Tim Campbell’s name is another one I’ve recognized over the years at the Ontario Stratford Festival. Some highlights of performances in which he appeared include ‘The Crucible’, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘All My Sons’, ‘Macbeth’ and ‘The Cherry Orchard’. What I did not realize was his extensive work in some noteworthy productions across North America plus in some of my favourite television shows over the years: ‘Republic of Doyle’, ‘Coroner’, ‘Flashpoint’ and ‘Hollywoodland’.
Tim was born in Quebec and raised on Vancouver Island, before returning to Quebec to attend Bishop’s University, where he studied theatre. He was hired as an apprentice at the Stratford Festival in 1998 and has since performed in more than thirty productions there over the last two decades. Tim was the recipient of the 2003 ‘DORA MAVOR MOORE’ TYRONE GUTHRIE AWARD (for outstanding contribution at the Stratford Festival).
We conducted our conversation via email. Thank you for taking the time to chat, Tim:
It has been an exceptional and nearly seven long months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears the numbers are edging upward again. How are you feeling about this? Will we ever emerge to some new way of living in your opinion?
I guess like most of us living in Ontario, I’m concerned about the recent uptick in the number of cases and the apparent onset of a second wave. Though I’m certain that as a society we will get through this, how scathed or unscathed we emerge on the other side is entirely up to us, and at this point, up in the air. My sincere wish is that public health policy will be shaped by the best available data in the uncertain years to come. That something as fundamental as mask-wearing has become political depresses the hell out of me.
How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last six months?
I’ve been good. Good? Mostly good. Parts of the enforced isolation have been an unexpected boon. My wife (who’s also an actor - Irene Poole) and I are frequently so busy through the summer months that we don’t get as much time as we’d like with our two school-aged kids. Quarantine allowed the four of us to spend welcome time together and develop new family traditions - hard-fought daily 5PM euchre, camping trips, days at the beach on Lake Huron.
We had a large decision to make in late summer as to whether the kids would be studying at home or attending class in person. Because they’re both in the French immersion stream, there was no online distance learning option - we’d have to have homeschooled them. That seemed a bit daunting, so we decided that they would return to school in person. We are lucky to be living in Stratford, where the number of active COVID cases has remained low so it seemed a reasonable risk - even in larger than ideal class sizes, they are both really happy to be back.
As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
I found the sudden and absolute interruption of our entire industry disorienting. Like getting punched in the face. One day I was in the middle of an eight-show week, the next I wasn’t. Months went by, and the strangely buoyant, high-alert sense of being in an emergency began to fade. These days, as a clearer (and professionally dire) picture emerges of what the next few years will likely entail, I have struggled with staying positive.
Like thousands of other actors who work predominately in the theatre, I have devoted the whole of my professional life to developing competence in a very specialized set of skills. To have the marketability of those skills (and as a result my ability to earn a living) disappear overnight is frightening. But I’m trying to keep my chin up, and mainly succeeding.
Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon?
I was in the final week of a show that was cancelled in mid March and was supposed to do another in June. I’m assuming that there are no plans to revisit these projects - understandably so - but haven’t heard anything certain.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
Parenting, cooking, reading, watching tv, lifting weights in my basement, and honing the art of the self-taped film audition. I’m a bit of a homebody by nature, so that aspect of the pandemic has not been a hardship.
Any words of wisdom or advice you might /could give to fellow performers and colleagues? What message would you deliver to recent theatre school graduates who have now been set free into this unknown and uncertainty given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years?
I wouldn’t presume to offer advice to my colleagues, but for recent graduates? Hmm. I guess I’d suggest that they take advantage of this fallow season by expanding their understanding of what kind of art moves and excites them - read plays, listen to music, watch films. Develop an aesthetic. Look at this as a gift of time.
Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19?
Sure. I think the pause has given us an opportunity to examine those things that sometimes life moves too quickly for us to consider. Both big things (Is market economy capitalism providing the most good for the most people, and should we do something about that?) and little things (The colour of this living room is actually pretty dingy, time to paint?)
Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
Absolutely. My fear is that many theatres may not survive. We work with such ridiculously thin fiscal margins and such anemic government support that it’s difficult for most theatre companies to weather a rainy day, let alone a rainy few years. Even larger companies. Maybe especially larger companies.
Size and scale of productions are bound to be affected for the foreseeable future. I just don’t see the possibility of any functional model of professional theatre (or live music concerts, or stand up, etc.) while an audience must be capped at 50 or 100 people.
Some artists have turned to You Tube and online streaming to showcase their work. What are your comments and thoughts about streaming? Is this something that the actor/theatre may have to utilize going forward into the unknown?
I’m not sure that I’ve seen enough of it to form a firm opinion... but... early in the pandemic, I watched the National Theatre Live production of One Man, Two Guvnors, and more recently, Hamilton.
When the Stratford Festival re-released the filmed productions they’ve shot over the last few years, I watched those too. All of them were very watchable and very good, and I felt like I was able to extrapolate the intended effect of the live productions, but my enjoyment of them was always at a slight remove. As an archival exercise, filming these productions is invaluable. If you aren’t able to see something in person, it’s the next best thing. But live theatre will always be more potent live.
Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you?
Loads of great memories. I trust there will be many more to come.