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Technique Talk: Playwright Bill Cook

Posted by Jackie Mantey | March 22, 2013 02:26 PM

Technique Talk is a weekly online Alive feature that spotlights the process of a Columbus artist. Know someone we should talk to? Send tips to jmantey@columbusalive.com.

Bill Cook is an associate professor in the Humanities Department at Columbus State Community College who always watches and reads the news. In fact, current events inspire much of his work, including his most recent play “The Promised Land,” a story of unemployment and financial insecurity and how that impacts the protagonist’s position in society. “The Promised Land,” which is directed by CATCO’s Joe Bishara, runs March 22-30 at the Columbus Performing Art Center’s Van Fleet Theatre (549 Franklin Ave.). Cook’s company A&B Theatricals was also the team behind the highly acclaimed play “Love in An Age of Clamor,” a look at using work and wages as a measure for success, as well as other middle-class true-to-life tales. Alive caught up with Cook to discuss how writing about such morose topics is therapeutic not just for him, but for his audiences, what he does while he writes, and more.

What kind of art do you make and why?

I have been writing plays for 40 years, and I do it because I like to be part of a collaboration. Writing prose is satisfying, but it can also be quite lonely and it's all up to you. Working with other people puts one’s own ideas into play; it’s creative right up to the point it goes up. What I have written comes back at me in unexpected ways, which makes the whole process exciting, sometimes frustrating, sometimes illuminating, sometimes very satisfying, but always exciting. So the main appeal is being part of a larger process that I only partially control.

When do you write?

I write every day when I have a project I'm working on, usually in the late morning. I don't usually work very long, perhaps an hour, but I keep at it. I think the regularity helps me produce. Even if I don't write, merely sitting down and thinking about where the work is going proves helpful. It also keeps me thinking about the work, and a lot of the work comes from musing, which is helped by an everyday commitment.

How often do you write?

Every day, except when I'm between projects or thinking about what to write next or doing research.

Where do you write and why?

I usually write in the coffee part of bookstores, oddly enough. I like a bit of distraction, people giving their orders to the barista or buying a book. As long as the music isn't too obnoxious, this works for me. Rewriting I do at home.

What has been inspiring your work lately?

The news inspires a lot of my work actually. It is easy in contemporary life to tune out the world or reduce it to Facebook friends or other social media and a limited number of outlets which don't let in much that is unpleasant or disagreeable. But that tears at the basic social fabric, the common reality we all share in. Theater is a profoundly communal art. It's about who we are and where we're at and what we can do about it together. I hope that's what my work addresses--that is, the world we live in now.

What advice that you've found invaluable would you give a new artist?

Write what you know in your own voice and keep swinging. You are only an artist in the public world. The art you make for the drawer doesn't count. Write every day and get it out in the world however you can. But write in your own voice.

What do you do while you work?

Drink coffee.

Do you ever experience writer's block? If so, what do you do to combat it?

Writer's block usually occurs because you don't know what to do next. The cure is to do something, anything, because you will learn from that. It is not a loss to take a wrong direction. A wrong direction teaches you what is wrong, it makes it clearer where you should go. You can always go back and cross out. But first you must have something to cross out. That helps you find the direction you should go. NEVER CUT AN IMPULSE! Go with it. It will put you in unexplored territory, the most interesting territory available. And if not, you can always cross out and try again.

Three artists, living or dead, that you would invite to a dinner party?

A dinner party is a civilized event and I'm not sure the most interesting artists would be appropriate there. Who would I like to spend an evening with if I were able to question them? Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs and Harold Pinter because they were artists who made art without giving a damn about consequences.

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