Mar 25, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 436: Robert Quillen Camp
Robert Quillen Camp
Current Town: Santa Barbara, CA
Q: Tell me about All Hands.
A: All Hands, my collaboration with Alec Duffy’s Hoi Polloi company, is a performance of the strange rituals of an unnamed secret society. One way I like to think about it is as an exercise in mise-en-abyme, in which everything you see, including very everyday language, is constantly recontextualized as something else, as potentially part of a ritual. The piece never makes it clear: this part is a ritual, this part is an enacted drama, this part is really happening. This constant opening up of the ground creates the abyme, the abyss. One of the questions this piece throws up is whether the desire to collectivize is a desire to retreat from the the individual self, in other words, to desire the absence of the self. When the self recedes, and the group takes over, the possibility for narrative recedes as well, and we are left with the strange pleasures of rituals in themselves (on which composer Dave Malloy and choreographer Dan Safer have done amazing work). All Hands is intended to be a strange, beautiful and messy trip, in the way that I think reality is messy, strange, and beautiful.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I have a project in a very early stage, about extremely long duration and the way that concepts of the distant future are only comprehensible through our vocabulary of the distant past, i.e. myth. I’m spending most of my time working on a Ph.D. in theater and performance studies at UC Santa Barbara.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: When I was in kindergarten, I had to keep a journal. Each page of the journal was split into two parts, with a square drawing area on the top half of the page and lines for writing on the bottom half of the page. The idea was that we would represent, in drawing and in words, something that happened that day at school. I always sketched the scene in the form of a floor plan (viewed from above), until one day my teacher told me that I had to draw the scene from the side, like the other kids did. I cried and cried. Eventually I acquiesced, but I retained a strong sense of the injustice about the whole thing. The first play I ever published, in the literary journal Conjunctions, featured exactly the same kind of diagrams that my teacher had prohibited. I could say something about the value of looking at things differently, etc., but I would also point out the perhaps less laudatory side of my character that this anecdote presents: namely my deep and simmering desire for vindication and revenge.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I wouldn’t change anything. The theater keeps fucking up, but that’s the only way it’s ever going to learn.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Mac Wellman, Wolfgang Bauer, Elizabeth LeCompte, Heinrich von Kleist, August Strindberg, Gertrude Stein, Richard Maxwell, Richard Foreman, John Cage, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, many many more.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: It sounds trite, but I like theater that is truly surprising. I think that’s one of the things the form has going for it, the capacity to surprise, to defy expectation. I’m thinking about this especially in terms of form, genre, space, and discipline. I like the way in composer/director Heiner Goebbels’s work, for example, a classical music performance suddenly becomes a theatrical performance.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Also do something else. Like Chekhov. Then bring that other body of knowledge, that other competency, that other perceptual lens back to the theater. The theater will thank you for it.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Go see All Hands! It’s at the Incubator Arts Project (formerly the Ontological) in NYC until March 31! http://incubatorarts.org/