celebratory production that was very popular with audiences and permanently changed the company's style.
Together, they created three more productions: The Winter's Tale (2017), Garage (a new work by SSC actor Jason Cutler) (2017), and The Merchant of Venice (2018), and then announced that King Lear (2019), directed by Lauren, would be her final production as SSC's artistic director, having served the company in that capacity for five years, as Lauren and Michael needed to begin thinking about transitioning out of Korea. In order to make some connections outside of Korea and expand upon their skills in training actors, Lauren and Michael enrolled in Prague Shakespeare Company's Summer Shakespeare Intensive, in which Lauren was cast in Ben Crystal's production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, spending three weeks training in movement-based ensemble techniques, cue script work, etc. Lauren and Michael returned to Prague the following winter to represent SSC along with SSC member Charles Jeong at the Shakespeare Theatre Association's annual conference, meeting and getting to know Shakespeare practitioners from around the world.
Back in Seoul, Lauren directed and produced King Lear, and again designed the costumes, set, and sound, incorporating elements of Korean traditional music, movement, and clothing into the production. When the very transient English-language theatre community in Seoul lost its only lighting designer, Lauren began learning about lighting design and designed the lighting herself, gathering together a group of actors interested in developing lighting skills to assist in the hanging and focusing of lights, and sharing lighting design resources with the group in hopes that the expat theatre community would never be without lighting expertise in future.
In her five years as artistic director of SSC, Lauren also prioritized filming performances and eventually making them available online, both to promote talented local actors and to share SSC's performances with students and other people interested in Shakespeare around the world.
In the Autumn of 2019, Lauren transitioned out of her artistic directorship of Seoul Shakespeare Company, passing the company on to its next leaders so it can continue to serve the Seoul community while she and Michael focus on a new life phase: preparing to move out of Korea to develop their careers as actors, directors, producers, and teachers of Shakespeare in a more permanent location. Their newly-formed theatre company, Speech of Fire, focuses on offering acting classes to the public and developing small-scale shows that can tour and travel in the future, and they hope to develop into a larger Shakespeare company eventually after settling into a new permanent home.