Fresh air: Director lauds Raleigh arts scene

'Avenue Q' set to play Aug. 15-19

‘Avenue Q’ director Richard Roland. Photo Credit: Lauren Kennedy.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Next week, the ever-popular musical “Avenue Q” returns to North Carolina, playing a five-day run for Theatre Raleigh’s Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy. Out director Richard Roland, a familiar face to Theatre Raleigh patrons and actors, took some time to chat with qnotes about his experiences acting and directing and his thoughts on Raleigh’s arts scene.

Matt Comer: So, tell us a bit about your background. How’d you get involved in acting? What led you to jump into directing?

Richard Roland: I’m a native New Yorker, born and raised in Manhattan. I’m a fourth-generation performer. Both of my parents were on Broadway. I did a lot of Broadway acting. I guess my saving grace was going to school in Ohio — that kind of taught that there really is live outside of New York (laughs). I worked steadily as an actor for 20-something years and I got bitten by the directing bug about seven or eight years ago. I found I could much more satisfy my artistic urges by not having to do eight shows a week anymore. As an actor, I had done everything I wanted to do for the most part. The joy of acting was getting lost in the monotony and repetition of it all. Directing appealed to me also because I’m a virgo and like to control things (laughs).

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Is that an easy jump to make, going from an actor to a director? Are there any difficult challenges?

In my head it was [an easy transition] (laughs). There was a certain amount of — I don’t want to say resistance from the business because we’re in a business that likes to by nature categorize and keep you where they think you belong and there are some people until you have a significant body of work as a director who don’t quite believe this is where you’re going to be or can sometimes take a condescending view of “Isn’t thaht nice, the actor is learning to direct.” But, most of the directors I know started off as actors. After about five or six years of that, people start taking you more seriously. I’m noticing a difference now and of course I’ve met nothing but support and only a couple occasions where I felt I wasn’t being taken seriously and you just smile and move on and do your work anyway.
love to be handed a broadway show

You’re directing “Avenue Q,” but have you ever acted in a production of the show?

My only experience with it is directing. I had auditioned for the Broadway company back when they were first looking for replacements in New York. It was early on in the run. I hadn’t seen the show yet. It was a matter of affordability — Broadway tickets are so expensive. I’d seen press clips and moments on “The Today Show” or local TV and I saw them on the Tony Awards but I’d never operated a puppet in my life. I auditioned for the roles of Nicky and Trekkie and they gave me the songs “Internet is for Porn” and “How do I go Back to College?” I had the voices worked out — that wasn’t the problem. The problem was they threw a puppet on my hand with no questions and no training. I had the unfair advantage of not having seen the show and not having worked a puppet. I didn’t know what to do. The word my agent got back from the casting people was that I would never be a part of the world of “Avenue Q” (laughs).

This is not your first time in Raleigh, right? How’d you get involved down here?

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They contacted me. This is the third show I’ve done for Theatre Raleigh — “39 Steps” last year and “Barefoot in the Park” two years ago. I had known Lauren Kennedy, the artistic director, for a number of years. We worked on a musical version of the play “Vanities” together in New York and in California a number of years ago and we knew each other when we were both actors in New York. Through that relationship, she wanted to bring me down here to direct for them. It’s been a wonderful relationship ever since.

You know, Raleigh is no Manhattan. What’s your impression of Raleigh, particularly its arts scene?

The arts here never cease to impress me. While Raleigh might not be Manhattan, it is such a welcome escape from what life is like in Manhattan. In my core, I’ll aways be a native New Yorker and will always love the city, but the older I get the more I just want to get the heck out of dodge and immerse myself — oh, I do I say this without insulting my Manhattan friends (laughs) — a friendlier culture. Not that New York is full of mean people. It’s just so crowded and cramped. I can’t walk through Midtown Manhattan without want to hurt people sometimes. I get down to Raleigh and I just get to breathe down here. I’m always blown away by the talent in the acting community. It’s so vibrant and so deep. Coming down for auditions here is a breath of fresh air. The talent here is top. It’s impressive. I get to work with actors with such brilliance who love to take chances and who love to have fun. I’d challenge a New York actor against a Raleigh actor any day.

info: “Avenue Q” plays in Raleigh Aug. 15-19. Learn more at hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.