Arts & Culture

'Role' of Honour

Glen Campbell elated at national award

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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Come October 21, Heroes' Day, actor Glen Campbell will be among the Jamaicans to receive insignia at the National Honours and Awards Ceremony at King's House. He will receive the Order of Distinction in the rank of officer (OD) for his over 38 years of outstanding contribution to Jamaican theatre as an actor of stage, television and film, and the mentoring of students.

Campbell is still taken aback by the award and describes the experience thus far as being surreal.

“It is also very humbling. After all these years... 38 years, especially for something that started out as a hobby as a JC (Jamaica College) student with the JC/ St Andrew High Drama Club. It continued after school, again as a hobby, a little thing you did on the side and you would get a little money for it, to the point where in 1994 I made the decision to leave corporate Jamaica and dedicate myself fully to theatre,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

Campbell, known for his many and varied characters which always seem to be incorporated his mile-wide grin and the megawatt light bulbs he has for eyes, described his nearly four decades on stage and screen as being fulfilling for the most part, but having its challenging moments. It was a career in the spotlight that seemed destined, as he recalled performing at school in England from age four.

His love for acting in particular came later, as initially he was drawn to music and dance. He shared with the Observer that in his early years he received training in voice and dance, starting with ballet and moving into modern, contemporary and folk techniques. However, he was bitten by the acting bug when he became a member of the high school drama club and realised that acting included the best of all worlds.

Very soon, his school play credentials were getting him noticed and in 1981 with the encouragement of his high school English teacher, he auditioned for Louis Marriott's New Jokers.

“I really auditioned out of curiosity. She said to me, go and do it, you have a knack for this thing and you are interested. I thought, why not, what do I have to lose? I stepped into the audition and there was Grub Cooper and Frankie Campbell of Fab 5 and Louis Marriott. they were the people conducting the audition. I did it and then heard, 'Yuh get through young man'. I now had to go home and tell my mother that I had chosen a life of being a joker. She didn't take too kindly to it at first. Her thinking was after she work so hard to send me to school me a come out come tun idiot. But after I bought my first TV with the money I earned, she softened somewhat.

The experience in New Jokers was eye-opening. It was my first time on stage for a paying audience who knew nothing about me. So I didn't know if I would be accepted. Then I was concerned if I would get the lines right, especially due to the fact that I'm still a student in lower sixth with adults around me. Would I measure up? Would they see me as worthy as being on the same stage? I was acting opposite Roy Hall, Keith Sasso, Karl Davis, Faith Bucknor, Maria Myrie; JC Lodge was in it for a while.”

This introduction to the stage would lead Campbell to more productions in quick succession where he was walking the boards with theatre luminaries and personalities such as Fae Ellington, Teddy Pryce, Grace McGhie, and late broadcaster Dorraine Samuels.

This would lead to one of the milestones for Campbell: his first and only role in a national pantomime.

“This was the next step in terms of movement, playing FX Sweet Mouth in the 1986-87 pantomime River Mumma. This was my first time in a big theatre at The Ward and having to project my voice to the 'fowl roost'. Nowadays, people are being spoilt in a little 200-seat theatre and wearing a microphone. Back in those days on The Ward theatre stage, all 900 people had to hear you clearly. That was a big part of my development; working in a big space and learning to project. It was a different style of performance and there is team dynamics because I was used to three and four people on a stage, this was now 20-odd, 30-odd people in a production.”

It was a pantomime performance that playwright Patrick Brown saw and asked Campbell to be part of the cast of Friends in 1988. That began a relationship between the two that has spanned 31 years. Today, Campbell works consistently in theatre and can currently be seen in Straight Jacket at the Centrestage Theatre in Kingston, but he doesn't allow himself to rest on his laurels.

“Once I made the decision in 1994 to leave the corporate world, it became easier. I had more time to dedicate to rehearsals, research and work on characters. Now after 38 years, it has become a little more difficult as we realise that we can't be famous as the year progress. We need to change, evolve and get better. Now I have to work at finding something different each time, how do I remain fresh and current and relevant? There is where the challenge lies these days,” said Campbell.


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