It’s not often that college students have the opportunity to interact one-on-one with a true New York playwright—and especially not over the course of an entire semester. This fall, students in Furman’s theatre department have had the opportunity to take a playwriting course and work on productions with Randall David Cook, a 1991 Furman graduate and playwright.
Cook is on campus for the fall semester as a Duke Endowment Artist-in-Residence. His play, Pomp and Circumstance, opens with the world premiere on Nov. 13 and was written specifically for his time at Furman this semester. He has worked through rehearsals with the students and even added characters and lines to include more students in the production. Additionally, he has worked with students in his playwriting course to help them understand the ins and outs of writing a play.
Jay Oney, associate professor of theatre arts and department chair, has been thrilled having Cook on campus.
“Randall David wrote the play just for Furman and this fall experience,” he said. “This opportunity has been amazing. When working on a play, oftentimes you ask ‘what did the writer mean?’ and we’ve been able to turn around and say ‘hey writer, why is that there?’. We get first-hand answers to things that usually you have to make a choice about without clear guidance.”
Cook said he was curious about teaching at the collegiate level and was pleased when he received the invitation to be an artist-in-residence at Furman.
“I have discovered I really enjoy teaching college students,” said Cook. “I think that’s the right age group for me to teach…The [students] have been so game about doing new work. Often that means I have to write new parts and new lines. They’ve been enthusiastic about the process and the product.”
Cook said that one of the major differences between working on a production at the collegiate level versus in New York is that the rehearsal process is much longer than for a professional production. Off-Broadway productions tend to carry a three-week rehearsal time, whereas Pomp and Circumstance has been in pre-production since the last week of September. He also reminds himself that student actors have a lot on them.
“I have to remind myself that they have classes and other work,” he laughed. “Some of the actors are double music and theatre majors—and I know how busy they are. I know they go through all of the normal phases of ‘being a student’--they may have had a bad day, a bad test grade, and I have to remind myself of that fairly frequently.”
Oney believes Cook’s time on campus has been a positive one for the students.
“He’s been a great role model for a lot of reasons,” said Oney. “He works really hard. He wants the show to be as excellent as it possibly can be. He’s rigorous about his expectations from the students, but he’s able to do that and be fun all the time. He’s so nice, so pleasant and so encouraging, and I love the idea that our students can see someone who is doing pretty well as a writer in New York. He’s got high standards, but he cares for them, and that’s just great.”
As for Cook, while he has enjoyed his time at Furman, he jokingly said the most challenging part of his semester was learning to drive again. “I had not driven since my senior year in college in 1991. I love the thing called the GPS—I had to learn how to use it.”
The world premiere of Pomp and Circumstance is Wednesday, Nov.13 at 8 p.m. at the Furman University Playhouse. The show runs at 8 p.m. Nov. 13-16, 3 p.m. Nov. 17, and 8 p.m. Nov. 21-23. Tickets range in price from $5-16 and are available by calling 864-294-2125.
(Playwright image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)