17 Nov Mark Campbell
07/24/18 MARK CAMPBELL
Interviewed By Jeff Cain and Terry Fox
[Terry Fox: When did you get to Philly ?]
Technically, when I was 10, although I was born in Abington. We moved into Mayfair in 1962 which butted up against the Torresdale neighborhood at Frankford and Cottman Avenues. I went to Lincoln High School, same school as Steve Antinoff and Sylvester Stallone [attended.]
Essentially my grandfather’s oldest brother went to Seminary and became a biologist. He was the only one to have a higher degree. My parents; my father dropped out of High School. My mother was a class president at St Hubert’s with a 4.0 average. The only student with such a high GPA . She graduated and started clerical work the next day. She probably could have gone to Harvard. But that was how it was. My brother went to college and my sister went to Peirce Business School. She could report back to my parents how alarming PCA [Philadelphia College of Art now part of UArts] was, but they let me go anyway.
[TF: How did you connect to Old City]
By total serendipity. I thought you might ask the question… Paul Auster, defined as a postmodern, what I gleaned from his writing is that the element of change is the defining aspect of people’s life narratives. So, I was on 2nd St. below South Street, walking the streets looking for rental signs and Scott Donahue, (we went to PCA together) leaned out a window of one of the buildings… “Hey Campbell. Would you be interested in going in on space with me? Let’s look at it.” We both had studied sculpture at PCA. So, we looked at the place, which was the 2nd floor at 217 Church Street in Old City. Alfred Piranian was the landlord. That was September 1973. I had withdrawn from school and was working on a construction crew in the suburbs. The loft rent was $90/mo. plus utilities. It had nothing in the way of domestic amenities. The walls were peeling paint and there was a john in a little booth with a bare light bulb. It was connected to little hallway like space where there was a hot plate with 2 gas burners and a cold-water slop sink. We were always buddies in school. But that chance occurrence brought us together again.
[TF: we were there?]
You were working on the space.
[Jeff Cain: That summer ’73 the hearings for Watergate was going on, we watched on TV at a house we were house-sitting for on 9th Street. We were working on the loft]
You guys did everything. You sanded the floors, put a hot water heater in, built the loft. You guys were about 2 decades ahead of us. I remember you working on it. I thought their other people in the building, too. (Mr. Sternblitz as Lady Lynne Mills). Scott was completely comfortable with the camping out. I had to get used to it. I didn’t have that background. My mother did everything. This was only the second place I had lived outside of my parents’ house domestic bubble. It took some getting used to. Scott had the front, and I had the second half of the studio, and I had the back addition. It was super cold. There was a vault there that someone claimed was Ben Franklin’s office. My mother always refers to it that way. Though the building was probably built at the turn of the century.
But the neighborhood seemed pretty empty. It had the 3:30PM turnover time, where the wholesalers and the breakfast and lunch places closed down. So by 6 PM if you saw someone walking on the street, and they were young, they were probably an artist. In 1973 no new construction had been built. We didn’t have other ways of finding out about each other. This is how we met somehow.
Early on there are these very thin layers of time periods which seemed in retrospect compressed, but seemed very long then, from 1973 to 1979. My initial impression was emptiness, but you guys were a kind of portal for people to come into the neighborhood much more than Scott and I. So, we probably met a lot of people through you.
[Jeff Cain: How did you get involved in Bricolage.?]
That’s a long time later that’s 1975. The Bric connection came through Jeanne Quinn
[TF/JC She was a friend of the Mulgrews.]
I remember Eileen. I was working at the Saloon. I took Scott’s job. I went back recently. There is still the same owner. The busboy then has become the bartender now and the bartender then is now the Maitre de. The bus boy lived on American Street in a setback mews of trinity houses. They were having party. And I was invited. Several weeks later I got a knock on the door from Wendy Hammarstrom who was at that party. She was looking for spaces in Old City. She was a dancer. She had been married to Gary Grissom and then I probably met Jeanne through you all. We became friends, too.
So I had the connection with Wendy, Gary and Jeanne. Jeanne said there was going to be this meeting to start this theater company and she said, “You should come.”
When I was in school, I was doing installations, so the thought of doing sets for theater and dance had crossed my mind. I was naturally drawn to that with kind of sculpture. I said, “Well you know I have a softball game that night.” She ripped me apart, “Are you a artist or not!” So, I went to the meeting and Gary and Daphne Nichols were there. He was the audio-visual dept. at Philadelphia Community College and Daphne Nichols taught English there. She had studied with Andre Gregory when he was here at TLA [Theater of the Living Arts] and was super charged up about making theater based on his model, sort of like the Living Theater and influenced by Jerzy Grotowski.
We got to business right away. Charles Guarino was there, he was Daphne’s student. Jerry Nichols was there. Daphne had scripts for Sam Shepard’s “Operation Sidewinder.” As I was the only lanky young man in the room, skinny as rail and with a chip on my shoulder, I read the part of “the young man.” In Shepard’s early plays, he specializes in very long monologs. When I was reading it felt really good and really nice. At the end she said would I perform the role. The Auster game of chance came into play again. So, I came back to the second meeting, a rehearsal. Jeanne was in the piece too. But that was the only Bric piece she was in. We performed the play in the Fall of 1975 (At PCA and Community College Philadelphia) and the company was formed. Robert Younger (the elder) did the lights and then joined the company.
The Brics rented a floor in the Harold Hoffman building on Bread Street. Daphne with her tremendous energy, painted the entire space grey. He owned a lot of buildings, but that building had other artists in it; Dick Caswell and Keith Ragone and Terry Kreuzer.
“Two By Two” was created and presented in the Bread Street space. We worked a long time on it and performed it first, there. When Hoffman found out we were inviting the public, he was against that. I don’t know how it resolved because I think we were in the middle of the run, but it was the only play we performed there.
[ JC remembers a scene in the play where Younger’s (the elder) bald head comes through ceiling and he drops his whole body down into the space.]
We also performed at 5h & South was it Group Motion? Or maybe it was the Albert Benszie’s Theatre Center Philadelphia on 4th at South. We rehearsed at Grissom’s loft on the top floor on 3rd street. It was good space. We would only meet on Sunday and work all day from 10AM to late night. We played volleyball on Saturdays at 11AM on the lot behind where the Bride [Painted Bride Art Center] is now.
Bricolage’s creative process was more like a laboratory situation. Now it’s referred to as “Devised Theatre.” (One can even get a UArts degree with Pig Iron Theater). It was democratic and collaborative absolutely. In fact, in the early moments after we did “Sidewinder” there was some tension and a debate emerged would Bricolage be an authored hierarchy traditional theater group, as Daphne had envisioned – but there was pushback from others to make theater in a different way, more collective and in a circle. “Two by Two” then became in a way the template. It had a structural format of a series of linked experiences in different combinations. One would design that moment together and each moved in and out of the Project Director role. The Project Director was in charge of everything posters, photocopying, putting chairs out, negotiating venues, mediating disputes… trying to get anyone in the group to help you with this was difficult.
“Seveso” “Monologues” “Night Marks” had a kind of narrative structure. “Night Marks” was commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Art. There was a low-ticket price, $3. We did it at Penn’s Houston Hall and then again at Bread Street Studio. 146 N. Bread Street, which was a great resource. By the time of “Seveso” some had dropped out, others had joined. Cathy Stoops and Richard Flood became members. Flood was Project Manager for “Hand to Hand Fighting”. Robert Younger’s (the younger) first appearance was in a piece about Karen Silkwood by Charles Guarino. There was all the interpersonal insanity which created tension around the creativity, but it was an informing factor. It was inevitable. We lasted 12 years, miraculously. Flood did “Toxic Shock.” He went to work at Art Forum. We performed his work in NYC. He lived in Chelsea, as did Midge and Stanley (who still live there). We performed at their place. I played the President of the United States.
[TF: Do you remember playing Santa Claus redistributing the wealth of the world in a 217 Xmas skit?]
I did a birthday performance in your space. The structure of the piece was a testimonial for me delivered by Jeanne Quinn and Jerry Nichols. It was improvised. The text would become somewhat codified but mutable. The conceit was that Jerry couldn’t think up anything to say about me, but Jeanne just went off in very beautiful monolog. It was right after “Two by Two” and Younger (the older) thought the Birthday piece was good model to follow.
[TF: Other OCA or Old City events ?]
Those cross sections of time were moved through very quickly. What seemed to be an empty neighborhood suddenly in one of the slices of time there were a lot of personalities in your life, like Abe Rothblatt. The community that you guys had was a major anchor. The feeling of being isolated was going. This community was emerging with people coming and going and some staying.
[TF/JC: First Block party on Church St in ’75. We printed the flyer on David Beck’s Blue Print copier. Scott worked for him.]
The topography of the neighborhood was also really interesting to explore; all the back alleyways. Always pleasurable. “Wear White at Night” was made based on that experience, the weaving into the intricacies of the neighborhood. Bricolage had a fantastic time doing “Tiger Mountain.” But I had my own piece. It was in the covered walkway behind our building, with a hanging screen (a shower curtain on a frame) attached to a beam over alley, which was projected on. We were throwing stuff together real fast. I filmed Cathy Stoops at Bread Street. It was a piece about longing. She would appear, then start walking backwards and then disappear behind the curtain. So as you went in to the walkway, a figure would appear on this screen. So I had no idea how to do this. AJ McLaughlin was suddenly helping me out. He comes out of nowhere. He was on top of the beam tieing the scrim. The super-8 projector loop wouldn’t work. So there was another guy in the 215 Church St building, a filmmaker, he helped make a sort of big ferris wheel contraption to handle the loop. It was better than the actual projector. Made the installation look great in front of screen and behind… People just jumped in to help out and make it work.
[JC: Do you remember a coffee shop in 215?]
No. But Jiri and Blanka Zizka performed their first WILMA piece at 217, first floor. Chris Hayes was director of WILMA then. He brought in Wooster Group and Ping Chong before Jiri and Blanka [Zizka]. The first floor was a performance venue for a while and Pete Baker and Chuck Mattern moved into the back.
WILMA was angry with me because people kept coming into the building during the performance and you could hear them on the stairway and hear the elevator. I designed the set with Jiri. Again with the slices of time, things became very active very fast. 1978 was an apex. We were confronting the [neighborhood] development. It had a good/bad effect; the bad being that we were going to have to get out of here – the good, that more people might be coming. The Sugar Refinery [a developed warehouse building behind 217 Church St] was a disaster. People were moving out, there was an exodus to NYC.
The diagrammatic arc is pretty steep so by 1980 we all started to move out. The guy who bought 217 wanted me to stay in the place.
[JC: There was a painter John Manteau who moved into the back of your space in 1981. By that point it seemed like there were hundreds of artists and more galleries and boutique businesses]
ETAGE was so important. Sig Kaye did so much more than promotion. After ETAGE closed, he had to do more with his family investment. When I ran into him a while back he had bought some Four-Eyes franchises. Lots happened. I remember Marty Watt ending his performance at ETAGE by getting in a sports car, out the back door and driving away. He had a piece in Wear White at Night. It was phone booth where the audience was instructed to call a number and he would read a poem. The booth was in the parking lot behind 217.
Wasn’t much to choose from. Sigmund ate at the Continental everyday. He didn’t have a kitchen. He ate dinner there every night, chicken croquettes. The Continental was key. Lerners New York Style Cafeteria, delicatessan with the windows all steamed up. We bought liver at Young’s Meat Market. A bucket of chicken livers for 89 cents. When Ping Chong was rehearsing they wanted to go out for lunch. I completely misread the situation. So I took him to Miss Headley’s. But they wanted a Philly style diner and local color. Nick’s Roast Beef, for take out beer. Sassafras was nice bar. We started to pick up work from people like Steve Lebowitz at Historic Landmarks. Their office was on Strawberry Street. He assisted Steve Solms.
[TF/JC: Culture of the time some discussion about GPCA, ICA, Bicentennial and the conservative cultural community]
It was my impression at the time, also looking back, it was different than now. Young people weren’t taken as seriously. You had to earn your place, but there was limited interest and enthusiasm. When I went to Grad school in California later, I was surprised that galleries were coming to students’ studios. Getting serious people to pay attention was difficult. But we were getting grants, PA Council on the Arts. ICA commissioned a work. If you look at the city as a map or a grid there was were points scattered about, maybe those dots were connected by lines, but in between spaces the rest of the city… was pretty thin. The city and its core was de-populating. It seemed like the city planners like Bacon were planning for a potential smaller population. In terms of the culture, you felt you were part of a very small sub-set, I imagine that it’s very different now to be in the city today.
A radical example was that I just couldn’t keep going out to the suburbs as a contractor…so I quit.
So I just rode my bike around looking for work. Entrepreneurial thinking? No. Not part of the language then. Responsible management of life? No. We wanted to be artists and make work. We took one day and at a time. This was radically different from now. Whether artists now are successful is another matter. At UArts in contrast to PCA where this was never discussed. Now at UArts professional practices are part of the study.
[JC money has taken on a different role in the culture]
When I think about the big narrative arc. I think of our role as a noble one. Because the city emptied out, lost its manufacturing base. The core was affected before the neighborhoods. Then the neighborhoods were affected. Like Mayfair was a fairly coherent neighborhood at the time. So, when you would come into town as a teenager, the city felt a little empty and scary. But the few that remained built a life. You communicated the possibility and potential of the life here. We didn’t leave. We stayed at that time. There was energy, activity and life around what we were doing which eventually led to the re-population of the city. It’s an important part of the narrative. The reverse pioneer spirit, of those that stayed while others left. Cultural life of the city in its continuum, it waxes and wanes. But at a very low period there was a lot of energy optimism and spirit coming out of our areas.