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Keeping Up “Dream”

A Swift Creek Mill cast regroups and the theater community rallies after actor Jason Campbell’s health scare.

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Something was bothering Jason Campbell on Sunday and it wasn't necessarily that he'd lost the ability to speak after suffering a stroke a few days earlier. Campbell's partner of almost 10 years, Brian Baez, spent about 30 frustrating minutes trying to figure it out.

Then he thought of the game Pictionary.

Baez drew a picture of their house. His car. Their cat. A dollar sign to represent bills. Campbell had no reaction.

"Are you worried about the show?" Baez asked. "And that's when he lit up."

And that's when they knew the show had to go on.

"Life Could Be a Dream," the 1960s-era musical running at Swift Creek Mill, screeched to a halt during last week's Wednesday matinee.

Campbell, who also teaches theater at Appomattox Regional Governor's School for the Arts and Technology, plays Wally, the preacher's kid who's nervous, endearing and warm, Baez says -- the heart of the show.

Baez, who also works in health care marketing, plays Denny, who forms the doo-wop quartet Denny and the Dreamers in an effort to win a radio contest.

Campbell, 34, and Baez, 28, met while working on a show together as students at Virginia Commonwealth University. This show had brought them together onstage again, and it was while they were in a scene together that it happened.

During some dialogue back and forth, Campbell missed a line. But it wasn't just a memory slip, Baez says -- "it just came out all gibberish and his body just turned to rubber right there in front of everybody."

Thinking his partner was temporarily lightheaded, Baez improvised, setting Campbell in a chair and saying something like, "Why don't you sit this song out?" But things got worse.

He'd suffered a stroke. In a matter of seconds Baez had carried him offstage, with the show's drummer Nick Oyler -- who is a registered nurse -- jumping to Campbell's aid. He was rushed to the hospital.

Baez says if it was going to happen, the situation was fortunate. If Campbell had suffered a stroke in his basement office between classes at the governor's school, he says, "then no one would have found him for hours."

Soon after, a mutual friend asked whether she could start a page at Gofundme.com to help raise money for medical expenses. It had reached nearly $11,000 in contributions Monday -- a response that Baez calls "overwhelming."

As for the "Life Could Be a Dream," the cast was gathering for rehearsal Monday, ready to reopen Thursday with the show's director and choreographer, Dennis Clark, stepping in for Campbell, says Swift Creek Mill marketing director Jennifer Procise.

And while Campbell's recovery continues, Richmond Triangle Players will play host to a benefit concert Sunday at 7:30 p.m., featuring performers from across the city and students from the governor's school.

Will Campbell be there? "I'm hopeful that he will," Baez says. If not, they're working to set up a way to stream the show into his recovery room.

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"Life Could Be a Dream" plays through April 19 at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway. For information call 748-5203 or visit swiftcreekmill.com.

Information on donating toward Campbell's medical expenses can be found online at GoFundMe.com/7odo30. For details on the fundraiser at Richmond Triangle Players call 346-8113 or visit rtriangle.org.

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