Glen Campbell and Deon Silvera in a scene from the romantic comedy, 'One More Time' at the Barn Theatre in Kingston.
Tanya Batson-Savage, Staff Reporter
WITH OVER 20 years of performances under his hat, Glen Campbell has certainly earned his standing as one of Jamaica's leading comic actors. For the past several months he has been performing two major roles in Patrick Brown's comedic hit Cindy-Relisha and the DJ Prince, which has had Jamaicans rolling in the aisles since it opened at the Centre Stage Theatre in New Kingston on Boxing Day last year. Taking cover from the heat of the sun burning with vengeful intensity, he meets with The Sunday Gleaner just outside the theatre. Since it is the middle of the day, the place is almost empty and perfect for a quiet interview.
As Glen Campbell speaks, his smile looks somewhat similar to the one that has been so often seen on stages and television. However, unlike in his most popular roles, warm intelligence is what lurks behind it, not manic stupidity.
His sojourn across stage and screen has earned Campbell the (possibly) dubious title of being a likeable buffoon. For many, it was his eyes (which are now at their normal size) which first drew him to our attention. Although Campbell entered the world of theatre through the Schools Drama Festival, he came to many people's attention as the big-eyed distracted policeman trying to stop the party in the Fab Five video for Ring Road.
His leading role in the 1980s Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation comedy Titus Comes To Town further cemented this image. Titus was a bulging-eyed, rotten-toothed country bumpkin, whose image remains affixed to Campbell this date.
Campbell admits that many people continue to see him as Titus when he is off the stage, which can lead inopportune demands at the strangest moments. His experiences have included perfect strangers walking up to him to demand 'tear out yuh yeye mek mi see!' Although he laughs while relating this incident, he admits that such requests can be uncomfortable and somtimes annoying.
According to Campbell, because fans see his comedic roles as a part of his personality, they constantly expect him to be funny. "You'll be doing a simple thing like eating at a restaurant, the fork is half-way to your mouth and somebody comes up to you and seh "gimme a joke nuh'."
He admits to being able to give his fair share of jokes, but points out that he finds being funny on demand very difficult. Of course, Campbell realises that Jamaicans often have a tendency to believe that because one plays the idiot so well, then you must actually be an idiot.
He believes, however, that there is no malice involved. "They'll say the idiot and all that, but it is endearing," he explained.
He went on to point out that it is widely believed that in order to be a good comedian, one has to be very smart. Throughout his career he has made more than passing appearances in close to 30 stage productions, such as School's Out, Smile Orange, Arawak Gold, River Mumma and The Golden Table, Children Children, Breadfruit Kingdom and Oliver and the Genie.
Campbell points out that his performance skills and his ideas of performing have greatly matured since he first graced the stage while still in high school. "In the early days it was all about being big," he said, "but now we find it's the subtleties that are important." He went on to explain that the absurd situations that often occur in comedy do not mean that the comic actor has to be absurd. "In most cases situation comedy is what carries it," he says, "though some believe that since it is so absurd, you have to be too."
A man who has done a fair share of the absurd and beyond, he should know what he is talking about.
Even so, Campbell does not quite see himself as a comedian, but instead accepts the title of comic actor. Interestingly, he reveals that rather than seeking out a career as a comic actor, it was a case of comedy being thrust upon him. Those who have seen his work, and laughed to their hearts' content, are probably quite happy it was so.
MASTERY OF THE COMEDIC ROLE
His mastery of the comedic role has not quite overshadowed his ability to play other characters. Recently he played 'Doggie' in Patrick Brown's Dirty Diana. Campbell reveals that he enjoyed playing that character because it took him outside of the comedic realm. He explained that Doggie was one of the most enjoyable roles for him, because it allowed him touch on the comedic, tragic and the dramatic. "In addition to some subtleties that were comic lines, I was able to play across the spectrum," he explained.
In Cindy-Relisha and the DJ Prince Campbell takes on two roles. He is the play's version of Prince Charming, 'Prince Sheggy', the platinum selling deejay destined to sweep Cinderella from under the evil machinations of the Cruff family. Campbell also plays 'Tipsy', Cinderella's very inept and more than half-drunk fairy godfather who, unfortunately for her, had never paid attention in magic school.
Playing the dual role earned him another Actor Boy nomination. In the 2002 awards he was nominated for 'Best Actor in a Leading Role'. Through playing multiple roles like this one Campbell is able to stretch his acting abilities, even though he is still mainly in comedies.
He points out that especially since his director demands it, he has to make sure that all his characters are different from year to year, and one from the other. "I sometimes have fights with Trevor (Nairne), Patrick (Brown) too, but he has a very keen eye and the right to stretch me," he said.
A look at Cindy-Relisha reveals exactly what he is talking about. Neither Prince Sheggy nor Tipsy is similar to each other, neither in their personalities, nor in the way Campbell plays them. The same can be said for their similarities to the two characters Campbell played in Oliver and The Genie, last year's production.
In order to make sure that each character is different, Campbell reveals that he draws on everyday people. Some of the traits he gives to his characters can therefore be spotted when he is sitting quietly in a bar or walking down the road. He explained that although he may draw on his personal experiences to create the character, he has to avoid putting his physical traits into the characters he plays.
THE LIVE AUDIENCE
Although he has taken his turn in front of the camera, appearing in Third World Cop, Entry Denied and Going To Extremes, Campbell explains that he much prefers the stage performance. One of those actors who believes that there is nothing better than the live audience, he notes however that the Jamaican audience is a very peculiar animal. He points to the fact that Jamaican audiences often attempt to get involved with the production, especially the more they get caught up with the characters.
He remarks that more than likely, however, many audiences outside of Jamaica will reveal a little of the 'Jamaicanness' in them as the production goes along.
One thing is particularly clear, however. Alhough Campbell has accepted his lot as a comic actor, he sees acting as a very serious thing. He believes that that attitude is very important to the development of the theatre industry. "We need to show people that we are serious in order for them to take us serious," he said. "My play ting is serious business."