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February 2004

Gavin Cameron-Webb
Artistic Yet Realistic

by Joseph H. RADDER

Have you ever been in a theater watching a very enjoyable play, wondering who put it all together? Who selected the play from the thousands available? Who hired the director? Who supervised the casting, the set design, set construction, and acquisition of props? At Studio Arena Theater that person is Gavin Cameron-Webb, artistic director. He is one of those rare people who's bursting with artistic talent, yet is realistic enough to know what will appeal to mass audiences. "Essentially, I'm responsible for everything that goes on the stage", he said.

The success Studio Arena has enjoyed for the past twelve years under his direction certainly attests to his unique capability.

Gavin was bitten by the theatre bug at a very young age when he saw "Peter Pan" with his family. His first appearance onstage was in a Scottish play. "I remember my father built me a shield that seemed bigger than I was. Onstage, I think the silver paint he used (from painting cars) may have blinded the audience."

In addition to contributing to Studio Arena's success, Cameron-Webb has been instrumental in the success of the arts in the community in general by seeking partnerships with other cultural institutions. He told us: "We have a collaboration going at the moment with the Buffalo Philharmonic and Shea's Performing Arts Center. We did a production a couple of years ago, 'Two Pianos, Four Hands' in conjunction with Shea's. We have also worked with the African-American Cultural Center, the Paul Robeson Theater, on a cross-marketing effort ".

"We try to employ as many local actors as possible," Gavin continued, "and we have a commitment to Buffalo writers including, A.R. Gurney and Tom Dudzick." Studio Arena has produced many A.R. Gurney plays including "Scenes from American Life," "What I Did Last Summer," "Sylvia," and "Buffalo Gal." Tom Dudzick is the author of the "Over the Tavern" series which includes "Over the Tavern," "Over the Tavern, King of the Moon," and "Lake Effect."

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Left to right: Gavin, Sheryl, Simon, mother, Mark and dog Buck -1959. Sister Sheryl and brother Simon.
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Gavin’s Maternal grandparents (center) A.G. Dain and MB Dain. Top row, left to right: Mother, Uncle Ian, Aunt Margery, Father, Uncle John
Seated: Brig. General J.H. Cameron-Webb and Mrs. Cameron-Webb.

Gavin Cameron-Webb has a natural affinity for the works of Tennessee Williams, having lived in New Orleans for several years after arriving in the United States from his native England. As a result, he launched a five year retrospective of Williams' major works which ended last season with "A Streetcar Named Desire." "I've always admired his writing," says Gavin, "particularly his imagination. He is, after all, one of the great American authors."

Gavin also inaugurated the Studio Too Series which produced such titles as "Three Viewings" and "How I Learned to Drive."

Before coming to Buffalo, Gavin Cameron-Webb lived in New York City, where he taught at the Juillard School and at SUNY (no comma) Purchase, N.Y. While teaching, he worked as a free-lance director staging productions across the country and abroad. His work has been eclectic, encompassing both contemporary plays such as the European premier of "I Hate Hamlet" starring Horst Buccholz and classical works such as "Hamlet" with Val Kilmer at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Gavin considers this experience one of his best as a director both because it was "Hamlet," the most celebrated play in Western literature and because it was Val. "Every scene seemed to have its own reputation as a classic in some way. Val was superb to work with and incredibly demanding and anxious to get everything right. He would try virtually anything."

Gavin also worked with Jimmy Smits on a production of "Othello." "He has a wonderfully sunny nature and exuberance in the way that he embraces life."

Gavin's career continues to take him on adventures throughout the country and the world. This past summer he staged Ronald Harwood's "Quartet" for the Vienna's English Theatre. It was a great thrill to be working on a Harwood production because he had just won the Oscar for his screenplay "The Pianist." "He was an established playwright, with a worldwide reputation. Harwood surprised us all by flying in from Tel Aviv for opening night! He was extremely complimentary to everyone, including the British Ambassador."

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Gavin Cameron-Webb, Julia Schafranek (ArtisticDirector, Vienna’s English Theatre), actors John Hart Dyke, Roger Forbes, Ronald Harwood (playwright), Jennifer Piercey and Delena Kidd.

With all of the satisfaction that being a part of live theatre brings, Gavin says that even with the most careful planning, things don't always go as planned. "My worst rehearsal was a final dress on New Year's Eve a couple of years ago. I was directing an adaptation of "Dracula." Everything seemed to go wrong. Bats flew into walls and fell on the floor, doors came off their hinges, blood spurted in the wrong places and Dracula's teeth fell out. And, as luck would have it, the artistic director saw the whole thing."

Success as a director means always being on the go. Once, during an eighteen month period, Cameron-Webb directed three different productions of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest". His favorite classical author remains Shakespeare, and to date he has directed a third of the entire canon. In the early 1980s he led the Boston Shakespeare company. Prior to living in New York, Cameron-Webb also taught at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and at Webster College in St. Louis.

More recently he has been involved in the World Premiere of the Studio Arena commissioned play, "While We Were Bowling" which will be on stage in Buffalo in March 2004. He was not only involved in the script development but in testing the play before an audience in Cape Cod. He then returned to Buffalo to begin rehearsals for "Noises Off", the first play of Studio Arena's 2003-2004 season.

Although English by birth, Gavin Cameron-Webb has lived in the United States for the past thirty years. Born in 1945 on Friday the 13th of July, he grew up in Hendon, an area of North London. "My father, Peter Edwin John Cameron-Webb, was a great showman in the sense of the very colorful life he lived. He was born in India, where my paternal grandfather, John Cameron-Webb, was a Brigadier General on the legendary northwest frontier. My maternal grandfather, Albert George Dain loved the United States and visited many times, traveling on both the Queen Mary and later on the Queen Elizabeth."

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Brother Mark and Gavin. Gavin (center) Cheltenham College - 1960.
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Sheryl, Mark, mother , Simon and dog Leo - 1970. On the balcony of Gavin’s mother’s flat in London, Left to right: Mark, Susie (Mark’s wife), Malcolm, Simon, mother and Sheryl.

Remembering his mother, he said "My mother, Beryl Dain, was glamorous, passionate, and patriotic." One of the things she was most passionate about was football. "She was such a big fan of her team, the Tottenham Hotspur in North London that she had her ashes scattered on the field." Gavin shares his mother's love of sports and very much appreciates that Buffalo is such a sports town. "Whilst growing up in England I played for my school's rugby team, where I broke my nose, wrist and leg playing the game." He was also on the swim team and played cricket. When he arrived in the US, Gavin played on the University soccer team where he consequently ruined his knees.

Gavin has two younger brothers and two sisters. One brother is deceased. His other brother is in the automobile business. One sister teaches diving, the other lives in Malta where she works at the island's hospice as a massage therapist.

Gavin Cameron-Webb and Jane Page were married in 1996. "We were married in a bakery" he says. Actually, if pressed, he'll tell you that the bakery was also a coffee shop they frequented.

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Sydney Hawkins and Gavin’s mother Beryl Cameron-Webb. Gavin and wife Jane.

Gavin has one child, a daughter, Madeleine, from a previous marriage. Last summer, she graduated from the University of Brighton in England with a degree in social studies. She is also studying jewelry design.

Cameron -Webb's best childhood memory is the day the family brought home a six-week-old yellow Labrador puppy named Buck. "I remember bringing the dog home when I was about twelve. The first thing the puppy did was to fall sound asleep under the television."

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Gavin, daughter Madeline and father. Gavin’s nieces Charlotte, Hope and Gemma.

He attended elementary school in England, then St. Martin's Preparatory School, Cheltenham College, the equivalent of an American high school, and then came to the United States where he attended Tulane University. He went on to graduate from the University of New Orleans with a degree in Theatre and honors in English. He then attended Ohio University where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Directing.

He then went back to London and attended the London film school, subsequently applying those skills in the advertising business. He then returned to the U.S. to do graduate work at Ohio University where he majored in fine arts.

Cameron-Webb is enthusiastic about the arts in Buffalo, and the local theater in particular.
"The arts in general are the stuff of life," he says. "The theater in Buffalo is amazingly diverse
and thriving." He agrees that we are very fortunate to have so much good theater in a city of this size. His philosophy of life is simple: "Carpe diem" (seize the day).

His hobbies are travel, photography, and reading, all of which can be practiced together. He is going back to London in January, then to Amsterdam, and to Japan in May. He's also a wine enthusiast. Undoubtedly he will take a lot of pictures, visit different vineyards, enjoy his share of wine, and do a lot of reading on these trips.

Gavin tells an interesting story about how he happened to come to Buffalo. He was on a waiting list for an apartment in New York City for a very long time. Then, suddenly a beautiful apartment on the 40th floor became available. This was about the same time he received almost simultaneous offers in Indiana and Buffalo. He applied for both jobs, and moved into the apartment, knowing full well that would probably trigger a job offer. Indeed it did and he accepted the position as artistic director at Studio Arena Theater. That was twelve years ago, and he's enjoyed every minute of his stay in Buffalo ever since.

Gavin is honored to be a part of Studio Arena. "Studio Arena is a great place to work, largely because of the staff. It is a community with a rare dedications and formidable talent. It is a welcoming place and a supportive atmosphere for our many visiting artists."

Working with executive director Ken Neufeld, Cameron-Webb developed a 2003-2004 season that has been very well-received to date. Studio Arena was able to return to a seven show line-up for this, its 39th season which runs through May 23.

Gavin said "I'm delighted to respond to our audience request for more plays. Our seven show line-up is filled with terrific variety. We are producing some of the most vibrant and entertaining theater ever written for the stage. No doubt our audiences will be pleased with the mix of stories we are offering from moving dramas to brilliant comedies. Our holiday offering, PLAID TIDINGS was a great success. And I'm especially excited about the world premiere of WHILE WE WERE BOWLING, a coming-of-age play that takes place in 1957 and centers around a Buffalo family with a passion for life and bowling."

The current season is a perfect blend of comedy and drama, new and familiar, traditional and contemporary. There truly is something for everyone and Gavin encourages everyone, if they haven't already, to experience not only the theatre's wonderful plays, but its unique layout. "The theatre itself realizes Frank Lloyd Wright's ideal of having the actors and the audience in the same room rather than being separated by a proscenium arch. This is what allows the work here onstage the true ability to embrace and engage the audience. I have always loved the thrust stage because it brings the actors so close to the audience, and because it is easy to imagine simply stepping up out of the audience and into a completely different world."

To date this year, Studio Arena has produced "Noises Off", "Proof", "Plaid Tidings", and "A Raisin in the Sun."

Beginning February 15, the curtain will rise on "POURING THE SUN", by nationally-known storyteller Jay O'Callahan. He crafts a moving tribute to Polish immigrant steel plant workers and the laborers who built this country, one girder, one beam, one rail at a time.

The play beautifully recalls fifty years of industry as seen through the eyes of 65 year-old Ludvika, whose husbands and sons work "the steel." From boom to bust, her story illuminates the profound effect of steel on the lives of craftspeople. Studio Arena is dedicating this production to Buffalo steelworkers and their families.

This will be followed by "WHILE WE WERE BOWLING" March 20 through April 19, Seventeen year-old Lydia McGlaughlin takes us on a touching and hilarious tour of 1950s Buffalo. With the world changing around them., one thing keeps her family grounded, the great sport of bowling. This comedy, written by Carter W. Lewis, was written exclusively for Studio Arena audiences. Lewis and Studio Arena are participants in the Theater Residency Program for Playwrights, a project of the National Endowment for the Arts and Theater Communication Group with additional support from Vivendi Universal.

"STONES IN HIS POCKETS" will close the season from April 25 to May 23. Winner of the Olivier Award and a New York Drama Desk Award, all hell breaks loose in this tour de force comedy when a Hollywood film crew descends on a sleepy Irish village. With lightning speed and precision, two actors portray 15 colorful characters, from locals hired as extras, to the director, to a spoiled American starlet with rib-tickling results.

For tickets and/or information, call the Studio Arena box office at 716-856-5650. More complete information can be found at www.studioarena.org

Working in Buffalo at Studio Arena Theatre has proved to be an extremely positive experience for Gavin. He loves the seasons, the snow, the lake and the friendly manner of the people. "It's a city with a big heart and beautiful streets. It's easy to feel at home here."

As Cameron-Webb stated earlier, "The theater in Buffalo is amazingly diverse and thriving." It's clear that Gain Cameron-Webb has played a large part in making that happen, thereby making greater Buffalo a better place to live.

Joseph H. Radder, a free-lance writer and regular contributor to Living Prime Time, is the author of a new book, a fictional biography of a young Jew named Jesus, “Young Jesus, the missing years.”


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