Jeff Campbell’s purpose on earth is to make a difference. He drives that mission through hip-hop, spoken word, political action and performance. When we last picked Campbell’s brain as a Colorado Creative in 2014, he’d most recently turned heads with his one-man show Who Killed Jigaboo Jones?, a biting satire about the exploitation of hip-hop artists, and was plotting his next projects; in the ensuing years, he wrote and produced the play Honorable Disorder and helped stage Jihad Milhem’s post-9/11 drama, Mosque, under the umbrella of Emancipation Theater Company. Now he'll contribute to Recipe, a collaborative immersive show about Denver’s Five Points community that opens January 9 at the Savoy at Curtis Park.
What’s on Campbell’s agenda? Where will his dreams lead him next? Follow his cues as he returns to the Colorado Creatives questionnaire for a second bout.
Westword: How has your creative life grown or suffered since you last answered the CC questionnaire?
Jeff Campbell: My creative life has grown considerably. I produced a full-production, two-act original play with a cast of five titled Honorable Disorder, which was well received critically and even nominated for a Henry award for 2018.
What inspires your work in the here and now?
The idea of storytelling as more than art, but as a necessity for a more just world. Finding the key to unlock compassion for those who we do not understand is within our commonality, or relationship, and the way we learn about those things is through storytelling. There are so many people out there with incredible stories to tell, and being a part of their inspiration, their process, inspires me.
As a creative, what’s your vision for a more perfect Denver?
I would like to see the Denver Center for the Performing Arts utilize more of the local talent for casting in their productions. I would like to see DCPA become more active in supporting community-theater organizations with technical and set-building support, a lending library for props and costumes, and more residencies to develop projects from local playwrights and producers. The Jones Theatre has begun to do residencies, and this kind of work is vital.
It’s a challenging time for artists and creatives in the metro area, who are being priced out of the city by gentrification and rising rents. What can they do about it, short of leaving?
Make money. Produce good art, and get people to come see it. Network and push boundaries. Gentrification has taught me that money does what it wants, and it does not care about your feelings, your legacy or your culture. Artists have to fight back by being organized, consistent and professional. As it is with money, good art doesn't allow anything to stop it. Early hip-hop was rejected by major labels. That didn't stop it. Fringe festivals are the legacy of storytellers who refused to be silenced. History is full of examples of artists who wouldn't allow the barriers of conventional wisdom to stop their creativity.
What’s your dream project?
To create a Denver Black Theatre Ensemble, with a mission to highlight the work of playwrights of the African diaspora, both classic and contemporary. To urbanize classic productions, giving young black actors in the Denver metro area more opportunities to perform, and a community organization to look to for fulfilling their professional acting aspirations without having to leave town.
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
Be consistent. Stop looking for feedback from peers. Put it out there, and get feedback from your audience. Do as much work as you can on your own. Give your audience what they want, and don't be so original or different that nobody understands what you are doing or trying to say.
Who's your favorite Colorado Creative?
Kayla Marque. Her talent is rare, displaying incredible emotional intelligence in her songwriting ability. She has a stirring voice and solid command of the stage, and she is built for superstar success.
What's on your agenda right now and in the coming year?
Recipe, and Hip Hop Saved My Life AND Almost Killed Me, a memoir.
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Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Recipe opens on Thursday, January 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Savoy at Curtis Park, 2700 Arapahoe Street, and runs Thursdays through Sundays through January 9. Admission is $20 (or choose the Great Neighbor option and pay $40 so a community member in need can attend free of charge). Purchase tickets and find information online.
Learn more about Jeff Campbell and Emancipation Theater Co. on Facebook.