Laurel Mill Playhouse is currently presenting “The Play That Goes Wrong” by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields. It is produced by Maureen Rogers and directed by Alex Campbell. The play is a farcical comedy that takes place in the 1920s about the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society which is putting on a murder mystery. “Hilarious disaster ensues” as the group tries to set thing right before the story ends. The cast includes Garrett Crouch, Jessie Duggan, Jeff Dunne, Cassidee Grunwald, R. Anne Hull, John Mathews, Ajaika McLemore, Nikolai Skwarczek and Aparna Sri.
Director Alex Campbell is thrilled to be returning to Laurel Mill Playhouse after a 15-year hiatus from theatre while he and his wife, Megan, were directing the upbringing of their two great kids, Tyler and Jenna. Alex last appeared onstage at LMP as Philip Lombard in Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” His onstage death in that show marked the birth of Alex’s behind-the-scenes life where he directed the Ruby Griffith Award-nominated “Pippin” and the big-show-on-a-little-stage, “Into the Woods” at LMP. Now that the kids are teenagers, Alex has come back into theatre over the last two years, directing Jenna’s middle school productions of “Into the Woods” and “Singin’ in the Rain” and appearing onstage this year in “Something Rotten” with 2nd Star Productions. Alex is ecstatic to come back to the LMP family!
Can you tell us a little more about yourself?
I grew up all over the place. I was born in Miami, FL, raised outside of Seattle, WA, went to undergrad at University of Florida, and moved to Maryland in 2000 where I met my wife—and the rest is history. I wanted to be a movie star when I was a kid. That’s kind of all I ever wanted to be. When other kids said “I want to be a fire fighter,” I would say, “I want to play one on TV!” I tried from ages 14-17 (see me get thrown out of the way by Wesley Snipes in the carnival scene of “Passenger 57”) with the amazing support of my mom and dad. But like a lot of movie star dreams, it didn’t take off.
I did theatre in high school, spending my summers in “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Camelot,” and finally playing Curly in “Oklahoma” right before my senior year. I did community theatre, show choir, and barbershop quartet in between, feeding all those artistic whims. Then I went to college where things got real. I did some improv and kept singing and writing, but I focused on graduating. Once I finished and moved up to Maryland, I got back into theatre doing a few shows before I got the directing bug. When I started directing shows, I felt like I found my calling. Interestingly, I now get to do something similar in my career as I coach sales teams in presentation and presence skills so they can deliver better to their audiences. I sort of took my creative outlet and my master’s degree in systems management and combined them into something that now has a title and a salary.
What do you like most about directing at Laurel Mill Playhouse?
Without question, my two favorite things about directing at LMP are the stage and support. Let me start with the support. Laurel Mill has always felt like family. Even back in 2005 when I was a brand-new director with big dreams and little experience, the LMP administration took me under their wing and gave me a solid foundation while I developed my craft. Their support, especially Maureen and Marvin, enabled me to blossom and gain the confidence you need to explore and experiment in a space like LMP.
Which brings me to the stage. I read a question posed in a Facebook group where someone asked what “kinds of shows” could you do on a 15’ x 20’ black box stage. My response, without hesitation, was if you have a creative director, you can do anything. I put the full scale “Into the Woods” on stage at Laurel Mill 17 years ago and, yes, it was a challenge. It wasn’t obvious about how to do things or where to put people, but with some vision and some forethought, you can make magic happen. I love working on the LMP stage for its challenges and quirks, nooks, and crannies—where the magic really happens.
Why do you think stage mysteries are so popular with audiences?
This is an interesting question because there are mysteries and then there are farces of mysteries. I think audiences like trying to figure things out—watching, speculating, and leaning over to their friend to say “that one did it!” Mysteries are thought-provoking without being too cerebral so the audience can have fun thinking and not be overwhelmed by it. Farces of mysteries are even better, in my opinion, because the audience gets caught thinking, surprised by the outrageous, and then they’re jolted into laughter. This play is that glorious interconnection of whodunnit and what-on-earth? Our audiences get the Murder at Haversham Manor, with all its twists and turns along the way, in “The Play That Goes Wrong,” with all its falls and fails.
You have acted and directed. Which do you enjoy the most and why?
This is a tough question because it’s just two different feelings. If I’m honest, my feelings on this have just recently changed—well, not changed, but solidified one way. I used to think I liked them both in different ways. After being away from theatre for 13 years, then coming back to direct two middle school productions and then getting back on stage in a musical, I was able to really take a look at myself. I love acting and singing, but I realized that shows I’m IN don’t really stick with me like shows I direct. I have a great time acting and take a lot of pride in the work I do on stage, but when the run is over, I walk away with great memories. When someone asks me, “oh, how was that?” I say things like “it was so fun” and “we had a great cast and it was a great show.” When I direct shows, I want to tell the STORY when people ask me about them. I remember making creative choices and difficult decisions for years after I’ve finished directing a show. I remember the process and the people so much more completely because I had so much of myself invested in every detail and in the success of the result. Plus, I really love elevating others in their craft. I think it was important for me as a director to have been an actor first so that I can understand and empathize with actors in order to bring out their best. Don’t get me wrong, the actors I’ve worked with are amazing in their own right, but a good director knows just how to spotlight the actors so they shine most brightly. I love that about directing.
Do you have a play you will be directing next, or would like to direct one day?
I am slated to direct something at Laurel Mill in the spring. We’re still in discussions, but I have a few ideas. As for “someday,” I have a list of shows I want to direct (and a few roles left on my “need to play” list, not the least of which is The Wizard in “Wicked”). But I’ve been itching to direct a drama – one show I’m very interested in is called “Renascence,” a musical drama based on the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m also writing my own jukebox musical that may one day see a stage. Also on my short list are “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” “Sherlock Holmes and the Portal of Time,” “The Phantom Tollbooth,” “Frankenstein,” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” When they finally get released for production by community theatres, I will jump at the chance to direct “Beetlejuice” and “Once Upon A One More Time.” Can you imagine “Beetlejuice” at LMP?!
“The Play That Goes Wrong” runs through October 7, 2023 at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main Street, Laurel, MD 20707. For more information and tickets, go online.