Fiscal Sponsee Highlight: Lauren Du Pree’s Atopic

May 16, 2021

Have you ever heard about or experienced “topic steroid withdrawal syndrome”? Actress and creator Lauren Du Pree is arriving on the filmmaking scene to tell you about how to use humor to tackle concerns around a body going haywire due to prescription drugs. One of NWFF’s newest fiscally sponsored projects, Atopic is a musical that brings levity to an often unseen human experience. Read on as Du Pree describes how she came to work on this project that has long been brewing — and why perseverance and learning to advocate for oneself are some of its primary themes.


Tell me about your most recent project, Atopic, and how you arrived at this concept 🙂

Atopic is a musical film about a young, Black theatre actress coping with her failing health due to topical steroid withdrawal syndrome (tsws). She escapes her pain through musical fantasies, only to discover she must truly face her reality to get the help she needs. Topical steroid withdrawal is something I’ve been going through on and off since 2012. It’s an iatrogenic condition caused by the misuse of topical steroids, which I’ve used since I was a baby to treat eczema. My body became addicted to the medication, causing me to need stronger and stronger prescriptions while also causing progressively more severe breakouts. I decided to ditch the steroids and heal naturally, and my entire body went haywire. I had to move home to Seattle (I was living in DC at the time) because it got so bad. I always knew I wanted to write a film about my experience, but the musical aspect came when I was up one night (tsws causes insomnia) and wrote a song about eczema and insomnia. I had been putting off writing the film for years, and suddenly it clicked: it’s a film with music! I’ve been doing musical theatre since elementary school, so it’s only right.

Why at this point in your project did you feel like getting fiscal sponsorship through Northwest Film Forum might be meaningful or helpful for it?

Atopic is an idea that’s been brewing for years. Everything I’ve written and produced up to now has primarily been self-funded. Atopic is taking everything I’ve been doing and pushing it to the next level…maybe a few, so I knew I needed more support to follow through and make this project a reality. It’s also a way to get more eyes on the project and attract people who believe in the message and the story and want to help produce it.

You recently did a fundraiser! How did that go and what else needs to happen to help make this project a success?

The fundraiser was amazing! It was the first time sharing the music and the concept trailer for the film, and I received great feedback. I also hosted a panel discussion with women from all over the country about their experiences with tsws. People appreciated learning from their experiences, so I’ll be hosting another, longer panel discussion with everyone soon. So far, I’ve only raised 30% of the pre-production goal, which is $25,000. The long-term goal is $200,000 to shoot the entire film. To make this project a success, I need more money. I’m looking for long terms investors and producers. I’m working with a few people and organizations to get Atopic in front of the right people to get funding. In the meantime, I have a few more fundraising ideas I’m developing. If you missed the fundraiser, you can still watch it on YouTube for another week or so: After that, the trailer and panel discussion will still be available. 

Atopic has a playful sense of humor while also discussing a potentially serious topic. What role does humor play for you as a creator and why do you find it be so important?

I have used humor as a coping mechanism since the beginning of time, so it plays a huge role in most of my work. Atopic is deeply personal and difficult to write because I’m essentially reliving one of the hardest, most traumatic things I have ever gone through. Humor is a pathway into that pain. I don’t think I’d be able to tell this story without levity and joy. Stories that impact me the most include the full range of the human experience, and I want to reflect that in my work.

One of the comments I got from a friend about the panel discussion during my fundraiser was that all the panelists had full lives before topical steroid withdrawal, but going through tsw redirected everyone to a path of advocacy and spreading awareness about this completely preventable condition. Often when we think of someone who is sick, all we think about is their illness. But the truth is, anyone with a chronic illness is a whole human being separate from the worst days of their symptoms. I am naturally a goofy, fun-loving person, but on my worst days I didn’t feel like myself, and I didn’t even want to exist anymore. However, that wasn’t me 100% of the time. So infusing this project with humor and joy, despite the pain of tsw, is my way of saying, yes, we are going through this thing that has completely changed our lives, but we are so much more than the illness. Topical steroid withdrawal is a roller coaster, so I want people watching to laugh, cry, learn, be angry, celebrate the wins, and mourn the losses of the protagonist.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you to NWFF for being my fiscal sponsor! As I already said, this project is so personal, and I’m honored that I’m able to bring awareness to this condition that people are suffering from all over the world. There’s no reason anyone should have to go through topical steroid withdrawal. I’ve had to explain to doctors, family, and friends that what I was going through was real when they didn’t understand or know how to help me through it. As specific as Atopic is, it’s really a film about perseverance, communication, and learning how to advocate for yourself when all the odds are stacked against you. I believe art should create change for the better, and that’s my goal with this film. 

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