Harper College kicks off its 2013-14 theater season with its production of the Tony Award-winning play “Driving Miss Daisy,” which spans 25 years in the relationship between an elderly southern woman and her African American chauffeur. Director Kevin Long talks about what drew him to the play and previews the upcoming theater season at Harper.
For anyone not already familiar with the story, can you tell us what Driving Miss Daisy is about?
The action of the play spans from 1948 to 1973, some of the most turbulent years of social change in our country, and is set in Atlanta, an area deeply affected by the civil rights movement. The changes that occur in Daisy and Hoke’s relationship seem to mirror those happening in the country at that time. As Daisy allows Hoke to do his job, teaches him to read and shows him more respect, he helps her see people differently, accept change and embrace concepts like civil rights. Daisy and Hoke’s is more than a story of race. It is a story of family -- our chosen family. Sometimes the least likely people can form the most intimate, lasting relationships.
How did you choose Driving Miss Daisy for your next production? What is your process for selecting material?
I am drawn to plays and musicals in which the characters are incredibly strong and truly three-dimensional. I also like plays and musicals that offer a strong message to our community. I look for pieces that challenge me as an artist, challenge our students artistically and challenge my designers.
As someone who often works with college student casts, how was the experience of working with a cast of older actors? Do you approach it differently?
My process is the same whether I’m directing for Harper College or professionally outside of the College. Acting is about affecting change in another character at all times -- otherwise, the playwright would not write a character into the scene. Regardless of where I am, I always work on the true craft of the actor.
Is there a big difference in directing a large ensemble and directing a smaller character piece with only three actors?
Many of the challenges are the same – it’s just on a bit of a smaller scale. I always strive to create a true ensemble when I’m working. We become a close family as we work on these pieces. That happens regardless of if it’s a large cast or a small cast. It’s quite wonderful. The only thing that I must admit that is easier is creating a rehearsal schedule. It’s so much easier to figure out a schedule based on three actors’ conflicts than trying to base a schedule on 30 actors’ conflicts.
Are there any challenges in mounting a play in the shadow of a very popular and acclaimed movie from the same material?
The 1989 movie of Driving Miss Daisy contains incredible performances from Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. However, it was a play first. I like the play better. It’s such a beautiful simple, yet complex piece of art. It’s a perfect in that it teaches us a lot, but is done in a manner that is sweet yet strong at the same time. You won’t even notice how carefully you’ve been taught until you’ve already learned the lesson.
Audiences may expect an actual car. Obviously, we are not going to do that. Our set designer Ashley Woods has come up with a truly clever approach to that challenge. I can’t wait for our audiences to see how we solve that. I’ll leave it as a surprise.
What else can we expect from the 2013-14 theater season at Harper College?I am directing The Heiress by Ruth and Augustus Goetz this Fall. It’s a great piece about a woman coming into her own personal dignity – just like Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy. We’ll end the season with Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd, directed by my colleague Laura Pulio Colbert. It’s one that Laura has wanted to direct for quite some time. So both Laura and I are working on pieces for which we have a strong passion. We can’t wait to see you in the theatre!