Two esteemed guests visited the senior seminar led by Kalamazoo College Professor of Theatre Arts Lanny Potts on Wednesday. It’s not unusual for him to bring in professionals that have something to offer his students, but Dwandra Nickole Lampkin and Dee Dee Batteast are special because they’re ready to present the at-large Kalamazoo community with a gift from their talents.
The Festival Playhouse will produce The Conviction of Lady Lorraine, a one-person show written and performed by Lampkin and directed by Batteast. The free play will be offered to the public Friday and Saturday as a part of K’s Martin Luther King Jr. week celebrations. Support for the production is provided by the Arts Fund of Kalamazoo County, a program of the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.
The play is set in Memphis near the Lorraine Motel where King was assassinated. A writer, played by Lampkin, has a brief but powerful encounter with a homeless woman, Lady Lorraine. The writer finds herself transformed by Lady Lorraine’s 20-year quest to right a social wrong. One year later, the writer returns to Memphis, hoping that Lady Lorraine will share her full story of conviction. The writer quickly finds herself asking new questions about many things, and discovers that Lady Lorraine is not the only one on a quest for recognition.
Lampkin connected with Potts when the two worked on a virtual production of The Conviction of Lady Lorraine through Farmers Alley Theatre in Kalamazoo, where they agreed it would be outstanding for the community to see.
“Every theatre has its own energy,” Lampkin said. “The moment I walked into the Festival Playhouse, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, this space feels good!’ The intimacy of that space is perfect for a one-person show. It allows me, the story-teller, to connect with the audience; in the way that larger space wouldn’t.”
Lampkin serves as an associate professor of theatre at Western Michigan University. Her career spans two decades with television credits that include Law & Order, Law & Order SVU, Third Watch and Wonderland. She has performed at the Tony-Award winning Denver Center Theatre, the Huntington Theatre in Boston, the Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton and the Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis. She received her Masters of Fine Arts from The National Theatre Conservatory.
Batteast is an adjunct faculty member with Ball State University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program, where she teaches courses in beginning acting, auditioning, one-person shows and Shakespeare. She also coaches Ball State’s professional showcases in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Her recent regional theater credits include work with the Clarence Brown Theatre, Virginia Stage Company, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, PlayMakers Repertory Company and Indiana Repertory Theatre. Her television credits include Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. She also has a Master’s of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Batteast and Lampkin are natural creative partners as they have known each other since Batteast was Lampkin’s student at Ball State.
“I’m 38, I’ve been through two degrees and this is the only person of color who has ever taught me theatre,” Batteast said, while gesturing toward Lampkin. “I’ve always been drawn to this person as a storyteller and thirsting for that person to teach me because she handles stories in a way that I understand, as she intrinsically looks like me. This is a collaboration that continually gives back. I’m still learning and that’s a gift.”
Lampkin was a short-list candidate for a faculty position at the University of Memphis when she visited, among other sites in the city, the Lorraine Motel. That’s when she got the idea to write The Conviction of Lady Lorraine, thanks to a woman she spotted on the corner.
“The moment I walked away from that corner, I knew that I wanted to tell her story,” Lampkin said. “They ended up offering me the teaching job at Memphis, but I turned them down because I realized that I was never meant to teach at University of Memphis. I believe I was put in that space for the sole purpose of crossing paths with this woman.”
Tickets for The Conviction of Lady Lorraine, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Playhouse at 129 Thompson St., are available online. Please note that proof of vaccination and masks are required for admittance to the theatre.
“We’re coming up to MLK Day, so just the idea that I can tell this story is personally significant because there are many themes that surround Martin Luther King Jr. and his life and legacy,” Lampkin said. “To be able to bring a show like this to K College and to the community of Kalamazoo at this time, is a blessing and a privilege. It’s a way for me to use my creativity to keep his legacy alive, and honor him and the celebration that surrounds his day.”