With the 25th PotashCorp Fringe Theatre and Street Festival underway, artists from across Canada and around the world are flooding Saskatoon. Among these many artists is University of Saskatchewan alumni and playwright, Donald B. Campbell.
Campbell is no rookie to the theatre scene — he directed a play at the first Fringe Theatre Festival in North America and has taken part in more than 10 Fringe productions. He is happy to be returning this year with his new play, The Narrow Path.
“It’s about a closeted, conservative pastor who is struggling with his faith and his sexuality,” Campbell said. “It sounds rather heavy, but there’s a lot of comedy mixed with the drama. Thematically it’s about being true to yourself, taking chances and opening yourself up to new possibilities.”
Campbell’s inspiration for writing varies exceedingly — from literature, movies, music, traveling and visual art, to everyday real life events.
“The Narrow Path was inspired from an incident in Saskatoon where people had protested outside a very conservative church where a guest speaker said she had given up her sinful life as a lesbian and was now — using my words to paraphrase hers — ‘Walking the straight and narrow path’ that God intended,” Campbell said.
All members of this production are originally from Saskatoon and like Campbell, one of the actors, Damien Bartlett, graduated from the U of S drama department. Although Campbell and Bartlett have previously worked together at the Saskatoon Fringe Festival in 2003, working with The Narrow Paths’ Mitchell Larson was new for Campbell.
“But [Larson] had worked with Damien, which is great for our production because they were already at ease with each other and trusted each other.”
David Creelman, the director, has worked with both Campbell and Bartlett previously — numerous times with Campbell in both the Saskatoon Fringe Festival and community theatre.
During his time at the U of S, Campbell studied, with honours, both English and drama. Combined, these disciplines allowed him to study plays of several styles and centuries, while also directing and acting in a wide variety of plays. Campbell took a playwriting class while at the U of S, which he said “sparked something in him that has never left.”
Whether drama, comedy or a little of both, live theatre is an experience like no other — for both the actors and the audience.
“For me, there’s nothing more exciting than the immediacy of being onstage or in the audience at a live theatre performance. It’s a moment that can never be repeated exactly. The shared experience of audience members — laughs, sighs and silence — and the relationship between the actors and the audience are very powerful,” Campbell said.
Campbell provides some advice for U of S students who are aspiring playwrights: read and see many types of plays, and allow yourself to find inspiration in literature, movies, music and visual art. Campbell also mentioned that joining the Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre is a great way to receive feedback on your writing, and can provide you with opportunities such as workshops and staged readings.
“And, of course, my advice to other writers — and to myself — is often, ‘It’s okay for your first draft to be terrible!’ I can’t remember who said it originally but I believe very much in ‘The art of writing is re-writing,” Campbell said.
When asked why U of S students should come see his play, Campbell responded with a short, yet convincing statement.
“Because it doesn’t give easy answers. It raises interesting questions in an entertaining and thoughtful way. I think those things appeal to most university students,” Campbell said.
The Narrow Path runs from July 26 to Aug. 6 at the Refinery in Saskatoon. Tickets are $15 and are available for purchase at 25thstreettheatre.org, the Fringe Office or at the venue beginning one hour before the performance. For more information and showtimes, visit 25thstreettheatre.org.
Bridget Morrison / Culture Editor
Photo:Campbell & Company Returns / Supplied