Name: Curtis Campbell te Brinke
DOB: January 26th, 1994
Place of Birth: Clinton, Ontario
Astrological Sign: Aquarius
Creative Field: Writer

Wayne

So, you just had a birthday?

Curtis

I did! I turned this whole place into the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks. I dressed up as the male version of the Log Lady. I knit myself a little log. It’s a cute little log. I still have the pillars in my apartment decorated. I left them decorated because I couldn’t bear to part with them. It was fun.

Wayne

I’m super curious about Strangeness and Breath, can we get into that?

Curtis

Oh God, we did so many versions of that show. I think by the end of it we had done about three different variations of it, which was kind of cool to get that kind of development with a thing. I hadn’t quite done that since I have a habit of just moving on to the next thing.

Wayne

What was the choice to perform in it?

Curtis

That was when I was still performing quite a lot, and I was still in that place of collective creation, even as a playwright. There’s just something so exciting about the kind of peer creation of it. That was where I was at, as a performer. And then that was the show that broke me as an actor and, I kind of stopped performing.

Wayne

What broke you?

Curtis

I think the “all-in mentality” that I had with that show brought a lot of mental health issues to the surface. When we did it the first time at Videofag, I was like, “Okay, I think this is my last hurrah; doing this kind of thing.” Where I’m writing, creating and performing a thing, and then we did it one more time for York (University), and I just girded myself for the whole fucking thing and got through it. And then, that was it for me.

I still do perform, just very, you know, if the stars align right, but never my own stuff. Although, I’m, also, currently breaking that rule for Steph Reposo, so I don’t know what I’m talking about, but yeah — I stopped performing after that.

Wayne

Stylistically, Strangeness is different from what you have been writing lately, can you talk about the genesis of it?

Curtis

When I started writing it, I was a very ballsy person, or at least as a creator. I had a lot of stuff I wanted to try out and either succeed at or fail miserably at. And I had a lot of different things that I was interested in putting together.

I think I still operate in that way, the sense of blending things together. But with that one, I don’t know, I think it was…it was a very sexually driven show, obviously. I think there was a lot that, that I was exploring at the time, coming into my own as a person that way, which is something I’d never really explored before, having grown up as a queer person in the middle of nowhere. So that was a big part of it.

And there were just all these things that I was, like, “What if we just did all these things together, and what if that worked, and who knows.” So it was just an experiment for myself.

Wayne

Where do you think that impulse came from?

Curtis

Honestly, I didn’t have anybody telling me no. I think I was finally in a place (York) where we had the time and the resources; I think when you are in a university theatre program, you’ve got studio space, you’ve got the time to try things out and the bubble of it being a university to fall back on. I had been in the theatre world for a very long time at that point, doing pretty well-made Canadian plays. I think those two things came together and just left me with that, I don’t even know if it’s confidence, but this “Why the fuck not?” mentality.

I do think I was a very confident person artistically at the time. Also having no reason to believe that I was, I had no history of doing these things, I just made up my mind one day that that’s what I was going to do as a theatre person. It may have been a gradual evolution. Who knows? I’m always one of those people who are too busy thinking about the next thing to tear apart the thing I just did.

Wayne

Did you ever have anyone tell you weren’t good enough, or that you needed to work harder? Like any opposition?

Curtis

I think I was that person to myself. I didn’t need those people, because, I was those people. I’m always gonna be the guy who’s like, “You’re not good enough, do better.”

Wayne

Where does that voice come from?

Curtis

I was raised in a blue-collar family, and I have a very blue-collar approach to artsy, wibbly-wobbly, bullshit. And I think I have a very no bullshit approach to artsy bullshit. So I guess that’s where that comes from. Yeah, I think that comes from that side of my brain, which is a blessing and a thing I wish would shut the fuck up sometimes.

Wayne

What is your blue-collar approach to the work?

Curtis

Do better than the last time. Create something more cohesive. Not staying stuck in the same place creatively. Growing in the, you know, kind of style that I can create within, or the manner in which I can build it. I think that’s important to me right now.

I’m trying to get a novel out there; you know, as a writer, I’m pushing myself out of the theatre bubble I’ve put myself into, and that’s important to me. Lately, it’s been collaborating with people and not staying so stuck, feeling like I have to create exclusively within my voice, or my own, you know, vice grip over the thing I’m creating.

I think it’s just setting little goals for myself, like, okay, “Next time I will,” or not even next time, but as I go forward, maybe I can collaborate more. Maybe I can write something that is a comedy of sorts (Laughs). I don’t think I could ever write a full comedy.

So yeah, more well rounded.

Wayne

So then what excites you right now?

Curtis

Writing my novel.

I would love for my writing to exist without the particularities of whether or not someone wants to put it up, for it to live outside of my ability to put it up in front of people. I’d like to be the novelist that I thought I was going to be when I was 10-years-old. Before I wanted to be a playwright I wanted to be a writer, in a more general sense. So I’m pursuing that pipe dream. I wrote a lot as a kid, I was a reader kid, and I just wanted to. I was like, “Hey, that’s cool. I wanna do that.”

That’s where it came from. I would get obsessed with things, like one historical era and read as many non-fiction things about that thing as I possibly could until I was, like, done with my obsession with it, then I would move on. All the while reading all the fiction I possibly could.

I was obsessed with the Halifax explosion for a while. I was kind of in awe of the history of the world, and just, like, being into things for a while, learning new things and that continued into university where I was never really interested in what was going on in class, but quite interested in what I was obsessed with at the time.

Wayne

Are you obsessed with anything right now?

Curtis

I’m obsessed with just reading a lot of fiction.

Wayne

So you’re still ten?

Curtis

I am still ten! I’ve always been reading as voraciously as I possibly could, but lately, I’ve just been rediscovering that 10-year-old side of myself, really devouring books. Yeah, I think, tapping into the thing that made me excited about writing in the first place, which was, you know, being a small child.

Wayne

Would you say any of your work is autobiographical? There is a lot of conversation right now around who is entitled to write what.

Curtis

Everything I write about is autobiographical to an extent, but usually just in the big sense: writing about the small town that these things take place in, drawing upon my background…ummm, I don’t know If I have a definite opinion on that.

I’m also in a place lately of just trying to shut the fuck up and not have an opinion. Not out of a place of fear, or you know, not wanting to step on anyone’s toes. But as someone who is always putting things out into the world. I’m just in a place where I’ve been writing a lot and saying a lot of stuff on a lot of different things, and now I want to listen to peoples. Or not listen. Or, you know? I have been valuing staying quiet lately.

Wayne

I feel that. Sometimes we have to step away. Observe from another vantage point.

Curtis

I mean I haven’t shut the fuck up about the Bruce McArthur case. I’m not sitting around shutting up about that; it’s very much all I will talk about lately. But, yeah, I’ve been staying quiet about certain things.

I’m uncomfortable with 100 percent certainties. When we speak about things in a black and white way, I think we get into trouble. I don’t think there is a blanket statement about one size fits all about who can write what. But I think we need to be open to the many different sides of that. But at the same time, I’m a, you know, middle-class white dude, so there is a lot of things I I don’t have a lot of experience to speak on. But also, I write so much from my own world, that, I don’t know if I’ve taken liberties that way. Maybe I have. Who knows? With IMP, I was speaking about something that has never happened to me.

Wayne

Can we be obsessed with something but not necessarily need to put it out into the world?

Curtis

That’s a little bit where I’m at lately. But again, I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask because I also just don’t gravitate towards something that I don’t have some personal attachment. Like, I’m obsessed with queer serial killers, but a lot of my obsession comes from gay male culture, like toxic gay male culture, which is something I know a lot about. So, I don’t know if I’m the kind of person who would go out of their way to do that in the first place, because I think I write so much from my own area of expertise. Or at least I have so far. But who knows? Everyone takes things from outside of themselves and puts them up in some way or another.

Wayne

But, I mean, in the socio-political landscape we’re in right now, who are we more interested in hearing from? People who are telling their truths in a forward-moving social conversation, or are we interested in continuing to explore entertaining ideas?

Curtis

Yeah. I mean I think about that a lot.

Wayne

It’s interesting that you bring up the Bruce McArthur case, especially where people are talking about not necessarily always feeling safe in so-called “queer spaces.”

Curtis

Well, the weird thing about it too is that I’ve have been obsessed with this idea for quite a while before it was in the public consciousness before it was how it is now. Or at least in the general mainstream conversation as it is right now. And I think at the time, when I was exploring those things and talking about them a lot, putting things together about that, I got met with this, or maybe I was scared of getting met with the question of, “Why are you putting a negative face on gay men? Why are you villainizing someone from within your identity?” And that was interesting.

I think there has been this sanitization of queerness, and it’s not, and never will be a clean slate that we are operating within, and there is still a lot of violence directed by queer people at queer people, and by everyone else at queer people. I just, there is a lot to talk about.

Wayne

As a queer artist, do you think that it is part of your job to cultivate queer space within your work, or are you interested in making people deeply uncomfortable, so they face reality?

Curtis

Depends on the thing.

When I did a piece about John Wayne Gacy, it was incredibly violent, and, well, I mean, the content was violent, the piece was very stylized and interpretive, but it was a very visceral show. I don’t think that blank must be blank. I’m very open to everything requiring its own individual perspective.

Wayne

I ask because I feel like you have a distinct style starting to emerge and I think people are beginning to take notice and are excited to jump on the crazy train with you, and yet you still seem to dance to the beat of your own drum.

Curtis

Yeah, I’m pretty lucky in the sense I’ve got a few people who will come to everything I do and will aggressively support me, and that’s really like, it’s a very fortunate place to be. It’s that kind of thing that helps me do the work, stay afloat and get my voice out there.

But, yeah, I don’t know. I’m always just going to the next thing I’m obsessed with, and, you know, maybe that’s all it is. Just continually going to the next thing that obsesses me. Maybe one day, people, the powers that be, will take notice and that will be great.

Wayne

Would you say that’s success for you then?

Curtis

It’s funny; I was talking about this the other day with the people at S M O O T H I E L A N D. They are so good. We were on break, and I was talking to them about my Rhubarb show, and how well it went, I just wished that artistic directors had seen it. And I was like, you know, a bunch of them came together one night and went to see the dance show at the time, and I was like, “Why are you going to the dance show? You aren’t going to program a dance show. You program plays. Come to my play!” And I was acting butthurt about it, like, aggressively passive-aggressive.

Then I was like, wait, so many people have seen my show. We had three sold-out nights, and people went out of their way to tell me what they enjoyed about it and all these things they took away from it, and that’s so fucking great. And here I am lamenting a group of Artistic Directors not watching it when so many people did. And I was like; “You know what the fucked up thing is? Three, four years ago, where I’m at now, that was success. And now that I’m there, the bar keeps going up.” And I was like, “It’s fucked up that I don’t allow myself to, you know, enjoy the things while I’m doing them.” I’m continually pushing, so I’m always dissatisfied. Which is unhealthy, but yeah, I do think I’m doing the thing that I wanted to do.

Wayne

On that note, what’s your relationship with self-care, or rather, this concept of self-care that is so prevalent?

Curtis

I find it kind of grating when people go on about it. As with everything, I am incredibly cynical about it; I am just a cynical bastard with everything.

I’m horrible at it. I kind of rarely take time to myself.

A thought I had today: When do I exist as a person and not this like carefully cultivated artist? Like, if we weren’t talking tonight, I would have just written, and sent emails until 1 in the morning.

Wayne

So which part of that is acting as an artist?

Curtis

That’s the thing; I think I’m always pushing myself. I have productivity brain, and its hard to shut off. It can turn into a compulsion. So, I don’t know; I’m bad at it.

I think we live in an economy where if you don’t come from means, it demands a lot of you. I think most of us all work several jobs that are hard to you know, to keep up in the air at all times, and so we are all fucking busy all the time because of the direct result of the economy, but also because we’re a generation of entrepreneurs. We are marketing ourselves all the time through social media and socially in general, you know, something about our generation is very hungry and driven.

Wayne

Do you think they always know why they’re hungry or driven?

Curtis

No, we all want to be successful, internet famous, we all want to be as high up on the ladder as we can in whatever field we work. And, you know, I’m not saying in comparison to other generations, I just think as a signature, our generation is very driven and very hungry.

Wayne

Rebel without a cause.

Curtis

A little bit yeah. But, I don’t know if we are. Especially if you’re in your 20s, you aren’t always super comfortable financially. So we’re continually pursuing creative things, and there are a million different things we can be doing, a million different things at our fingertips and we are always going to new things. We are not taking the time we would have had before to just be people and to like, do something stupid.

Wayne

There are so many people chasing other people’s idea of what their dream is.

Curtis

I think that’s a good summation of it.

Wayne

You seem quite comfortable being autonomous.

Curtis

I’m not interested. I think it is the same way I’ve always been; if I’m not super into it, then it’s nothing to me. If I didn’t obsess me, then I didn’t try. That was a lot of my university career. Like, trying to be an academic and if it wasn’t lighting my fire, then I didn’t give it too much effort. Which also means that there are things I could’ve gotten better grades at if I had tried just a little harder. But again, I’m kind of an asshole with stuff like that. You say marching to the beat of your own drum, and I see that as, if I’m bored I’m bored. I don’t know. I don’t want to take credit for it. It’s not coming from a conscious place; I’m just an asshole in a sense. Most of the time I’m just kind of like, “That’s nice and everything, but I just wanna go home and play my guitar and write this monologue that I’ve had in my head all day and watch Bob’s Burgers.”

I do think it came from growing up in a sports town as, like, a limp wristed faggot and it just became blinders up, doing my own thing, because there was no one else to interact with. I think that was just the way my brain grew. And now I’m a bit of lone wolf because of that.

Wayne

Who influences you then?

Curtis

Daniel MacIvor was very influential. I remember Never Swim Alone and going “Oh, that, I wanna do that.” A lot of the early stuff I was writing in university was kind of a direct result of that, that kind of, like, snappy dialogue, writing dialogue in a very stylized way, and that kind of melding of the dialogue world and prose world. I think Daniel MacIvor took a sledgehammer to my brain.

David Lynch is very influential to me. I think he is a constant. Lately, he has been a bit of a touchstone in his allowance of the mystery of the story. Um, and the lack of answers, and not in the way, of, like, you know, “Let’s be edgy and not give the audience what they want.”

Wayne

Ambiguity for ambiguity sake.

Curtis

There’s something so fucking primal about the mystery he creates, the way that he allows the style to be a part of that. Um, yeah, so, David Lynch is kind of a huge one for me.

Kate Bush is also really fucking huge for me and has been for the last few years. I think she was so fucking genuine but so full of artifice at the same time, and that’s so exciting to me. They’re these people who create personal stories that are also constructed and so stylized and that’s fucking so much of what excites me. Not being handed a list of things, where our opinion of it and the story is the end of it, you are being given a pile of things and allowed to sift through it at your will.

Wayne

I can see that.

Curtis

I think the kind of people I grew up around had a significant influence on me at the time. Growing up and spending a lot of my life at the Blythe Festival was a huge thing. I think that kind of created the artist that I’m trying to be at least. Yeah. That was kind of the big one for me, that place and those people.

Wayne

What’s the most significant thing someone has said to you, something that has stuck with you?

Curtis

I remember being such a weird young person, so fish-out-of-water. I remember being in this tough show, so out of my element. And this incredible artist, who, you know, was like a professional and had seen it all, really took the time to kind of hold my hand and made sure that I could keep up with the pace of the production because I had no fucking clue what I was doing. And she said something on the closing night that stuck with me. She, in specific terms, just laid out the next five years of my life. She said, “You are going to find the people that are going to make sense of all this. You’re going to do some cool things; you will find your people, and it will be really good.” I remember her laying it all out. That was something that stuck with me.

A much more well-rounded “It gets better,” that’s not so patronizing.

It’s funny how it’s always when you’re younger, that you remember the big things people say to you.

This conversation took place at Curtis’ apartment on the Danforth, March 1st, 2018.

All photos by Yuli Scheidt