The Arts Abstract sat down with theatre practitioner Lucy Campbell to talk about her upcoming production, Modern Jo: Garbage Witches Discovering a Parallel Universe. The performative adventure takes place on Sunday, Nov. 15th. For more details, check out the event here.
AA: Hi Lucy! Can you introduce yourself and explain Modern Jo in 3 words?
LC: My name’s Lucy Campbell. I’m a theatre practitioner based in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I’m putting on a production called Modern Jo.
Interactive. Fun. Exploratory.
AA: What does ‘interactive’ mean for audience members?
LC: Interactive means that instead of the classic fourth wall set-up, where there’s a stage and you don’t talk to the audience at all, you interact with the audience and the audience becomes a part of the performance… you are directly involved in the scene because you’re there and the actors will be addressing you and not pretending you don’t exist.
In other shows I’ve done, some people are so happy to interact and others are like “what are you doing, why are you talking to me?” My hope is just that people will be engaged and not able to tune out.
AA: How did you arrive at the concept for Modern Jo?
LC: I arrived at the concept mainly because I really struggled as an artist with following through on ideas—I would have like 700 ideas and never do any of them. I had to force myself to choose one and go for that one only. So, I was walking by a dumpster [one of the show’s locations] and flippantly said something about us ‘ending up in dumpsters’ because artists don’t make much money and then [the idea] rolled on from there.
AA: Is this your first foray into writing, directing and producing a piece?
LC: Oikos [a piece Lucy created and performed in her apartment earlier this year] was really my first attempt.
AA: Can you speak to the nature of the collaboration with the actors of Modern JO?
LC: Collaboration for me is kind of scary but exciting because you never know what you’ll get. Sometimes you feel like there’s no show and you have nothing and then you’ll have a breakthrough and it’s great. So it’s very intense. Excluding Tom Niles [who she found through Kijiji], who’s now my friend of course, I’ve known everyone for a while and worked with them before.
AA: What inspired you to move outside the traditional theatre setting?
LC: It all kind of started when I did Lily [Ross-Millard] and Ann [White]’s production of 1,2,3 Woyzeck! which took place in a fucking freezing church attic thing. It was so cold. It was… a very strange kind of torture to the audience and us actors. [It] did so much for the piece.
So then I made my show Oikos, which took place in my apartment. The reason that I kept going with this idea of [non-traditional] theatre spaces […] is because it breaks down the barriers between audience and performer that I don’t think are always so conducive to an engaging theatrical experience.
AA: How do you think audience members will perceive the places you’re taking them to differently?
LC: I’m hoping people would have the same experience I’ve had in making the piece—where they’d start having the desire to explore buildings and find spaces that you wouldn’t normally go to. I want people to see performance spaces where they didn’t before.
AA: Gentrification is something that we are implicated as (mostly) young white people, occupying space in the North End. Could you comment on the theme of rejecting capitalism, present in Modern JO, and how that informs the space you’re working in?
LC: Something I wanted to be really aware of was that I was writing from my own experience. The piece is a bit of a parody, playing up things like being from a middle class or upper middle-class background and having the ability and agency to reject capitalism so easily and say “fuck this, I don’t want this”. In the first couple of lines, the characters talk about their beautiful apartments, which their parents help them pay for, which they then move out of. I see them as fiercely searching for a new way to live and for a new world, but it definitely plays up how it’s easy to do that from that [position].
I hate the term ‘hipster’ but Modern JO plays with hipster aesthetics and stereotypes, including their rejection of everything mainstream to the point of rejecting this reality and trying to find a new reality. I always want to be aware of my privilege and where I’m writing from and yet I can’t move outside of that.
AA: What role do you see theatre having in building community?
LC: Theatre has a huge role to play in community building. I choose to do theatre in different space because a lot of people see theatre as very elitist. I don’t like that. I think theatre is such a powerful mode of expression and a really uniting force, especially participating in it and seeing yourself reflected back at you.
Part of the reason I did Oikos as a party piece was because I wanted my friends who didn’t watch theatre to come and see it and understand that it’s not just sitting in a dark room listening to stodgy words. It opens up new dialogues and gets people talking.
AA: Do you feel as though your Contemporary Studies Programme (CSP) background has influenced your artistic practice and could you explain CSP for people who may not be familiar with it?
LC: CSP [the Contemporary Studies Programme] is vastly interdisciplinary. You can study so much. I read poetry, plays, philosophy, art theory, critical race theory… everything about the contemporary mind set and how we are where we are. And for me, how to fucking destroy every notion you’ve ever had (in a good way).
I feel as though I would not know how to deal with the ideas I have for performances without CSP, especially concerning questions of gentrification and white privilege. I don’t know where I would be theory-wise without the questions CSP gave me.
AA: What do you hope audience members will take from Modern Jo?
LC: I hope they’ll have a fun time and take away the joy of exploring and playing.
Modern Jo runs Sunday, November 15th at 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, and 5pm. The piece is approx. 1.5 hours and requires some walking—sensible shoes apparel are recommended!
Accessibility note: there are stairs, but they can be avoided.