On a warm Tuesday night in mid-September, the brand-new lobby at Theatre Raleigh is filled with excited guests clamoring to watch the dress rehearsal for the madcap comedy The Play That Goes Wrong.
April 5–16: Jersey Boys
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On this night, before the curtain opens, Lauren Kennedy Brady is excited and nervous. And it’s not just first-night jitters. This production is just the second full show in the new theater, which opened last August. Brady has been Theatre Raleigh’s artistic director since 2008, when the stage was set in the Kennedy Theatre, a tiny black box theater in the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh.
Last summer, Theatre Raleigh completed its move to a business park on Old Wake Forest Road in north Raleigh, settling into a renovated 10,000-square-foot space that once housed a church. Brady is midway through a $1 million fundraising campaign, which has paid for the renovations that enabled her to start producing shows. With plenty of room to grow, the other half of the capital campaign, still in development, will pay for expansion. As a bonus, the north Raleigh location serves up free parking.
“When people drive up, they may see a warehouse office park, but when they walk into our lobby, they will see all the work we have done,” Brady said, sitting in her comfortable office behind the stage.
The lobby itself is a performance space with its own moniker — Lobby Cabaret Theatre — complete with a refreshment stand, a bar, sofas, high-top tables, and a grand piano in the middle of everything.
Theatre Raleigh combines Brady’s passion for art and love of her hometown. She was born in the Hayes Barton district and graduated from Broughton High School.
“I started doing shows when I was a kid, and my whole family loved the theater,” she said. “My parents are arts patrons, and my sister and I just loved to perform.”
Brady was a 20-year-old college student when she scored a chance to sing for an agent who was so impressed he invited her to audition for a spot in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Sunset Boulevard. She landed a role, which took her first to Los Angeles and later to Broadway.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Brady went on to perform on many stages, and in addition to Sunset Boulevard, she racked up Broadway credits in Spamalot, Les Misérables, and others.
Over time, she grew weary.
“It takes a lot of work to stay at the top of your game,” she said. “I just felt myself not wanting to put in the work anymore, plus I was starting to take an interest in the creative side of theater and directing shows.”
She was still living in New York City when her brother and father started a series called Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy. She did some creative consulting with them before taking over the series and converting it to the nonprofit Theatre Raleigh. She juggled the theater and her acting career in New York until she finally decided to begin producing in Raleigh full time.
“Producing shows at Theatre Raleigh was filling my soul in a way that performing wasn’t,” she said. “I really love producing, and I love the idea of offering opportunities to people in my hometown, just like I had when I was growing up.”
In addition to staging performances, Brady plans to rent space to other nonprofit organizations, including small theater groups who need affordable space for rehearsals, voice lessons, improv groups, or stand-up comedy.
“What excites me is the chance for us to be good community partners with other groups in the area where we can create and experience art together in this space,” she said.
She also believes the move from downtown to north Raleigh will introduce the theater to new audiences.
“I want to give back to my hometown, and I see that there is a burgeoning arts community here and great work being done,” she said. “We’re just alive with the arts.”
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