On Tuesday, Torquil Campbell, an actor and co-lead singer with the Montreal-based indie band Stars, takes part in what is being called a Shakespeare Slam. It’s an evening of discussion and performance hosted by Stratford Festival, held on the occasion of the Bard’s birthday. Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright shall set Shakespeare’s words to song, Mr. Campbell will offer Stars material being used in a new theatrical piece and essayist Adam Gopnik will debate Mr. Campbell on the influence of pop versus classical culture. We spoke to Mr. Campbell about the matter.
So, the debate of Shakespeare Slam has to do with pop culture and classical culture, and which has the reigning impact. Which side are you on?
I think Adam and I are both going to be on both sides. I think it will be less a debate than it is a discussion. I think we agree that popular culture and classical culture are kind of interchangeable. Many times they intersect and are the same thing.
Where’s the intersection, when it comes to Shakespeare?The idea we’ll be celebrating and talking about is that Shakespeare is simultaneously the ultimate pop artist and the ultimate classical artist. He had this incredible ability that compelled people to pay money to go buy his art, but also seemed to dig deeper into the nature of being than anybody ever has.
Which accounts for his longevity, right?
A lot of people don’t even understand what a lot of his language is about. It’s kind of another language. But it seems to tap very deeply into parts of us that we want to preserve. So, hopefully the evening will be about his power and his ability to connect with people and to make art that lasted but was also very immediate. It’s also a discussion about how art begins. Does it begin with an urge to connect, or does it begin with an urge to express something that only you understand?
Can you answer that, as it applies to your music with Stars?
For me, it’s always been about the connection. It’s always been about the result. The process, per se, doesn’t really interest me. It’s the effect that your work has once it’s made.
It’s always been that way with you?
I came from a family where art was how you made your living. The bills were paid in my house by doing Shakespeare. I was raised to believe that I had the right to assume I could make a living off it, if I worked hard enough and I was good at what I did.
And how does that monetary element influence what you do artistically?
I think the economic imperative, that desire to have this be the way you make your living, is a really important driving force for making you do the work that’s required. I’ve never been ashamed to admit that I do art I believe in, and I do art that I hope people will enjoy and will give me a little money to see. Without that I’m screwed, because I don’t have any other abilities. I have no plan B, so this has to be viable.