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September 20, 2010

You Can’t Rush a Good Story – Tim Campbell

Tim Campbell

Tim Campbell. Photo: Sandy Nicholson.

Actor Tim Campbell has performed in six seasons with the Stratford Festival, and has done work with Tarragon, Theatre Aquarius, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and Theatre Orangeville. Tim also starred in our production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 2009, and plays the role of Happy in our upcoming production of Death of a Salesman.

We are now into our third week. In the last show I was in – and it is a lamentably common situation in this country – that meant we were adding tech and getting ready to open. And though it is possible to rehearse a play in three weeks, it forces actors into a kind of “first choice = best choice” style of performance, where as long as you can be seen, heard, you’re not bumping into furniture or fellow actors and you are making some semblance of sense out of the play, well, that’s good enough. One of the gifts of working for Soulpepper is that we have roughly twice that amount of time. It is a gift of particular value in this case, as the story we are telling is structurally complex, massively rich and full of detail. It is a treat to feel – as I do right now, halfway through the rehearsal process – that we have adequate time to examine and experiment with all of those things which make good theatre: relationships, character detail, clear storytelling, truth.

Another direct result of having proper time to rehearse is that you can focus your thinking and concentrate on different areas of approach. In the first week or so, I was thinking a lot about Hap (the character I’m playing), and trying to reverse-engineer – from the situations we see him in and the things he says – what sort of a man finds himself in those situations and says those things? These days, I have been thinking a great deal about family and love. At the centre of this play are four people who have an enormously complicated relationship – troubled, yes, but also filled with love – like most of our families. It is an acting priority of mine to pay a lot of attention to how and where we see the love between Hap and his family. And ridiculous good fortune has given me, every day in rehearsal, the opportunity to examine how to act that kind of love. The emotional shorthand and effortless history that Joe Ziegler (Willy) and Nancy Palk (Linda) bring into the room is breathtaking. They are real-life husband and wife, and watching them rehearse together is a constant lesson in achieving nuance and honesty on stage. Their personal history is palpable, and serves as a great guide to both me and Ari, who are playing their sons.

So with regret and affection, I am forced to disagree with the late and much missed Richard Monette, who once in a fit of half-feigned outrage said to me in a bar, “Rehearsal time? REHEARSAL TIME! That’s all actors ever talk about. Pfff. If you give them more rehearsal time, it just takes them longer to learn their lines!”

We are not just learning lines these days. We are learning about the story we are going to tell. But I promise to be off-book soon.