“TikTok allowed me to keep my passion for musical theatre alive”: Hannah Lowther on starring in Heathers the Musical
Heathers the Musical has extended its current run at The Other Palace to the 1st of May and one of the stars is Hannah Lowther. Most commonly known for her work on TikTok, the young actress found viral success during the pandemic by making parodies of musical songs while in her previous job at Tesco. Some of her other parts include playing the titular character in Snow White at Kings Theatre, Brigitta in The Sound of Music at the London Palladium and Jemima in the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Lowther currently plays New Wave Party Girl in Heathers the Musical, as well as covering as an understudy for both Heather Chandler and Heather McNamara.
A big fan of Heathers the Musical, which she saw back in 2018 when it first opened at The Other Palace, Lowther has a strong passion for musical theatre. She brings that passion to life through the content she continues to publish on her TikTok account, which now has over 500K followers and 17.5M likes, including behind-the-scenes insights into the production. The Upcoming caught up with the actress to discuss all things Heathers, theatre and TikTok.
You started out making parodies of musicals on TikTok. What gave you the initial idea to do that kind of thing?
I was working at Tesco – I got the job there because obviously, we’re in a pandemic, the theatres were closed and everything had stopped – and I was just bored, really. I’m so passionate about musical theatre and that was a huge part of my life that was missing for ages. I looked around at different products in the store and thought about how I could relate those to musical theatre songs. Then I started doing parody versions. I did When Will My Life Begin from Tangled “Tesco Edition” and also 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton, but did that in the store as well. And it just went from there.
What do you think of the reach and connectivity that TikTok and all these other social media platforms offer?
It’s very clever as a platform because it works on an algorithm that shows you videos that they think you will like. I guess TikTok gets to know you as a person and gets to know what type of videos you like, what type of content you want to watch, and shows you more of that. Obviously, I was interacting or watching more musical theatre-style content and therefore getting a lot of that on my homepage. I think it’s just so good at connecting different people. I’ve met so many people that I never would have met before and it’s opened up so many opportunities just by meeting other like-minded people. At the time, when the industry was basically closed for the foreseeable, it was so nice to virtually be with a group of people that are all like-minded. It’s kind of like when you’re at drama school and you all have that same interest, so it’s a shared connection in a way. Working at Tesco, no one was really into musical theatre, so it’s really nice to have a community of people on TikTok for that.
There’s a degree of stigma attached when it comes to talent discovered through TikTok and social media in general. What’s your take on it?
I think it’s obviously still a very new industry in a way, and social media has grown so quickly, especially over lockdown. It’s a job now and people sometimes struggle to understand that it is what it is. Whether they are a content creator or an influencer – however people want to word it – people put hard work into their content in the same way filmmakers put hard work into their films. Smaller creators put so much work into their videos for other people to enjoy as well. It’s different because there’s reality television and things like that that people use to boost their profile or whatever. But what I feel like for me – it’s had nothing but a positive impact and I truly don’t think that I would be in Heathers doing what I’m doing now had I not put myself out there on social media to begin with.
How has being on TikTok affected your confidence in performing for Heathers?
Well, I’ve always been a performer. I trained in musical theatre for four years, did some professional work before the pandemic – just small things – and I was basically just getting started with my career when everything closed. It’s definitely been a huge confidence boost for me because I’ve got complete control over the content that I put out there. Although, it’s different when you go and do live theatre; you only get one chance to get it right and if it’s not right then it’s already happened. With TikTok, you can go back, you can re-film it, you can watch and go, “Actually, next time I might change it”, or, “Next time, I’d rather do it like this”. Obviously, putting yourself on social media does come with being open to trolling and people saying negative things. That’s only a small percentage, but it has taken some getting used to being on that platform. I’m loving it so far at the moment.
Some people know you from TikTok, but others are no doubt fans of you as an actress and because of your theatre work. Do these two worlds ever connect, as in, are your fans in both circles separate, and if not, how connected are they to each other?
I think they are very connected because Heathers fans are very young – not all of them obviously, but the main fanbase – and they’re kind of that age of people that are on TikTok. It’s been nice for them to kind of see the behind-the-scenes stuff and for me to share this crossover from Tesco to theatre. Everyone’s on TikTok now so sometimes my videos get pushed out to more people, but sometimes they don’t and it’s just my followers. But I do feel very much that they are connected. We do lots of shows, and some people might not know until they read the program, others might not know at all which is really exciting to think people might be enjoying me as a performer just from seeing the work I’m doing onstage.
Before joining the cast of Heathers the Musical, were you a big fan of the Winona Ryder film, or were you into the musical before knowing about the original film?
I was into the musical first; I knew about the film but I’d never seen it. When I got the job, one of the first things the director told us is that we had to watch the film. So, I watched the film and a lot of it was like, “Oh, that makes so much sense now!” Because there are lots of bits in the show where fans really shout and cheer, and bits where I’m like, “Why are they cheering so much for that?” But it’s because certain parts are direct references from the film that obviously resonate with people. I’ve been a huge fan of the musical for a long time – I actually went to see it at The Other Palace where we’re on now in 2018 when it first opened – and now, four years later, I’m in it, which is just crazy!
What’s your favourite track from the musical and why?
My favourite song is Shine a Light because it’s when we’re doing an assembly with Miss Fleming. Vicki, who plays Miss Fleming, is so brilliant and she’s just really, really funny. I still find it funny even though I do it every single night. That’s definitely my favourite, and we wear cool sparkling jackets which I love. It’s just really cool to look at that number where we do a surprise thing with our books – I don’t want to give it away for people who haven’t seen it, but we do like a cool thing with our light-up books – and it’s just really fun.
Are there any parallels and similarities between you and any of the characters in Heathers?
I feel like the character I’m probably most similar to is Heather McNamara. She’s the head cheerleader, although I don’t do cheerleading in real life. She’s really preppy and when I first watched it in 2018, that was the part I thought I’d love to play one day, and I’m actually the understudy now for that part. I got to play her twice which is incredible and so much fun! I also cover Heather Chandler which is still just as fun, but she’s a bit scarier as a character.
There was a massive shift from working at Tesco and then suddenly performing in the West End. What would your advice be for other actors trying to make that same break as you, especially ones your age?
I think just keeping at it, and keeping your passion alive. TikTok was that outlet for me to help keep my passion alive for musical theatre. I think it would have been easy for me to slip into something else, like a different career or a different job, and just fall out of love with it. Whether it be making sure you keep going to classes, making sure that you’re singing – like, doing a session singing in your room once a week to go through your songs –, going to dance classes, being around other stagey people watching theatre; do all of that to keep your passion alive and just keep at it. Because it’s really tough and we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it.
What other roles would you like to play in the future, be it in the West End or anywhere else in the theatre world?
I would love to play Penny Pingleton in Hairspray. Also, I love Dawn in Waitress – all of those types of parts. I guess when Heathers finishes, I’ll just go back to auditioning, so we’ll see if any of those shows are coming around. But honestly, I just love performing, so I’ll be happy in any job – whatever job – I end up in.
Heathers the Musical is at The Other Palace until 1st May 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.