It was recently my great pleasure to sit down and talk with Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell, of Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh, about their current production of Race, and their unique creative relationship for the production. The two are married, and this was the first time that Alan has acted in a play which Lauren directed. The two discussed how they met, how they keep their talent crushes alive, and how they worked together to create this emotionally-charged piece of theater.
The couple met doing the American premiere Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles in 1993. Lauren was “fresh out of school,” while Alan had been a working actor. Alan recalls, “I had been living in Los Angeles for almost ten years working in television, I was on a show called Jake and the Fatman for about five years, and Three’s a Crowd. I started in New York and had gone to LA and was cast in Sunset from LA. I auditioned in LA and got the role in the premiere production, which was supposed to be LA-based, and then moved to Broadway. We circled each other for all those months that we were in the show, and then started dating actually right about the time [Lauren] left.”
The two didn’t necessarily set out to work on Race together in this capacity. I asked them about how they chose this project and how they ended up working together as director and actor. According to Lauren, “Well, we always try to do at least one thought-provoking drama that sort of anchors the fluff of the summer choices, that most people want. You know, they want something lighthearted in the summer. That’s great, and we love doing that, don’t get me wrong, but we always like to anchor it with something a little bit more artistically challenging and thought-provoking.”
Alan adds, “we like to mix it up. We did Boeing Boeing, and then we did Dames at Sea, which is a musical, and then we like to do something serious because it brings in a different type of person. We have people who come here to see Race that probably wouldn’t come to see a musical and vice versa.”
As to why they chose Race in particular, Alan says, “I like David Mamet, and I had acted in Oleanna here before we took the theater over, and it had done really well down here. It kind of surprised everybody.” The success of Oleanna, particularly the conversations it sparked between patrons as they left the theater, was motivating for Alan. He continued, “I’m doing more plays these days than musicals and Lauren gives me this slot. We consult about it, but I was passionate to do this play. I thought doing this play in Raleigh at this time, with an African American president, and all those issues being at the forefront might be interesting, so we got the rights and decided to do it.” When Alan decided he wanted to act in Race at Hot Summer Nights, they had planned on working with a different director. When the theater lost that director, Lauren decided she wanted to direct it. The two agree that when they do hard-hitting dramas at Hot Summer Nights, “we see people that we don’t normally see for our other fare, which helps us grow our audience.”
When discussing the particular challenges of directing and acting in Race, Lauren laughed as she said, “I think Alan would probably say learning the lines is the biggest challenge, because it’s very wordy.” She continued, on a more serious note, to say, “although it’s only an 85 minute play, David Mamet crams a lot of words into that, and it is rapid-fire dialogue. It comes at you fast and it jumps back and forth. He really writes like he must have been thinking, so he’ll make a statement, and then he’ll go back and qualify it, and then he’ll come back to his point. So, it’s not as linear as some writers, but that’s what makes it cool, and makes it naturalistic. I think the main challenge for me as a director was just making sure that we were presenting a fair fight, because whether David Mamet likes to admit it or not, I think he writes plays to try to figure out how he feels about a subject. And so I think he wrote Race to try to figure out where he stood in the conversation and the debate. That being said, I think we need to have our audiences have that same experience, so for me to create a very fair fight and you to not know which way it’s tipping one way or the other. We want to make sure that the audience leaves here only with their own history and with the information we’ve given them and be able to talk about it and debate it and discuss it. Not only race in general and how we view it and how it affects our society, but also who’s in the wrong in this piece, and who did it and who’s corrupt and who isn’t.”