Review Fix chats with Maura Campbell, who details the creative process behind her newest production, “Massive.”
About the Production:
Ms. Campbell, while in London on another project, met Mr. Bergman a short film and read his journal about his ordeal and recovery from Stage 4 throat cancer. So taken with the story, she created MASSIVE. Massive concerns George, a British actor who endures intensive radiation and chemotherapy for a massive throat tumor caused by the HPV virus. Thanks to the morphine treatments, George thinks he’s dead – or at least his life is starting to look that way. Left alone with his mother-in-law (who’s addicted to online shopping), a pet Beetle named Prince Hal, and the ghost of his dead brother when his wife is rushed to the hospital herself, George confronts the massive upheaval that is the stage show of his life: the roles he’s played, the disease, the treatment, his debilitating tracheotomy, and those poor souls in the chemo ward who never made it out, alive. All the while an omnipresent Kafkaesque Creature teaches George that grotesqueness and beauty co-exist in every moment and how to live in the world we create for ourselves.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Maura Campbell: I met Steve in London last December 2017. He was in a staged reading of another play I wrote. After I returned home, he wrote to me and shared that he was in remission for Stage 4 throat cancer, brought on by the HPV virus. I was immediately struck by the irony of an actor in danger of losing their instrument. He told me that our reading was the first work he had done since diagnosis and treatment. Originally, I offered to write what I believed would be a one-man show. But as I read Steve’s journals, watched the films he had made and had Skype conversations with me, I realized that this was a story about a family.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Campbell: I am a pathological rewriter! The first draft comes easily to me – although that was not the case with “Massive.” Since it was a story that I was researching, I spend several months thinking about it, then wrote 50 pages, threw those out and started over. But the actual writing of this draft was accomplished in less than a month, although I have rewritten it five or six times since then. I usually have table reads as I develop a play, followed by a staged reading and rewrite at every step. Even after a production or two, I rewrite.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special from other plays of this subject matter?
Campbell: I feel like “Massive” tackles the family dynamic. I don’t know of a lot of plays where the central focus is a cancer victim (movies are common, though.) The play manages to infuse a lot of humor; I consider “Massive” a comedy. The humor comes at a high price since it is borne from personal and shared suffering.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Campbell: I suffered a traumatic brain injury a few months after I met Steve and am only recently starting to feel normal again. I made a commitment to Steve and I intended to follow it through. I wrote when I couldn’t do much else. I learned that my creative will and the gods who support it are far stronger and stranger than my physical condition.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Campbell: I would love to see the play produced in London and New York. Steve and I are looking forward to seeing how the play is received on October 29. We have a great cast, terrific director and, we believe, a strong script.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Campbell: I have been sending “Massive” to theatres who develop new work. Meanwhile, I’m collaborating with another writer who writes short prose about his experience working in a nursing home. Talk about funny! And his stories are heartbreaking, too. I don’t know where it will lead but I love and live for the process.