Hannah Lowther on 'Heathers', TikTok musicals, and the future of social media
The future of West End theatre looks bright. The rise of shows created via TikTok such as Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical introduces new audiences to theatre, and the Grammy Award-winning Bridgerton musical gained traction via social media.
There’s a new type of theatremaker too, and Hannah Lowther is at the forefront of this pioneering performing generation. The “Tesco TikTokker” gained notoriety at the start of the pandemic for combining her retail job with musical theatre. To date, she’s amassed over 22 million likes on her TikTok videos, shared with more than 500,000 followers.
“I didn't really think anything of it [at first]," reflects Lowther on the start of her social media career.
"I just looked around Tesco and was like, 'Oh, that's funny to musical theatre' but there was no one in the store. None of my colleagues or customers would appreciate that.” So what did she do? She filmed a few clips, and suddenly she went viral.
Her unexpected social media fame definitely caught her offguard, and now she’s no longer just a TikTokker. She’s currently starring in Heathers at The Other Palace, and recently made history as the first actress to play all three Heathers: Heather Chandler, Heather Duke, and Heather MacNamara.
Lowther is part of a new wave of musical theatre artists who look to combine social media and theatre to showcase the West End to wider audiences. So what does it take to do this? We spoke to Lowther about the Heathers film, discovering your full potential while in a show, and what counts as a theatre job today.
Heathers is at The Other Palace.
You’ve just finished shooting the Heathers film in front of a live audience! How was the final filming day?
Hannah Lowther: It was an amazing day. It was a big build up, because we'd been filming close-up shots on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in the theatre. The main bulk of the filming was on those three days. And then Thursday, obviously, was the two live shows being filmed.
It's quite a lot of pressure, actually. It's different to doing it live, because, you know, you just do it. And you could do something slightly different the next day, and it's fine, because it's live theatre and things change. Whereas with movies, I've learned you have to really, really remember exactly how you're doing everything.
We rehearsed for around a week in the end for the film. And that was just kind of dialling down what we were already doing. With theatre, we’re playing for the back row, giving it face and everything. Whereas when you've got a camera in your face, you don't have to give it full, cheesy grin, so there’s moments where you can tone it down a bit.
The creators from America were over — Larry [Laurence O’Keefe] and Kevin [Murphy] — who wrote the show, which is just crazy. It's their dream to have this movie as well. So they're really, really passionate about it.
We didn’t film in order of the show, so we were like "What's going on?". And there were moments where we had a man with a Steadicam on stage. So we had to just go bit by bit to make sure we wouldn’t whack anyone with trays! And obviously with the live shows, you can't have a man on stage with a Steadicam.
On Wednesday, there was a big crane with a camera on in the auditorium and they’d taken all the seats out. It was quite hard because I'm really inquisitive. You try not to get distracted, but you can see a lot of what happens. So whenever I see a camera moving in these past few days, I've been looking over and I'm like "Nope, don't look at it." It's been a massive learning curve. And it's been so, so fun.
The hardest song to film was actually “Big Fun,” because we're kind of freestyling at the back at a party. Yeah, so I've got to remember exactly what I'm doing at this party. But then also, we repeated the number six times, and it was like, "OK, reset." It was crazy. We’re just so lucky to be in this version of Heathers that's going to be out there.
Why do you think that Heathers has such a loyal fan base?
Hannah: I think that the themes in Heathers just appeal to a certain group of people. There are so many themes in there that are so real, even though it's 1989 in America. It seems so far removed from 2022 in the UK. But actually, some of the themes within the show are still so relevant.
I was outside stage door the other day and a girl came up to me and said “This is my 100th show.” I was like, "Congratulations! Wow! 100 shows." That's insane. I guess for some people, Heathers is what they need and they don't get that from anywhere else in their life.
As well as playing New Wave Girl, you’re also a Heathers swing. What goes into being a swing?
Hannah: So this has been a huge learning thing for me, actually, because I had no idea really about what being a swing entails. Before I started here, I kind of knew, but I didn't. I’ve learned as we’ve gone on.
If we have someone that's off, I'll probably get to the theatre an hour and a half earlier than our call time and I will create a cut show, which will just mean giving out the lines and scene changes and the important things to other ensemble members. I would make sure that all the scene changes are covered.
It’s been a huge learning curve and it's working out what works best for my brain to see it, but also I then have to put that all in the document for everybody else to see as well. It’s just learning to see how everyone else works and try to get that across.
You’re the first person in Heathers history to cover all three Heathers. How does that feel?
Hannah: I didn't know my brain was capable of doing this. Like, when I went on for [Heather] Duke, they just asked if I knew it. And I wasn't going to lie and say no, because I did. It just made sense for me to do it in that moment. Because as the dance captain, I basically know what everyone's doing. I knew where she was, you know, we're on stage all the time, and it was just a bit of a no-brainer.
I feel so lucky to be doing this job. And sometimes, I think back to the pandemic. And as much as it all looks like fun and frolics dancing around Tesco, I think it was either going on for Duke or the performance being cancelled.
I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up the Tesco Tiktoks and your influence in the theatre social media world. How do you see the relationship between actors and influencing changing?
Hannah: I really don't mind the word influencer! I feel like lots of people are like “Oh my god, don’t call me that,” but I think it's just the way forward in terms of advertisement for things. Obviously, with it starting in the pandemic, I never, ever thought that that's what it was going to be.
Everyone downloaded TikTok in the first lockdown, and I was just watching a load of videos. And honestly, I was a bit lonely. Although I was living with my family, and I had my phone, I could contact my friends and my boyfriend, but I missed the musical theatre community.
The TikTok algorithm works in crazy ways, so it worked out the type of content that I like to watch. So it was [theatre], the Bridgerton musical, the Ratatouille musical, and it was like a new community.
I had two followers to start: my mum and my sister. And then I was like “Oh my gosh, my video has 1,000 views.” I was so excited by 1,000 views.I was just enjoying it!
I think when working with these brands, a lot of it is definitely about choosing the right ones for you. I've been learning to put it in that mindset because also I've been learning to think of all these social media opportunities from an actress’s perspective.
I did a social media ad for Samsung recently. If I was doing that on the TV, I would be like "Oh my gosh, this is epic". But when it's on social media, there's not that, there's kind of a little bit of a weird thing.
It’s meant to be more personable because it’s on your own platform, but I don't go around dancing and singing 24 hours a day, and I think people know that. So, you know, any content I put out there is a filtered version of myself.
It’s just trying to break the boundaries and blur it and be real and show that I’m positive but I'm not always this happy, dancing Tesco girl! Being on social media, there’s been times where I’ve been really badly trolled and considered packing it in. I’m glad I didn’t!
Photo credit: Heathers production images (Photos courtesy of production) and Hannah Lowther as Heather Duke (Photo courtesy of Hannah Lowther's instagram)
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