Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Ben Campbell on Shaw musicals: "God, this is fun!"

Benedict Campbell (he prefers Ben), a vegetarian, casually picks through his Caesar salad while I sip coffee in Shaw's expansive new "Green Room," replete with thick-cushioned couches to help relax harried actors until rehearsal call summons their talent. Ben is a Shaw star of the first magnitude here in Niagara on the Lake, this season appearing in My Fair Lady and Heartbreak House.

Ben's father, Douglas, born in Glasgow, Scotland is richly admired by diehard Stratford Festival patrons dating back to Tyrone Guthrie's 1955 Oedipus Rex, portrayed later by Ben whose Stratford credits include Marc Antony in Julius Caesar and the Earl of Kent in Christopher Plummer's King Lear.

His salad finished, Ben confides "it's always a shock to see a picture of yourself in a play. You think, 'it's me!' Mack (Sennett) I saw as a sharper, sleeker person than me; the role I rehearsed for Hotel Peccadillo, I felt more of a pinched person, my face and head adapted to farce." He doesn't research roles. "Perhaps it's laziness on my part; over the years, I've turned it into a process. When you play somebody real, you often get seduced trying to attach something of their life on stage, which is impossible with the lines that you have."

"Mack and Mabel was an aerobic workout, the biggest musical I've done, running and jumping around all the time, a huge physical workout. But in the middle of a performance, a huge rush came over me and I thought: God, this is fun!"

"Working with dad, there were times when it was scary, irritating and really beautiful, the whole spectrum. Part of the exquisiteness of theatre is that the part that is joyful coincidentally is also the scary part of not knowing what will happen."

Ben's former wife, Artistic Director, Jackie Maxwell, is equally up to challenge, assuming the Herculean task of succeeding long-time Director, Christopher Newton, who fashioned Shaw's professional standards and helped coalesce a talented ensemble. Bean counters will examine the bottom line expectantly again this year but the introduction of musicals, which has not hurt rival Stratford, seems to be one solution that also takes advantage of Ben's prodigious talent.

Several years ago, Shaw announced the completion of a $30-million campaign for the renovation and expansion of the Festival Theatre. The project included a 36,000 sq. foot addition to the south end of the Festival Theatre. The addition includes new rehearsal spaces, including a great hall adaptable for educational programs and workshop performances and two additional rehearsal halls, a recording studio and music rehearsal rooms, an Academy suite, a Green Room where Ben and I ate, and a Patrons Reception Lounge, known as The Donald and Elaine Triggs Production Centre in recognition of a $1 million personal donation.

Benedict Campbell  Glynis Ranney as Mabel and Benedict Campbell as Mack in Mack and Mabel  William Vickers as Mr Bauman, Benedict Campbell as Mack and Jay Turvey as Mr Kessel in Mack and Mabel

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