A Man On A Hill

Note: I know I do not utilize this place much anymore, but with my Dodgers in the World Series for the first time since 1988 and facing elimination by the Houston Astros in Game Six tonight (on Halloween!) here at home, I’d be remiss as a life-long fan if I didn’t post up the following fantasy that I SO hope becomes reality:

I had a vision last night. It is of a tomorrow not too far from now. Not too far at all on the calendar, but to get there we must leap across a wide and deep chasm tonight that so many are saying we cannot and will not clear.

In my vision we take that leap and we do end up on the other side where there stands a man on a hill in a field. He is surrounded and protected by his fellows and the field is encircled with the love shown him by the cheering and supportive throngs. But in the midst of all that joy and support the hill he stands upon is a lonely, lonely place. In his right hand he holds his weapon of choice, a palm-sized orb of bright white leather and red thread, with which he is so well practiced and so highly skilled.

He is a dignified, respectful man, wise beyond his 31 years, who in the direct face of a recent reprehensible and disgusting display of racist ignorance and derision — with the world seemingly clamoring for him to respond to it with furious condemnation — instead he returned a calm consideration and a thoughtul decency requiring so much more strength to deliver.

Swaggering forth to face that young man from a five-sided white pentagon embedded in the earth — an equally lonely place — comes the insulting enemy. He has been labeled a beast and called a monster, but he, too, is just a young man, though one infinitely less wise than his 33 years. On his head sits a helmet that shields his grotesquely styled locks from view and in his hands he wields his weapon of choice, a strong and well-turned staff made from the hearty wood of an ash tree, with which he too is well practiced and so highly skilled.

The cacophonous chorus of cheers for the man on the hill turn to a tempest of torment for his opponent sixty feet and six inches away as the two settle in and prepare for battle amidst the deafening din.

With laser precision and able command of a wicked wizardry the man on the hill flings the orb twisting and turning, rising and dropping in a succession of launches toward the pentagon where the pineapple-haired hater tries in vain to launch it into the air and beyond the field entirely. The first is swung at mightily yet missed entirely. The second is fouled off into the crowd, which then rises as one cheering louder. The third he watches go low and beyond the reach of his staff. He starts to chop at the fourth but pulls back at the last possible millimeter as the bottom drops out too soon and bounces in the dirt before him. He crowds in for the fifth and the man on the hill brings it in high and tight forcing him to twist out of its way.

And the sixth? Well, that comes after both men step aside amid deep breaths and deeper thoughts to gather themselves. And when it does it is a righteous freight train perfectly straight down the middle that he freezes before and can only simply stand and watch as he is slain.

And the surrrounding crowd in unison with all those across the land joyously cry out “Yuuuuuuuuuuuu!” And that man on the hill was not so lonely anymore.


Vinny Vidi Vici

Dickens gave us: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The contemporary poet Rob Bass wrote: “Joy and pain are like sunshine and rain.” So true.

Deride me for my informal television-viewing fashion choice or mock me the blinding white translucence of my legs if you must, but more importantly, what these two stills from our livingroom cam catch are my reactions the moment Dodger Charlie Culbserson’s fly ball became the incredible game- and division-winning walk-off homerun in the bottom of the tenth inning Sunday, followed shortly thereafter by the realization that I’ve just heard Vin Scully’s last call of a play at home.

Exuberance. Bereavement.




Next In An Occasional Series: Favorite Shirts

Thursday afternoon, I biked downtown to the Music Center to pick up tix for “War Horse” waiting for me at the Ahmanson’s box office. I forgot to turn off the handlebar cam on my bike and as a bonus it snapped me in my Hollywood Bowl Driving School tee, a favorite shirt of mine that has sat in the drawer unworn for a couple years because from then up until just about last week (thanks to my diet) it fit far too snug around my bel-lay (click it for the bigger picture):

More info on why I created such an (overpriced — hey it’s unique) article of clothing.

Dear Independent Shakespeare Company,

We were thrilled to be in the audience for the final performance of “Othello” last night at Griffith Park and had so been looking forward to the show, but unfortunately once it started we found that our position centered some 50 yards away from the stage was fatally detrimental to our enjoyment and comprehension given the number of the performers who were unable to project their voices such an apparent herculean distance. Seriously: there was a gentleman behind me gamely whispering a play-by-play to his companion who was literally drowning out some of the actors on stage.

The young lady’s expression inadvertently captured in the foreground was probably unrelated to the company’s lack of projection to this distance, but it certainly mirrors the frustrations I had with such inexplicably weak voices used in an outdoor venue.

For the price of admission I suppose I shouldn’t complain, but I will: it’s patently unforgivable — especially at the final performance. I suppose fault could be placed in our laps for so naively arriving at 6 p.m. instead of, say, 6 a.m. when we could have secured and defended a space much closer to the stage and well within the range of such a rampant use of camera-ready voices. But since we weren’t alone at arriving at so far more civilized an hour I’m wondering (hoping and praying, actually) if consideration is being given either to having the director rigorously explain the art and science behind voice projection, or perhaps installing even the most rudimentary of electronic amplification systems — or even better: both!

To be sure, even from so far away I could recognize the energy and enthusiasm and talent present in the production, but if no one at the Independent Shakespeare Company either on the stage or behind it recognizes that the importance of being heard at such a venue is far more than the importance of being earnest, I’m afraid the flood of patrons fleeing from the rear at future intermissions will continue with many never to be seen again.

My wife and I among them.

Will Campbell

How now? Good sir David Melville, the managing director of the company saw fit to take good and surly issue in a reply to my email (to which I parry with my reply afterward).

He writes:

My goodness what an insulting email.

Why on earth didn’t you move closer if you were having difficulty hearing? If you arrived at 6pm then you certainly could have found a better seat. There were plenty of good spots closer to the stage last night even with over 600 people in the audience. I stood at the back last night behind everyone and had a brief conversation with a patron who was amazed at the good acoustics and the skill of our actors. I’m sorry this was not your experience.

I take great exception to your comments about our actors. This is most decidedly not the prevailing attitude to our work.
Thank you


And my reply to his reply:

Hi David,

My goodness what a speedy and ultra-dismissive and defensive reply in so excellent an attempt to be as insulting as you deem me to be. Had I any idea I was contacting such an easily offended and myopically over-protective representative of the company I would have dispelled with anything resembling constructive cordiality and just gone straight to the expletives.

But I’ll hold off on those pending the tone of any follow-up reply you might feel is required.

As to your ridiculously inconsiderate suggestion that we relocate further up, rest assured, had there been the opportunity to do so once the show started we certainly could have been even bigger asses than you presume us to be and packed up our low-backed lawn chairs, food, drinks and other materials and gone “excuse me, pardon me” trudging through the densely packed patrons in front of us to clatteringly unpack and resettle and better disturb their enjoyment — something you no doubt wouldn’t hesitate to do.

But shame on us for being respectful of our fellow attendees and for not being entirely accepting of those weak-voiced members of your apparently unimpeachable cast. For what it’s worth I didn’t hold every single player accountable. For instance, the fine actor portraying Cassio was as wonderfully audible as he was talented.

Anyway, I’m thrilled for you finding a guest in the back who represented that “prevailing attitude” to your work by reinforcing how everything was just peachy. Conversely, I’m embarrassed for you that you so readily disregard this guest who had a far different experience — and the truth is you’re not sorry in the slightest about it.

If nothing else you’ve reminded me that making suggestions that could be beneficial in improving an experience for everyone sometimes falls on deaf ears — ha! But at least in doing so you’re patronizing reply has provided me ample reason never to waste even a moment considering patronizing any future productions the ISC might be involved in. For that, I thank you.


UPDATE (12:30 p.m.): In the meantime I hear back from the far more reasonable Melissa Chalsma, ISC artistic director:

Hi Will,

Thanks for your input. I would say that your experience, on the whole, isn’t the norm, though that certainly doesn’t invalidate it. Many of the actors you saw are among the best trained in the country, and none are camera actors, having performed on Broadway, Ashland, Utah Shakespearean, Festival, etc. So, for the most part, it is the acoustics of outdoor theater, not their ability, that is the challenge.

Acoustically, it’s difficult not to have a back wall behind the audience not to bounce sound off. Any theater with 600 people generally has something to bounce the sound off of, and perhaps we will be able to do so someday, though the finances of that are decidedly challenging. Overall, though, it’s good to be a victim of our success. I’d ask you to remember, we are doing this without significant city support, and will provide free, professional theater for nearly 15,000 this summer.

If you return, please ask one of our volunteer ushers help you secure a spot closer to the stage.

Thanks again,

To which I return:

Dear Melissa,

I had braced myself for a reply whose tone mirrored Mr. Melville’s initial response, and it’s a relief to get one featuring far more consideration than he could manage. I can appreciate that my experience might be in the minority, and as I stated in my initial email even though I couldn’t hear much of it, I could readily see that there was talent and commitment all over that stage. That in part is what made last night so frustrating.

Melville blamed us for not packing up and muscling our way during the performance to a patch of grass closer to the stage. Sorry, but that’s not how I was brought up.

I do apologize for my sarcastic reference to “camera-ready actors,” which unfortunately theater in Los Angeles has occasion to suffer from because it’s the nature of a training that is focused for dialogue on soundstages rather than stages.

And while my first email [may] not seem like it, I do recognize the difficulties you face both financially and acoustically, and I do understand and applaud the great job the ISC is doing despite those hindrances to bring professional theater to the public. It’s an important reason why we came out there last night to support it.

In closing, my suggestions — any snark aside — were offered as a life-long fan of theater outdoors and in, because I always want to see it be the best that it can be.


But just as things seem to be mellowing out, Melville comes back with the coup de grace:

Well one less pompous arse in the audience is fine by [me]. Especially one that needs a hearing aid.

To which I briefly deliberate going a little wider and posting this entertaining grind on Blogging.la but I decide just to throw back to him:

Honest Mr. Melville,

In that case, I’ll see you at the next performance to make much ado about something. I’ll be easy to spot. Just look for the villain standing in one of the old bear cages with a rapier in one hand and a bullhorn in the other yelling “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”


What ho!? Nay! It lookst to me as if there might be a thaw in the ice to see. Melville writes:

That is actually quite funny. I’m beginning to like you.

Sensing an opportunity to end things on a better note, I offer my broader mind in response:


I’m a sucker for a kind word. So nevermind. It’s all my deaf-assed fault.

Seriously: I can imagine how much hard work you’ve put into herding this endeavor — and probably for little reward more than the satisfaction of seeing angelenos flock to watch it happen. As vested as you are it’s understandable that you’d be so paternally protective of your productions and your actors. I hope it’s ultimately understandable that though I’m coming at it as an unvested audience member, I’m just as paternal about theater as a whole, and always want to see it be the best it can be.

As I wrote to Melissa, my suggestions ( I won’t call them simple because I’ll wager nothing is simple where these shows are concerned)  were sincerely offered because all sarcasm and disgruntlement aside, I’d be the first one to jump up on the battlements to cheer you on for what you’ve accomplished. You interpreted what I wrote as an attack and baseless, but I  submitted it not as a hater but as a diehard supporter who saw room for improvement.

Certainly you could argue “Well why didn’t you just say THAT instead of all that snarky malarky? And that’s a good note worth taking.

So howsabout a truce: You go put on a fresh coat of teflon and I’ll put the rapier and bullhorn back in storage and remain hopeful that you and the ISC will continue to look for ways to make a cherishable experience even better. Deal?


In fact, all’s well that ends well. Melville writes:

I like you even better.

Next time you come please let us know and we’ll save you donor seats.
I conditionally accept:
Sold… As long as there are no internal organs I’ll be required to part with for the privilege.

Richard Sylvan Selzer, RIP

Way back in another life when I was the theater critic at-large and filing a theater review every Monday for the Pasadena Weekly newspaper, I once found myself at Westwood’s Geffen Playhouse seated directly behind one Richard Sylvan Selzer — far more recognizable as Mr. Blackwell, the self-styled arbiter of taste most famously known for his dishy annual “worst dressed” list.

Before the intermission I found myself the focus of several disdaining over-the-shoulder glances from him and at the break I was decidedly on the receiving end of Mr. Blackwell’s disgust — not because of the standard if unfashionable theatergoing sportcoat-and-slacks ensemble I happened to be wearing that night, but instead  because I was annoying him with my laughter.

Mind you, we weren’t watching “Hamlet” or “Antigone.” In fact, it was a production of “By Jeeves” by Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber — a farcical musical comedy for sure and one done well enough to suit my funnybone, but apparently shame on me for deigning to enjoy the ensuing hilarity far too out loud for Mr. Blackwell’s comfort.

Standing when the house lights came up, he spoke to the gentleman accompanying him and wearily said  loud enough that he’d be having a much better time except for “braying” behind him.

So I turned to my date and said “Mr. Blackwell thinks I sound like a jackass, but at least I don’t act like one — at least not before the third act.”

I turned back to him and met his tinted-lensed glare at me until he and his partner adjourned to the lobby. When the curtain went up they had not returned to their seats, opting either to leave the theater entirely or be re-seated among far more humorless patrons.

I’m In

Not sure how big a deal it is if any at all, but after my Question Girl(tm) Joz posted about these Music Center-hosted storytelling workshops on her blog, I clicked on over and synopsized my little tale of whoa — and I do mean whoa! — for their consideration:

For the summer of 1982, my first after graduating high school I worked at a warehouse of a distributor called Georgia Thread Company on Pico west of Central co-owned by my best friend’s father. He and his partner were in the midst of being investigated for insurance fraud, which resulted from a theft that they had staged prior to my working there. It was only a few months after I quit that the co-owner, who had allegedly attempted to blackmail his partner, was murdered in his office and later my friend’s father was tried and convicted of hiring the killer.

There’s much more to it than that, but they limited the description to not many more characters than that.

Lo and behold I was stoked to get a letter confirming my participation in the program, which is a collaboration between the Music Center’s Active Arts program and the Cornerstone Theatre Company, set for the Saturdays of February 17 and March 3, culminating in “an informal sharing of stories at the end of the process for invited guests.”

Not quite sure if I’ll be the one freaking out telling the story or if I’ll just be providing the background for professionals to relay the tale, but it should be very exciting.