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Friday, February 15, 2013

INTERVIEW WITH PROLIFIC PLAYWRIGHT PAT COOK, and TALKING ABOUT HIS TREMENDOUS CAREER IN THE COMMUNITY THEATER MARKET

PLAYWRIGHT PAT COOK, photo courtesy of his website

Today at Theater is a Sport, I am pleased to announce the very first interview for my little blog, and I couldn’t be happier that the subject of this interview is none other than Mr. Pat Cook, who, in my mind, has carved out an amazing career writing plays for the Community Theater and School markets.  With over 150 plays in print (several of them translated into German and Dutch), Pat Cook has delighted audiences with his plays since 1976, the year his first published play, Rest in Peace, was released by Dramatic Publishing. 
I can’t imagine there are too many directors for community theatres across the country who have never heard the name Pat Cook.  His plays range from comedies to mysteries, adaptations to dramas, and several holiday plays for every season.  Flip through a good number of play catalogues, and you are bound to see one or, most likely, more titles by this talented and prolific playwright.
On a personal note, when I received my first play publications, I decided to reach out to established playwrights and ask for advice.  I remember e-mailing Mr. Cook, telling him about my two plays which had been published back-to-back, and asking him a variety of questions.  When I hit the “send” button, I truly thought I would never get a response--- I mean, he’s Pat Cook!  He’s produced everywhere!  He’s probably way too busy to answer my e-mail, full of such na├»ve questions about a market he pretty near sits on top of. 
I received a response the very next day.  And what a generous, encouraging response it was!  Right away, Mr. Cook (I do call him Pat, but some habits are hard to break) treated me as a colleague, answered all of my questions, and asked me to keep in touch, that he loved hearing from others “in the trenches”.  I will never forget this kind gesture, and, indeed, over the last few  years I have had a nice e-mail correspondence with a writer whose career is a true inspiration to me. 
I’m very pleased he agreed to answer some questions for my blog, and feel I have waited long enough to share the humor and wisdom from this playwright I so admire with all of you reading.
BOBBY:  First of all, thank you for agreeing to answer some of my questions.   According to your website, you've published over 150  plays! Is that number still current?


PAT COOK:  That was my total at the end of last year and it still holds true. I do have two more under consideration.
 
BOBBY:   Did you grow up in a "theatrical" household? Was your family interested in the theater?

PAT COOK:  Outside of my Mother and Aunt playing piano I'm the only one in any way associated with theater.
 
BOBBY: What was the first play that you saw that made you think,  "I'd like to write a play"?
PAT COOK:  When I saw the movie version of "The Odd Couple" I remember thinking that that's the kind of stuff I wanted to write.
 
 BOBBY: I know that you have had a variety of jobs throughout your life, including acting in local commercials, playing piano, performing on stage, etc. How would you say this has impacted your work as a playwright?
PAT COOK:  You never really know at the time (at least, I didn't) what will come in handy later. Playing piano, by its very nature, ingrains in someone a sense of timing and, of course performing on stage gives someone a very good idea about what works on stage. When I was in college, majoring in Drama, I, like all majoring in the Arts, had to work backstage, do lights, costumes, build sets, etc. And to this day,  when I write a play I wonder if this set changes is really needed and, if so, do they stage hands have time to make the change. The same is true of costumes - I try to make sure the actors have time for a costume change and write the entrances and exits accordingly.
(INTERVIEWER’S NOTE:  It is this kind of consideration to the technical side of his plays that make them so attractive for theaters looking for simple-to-stage plays.  Aspiring playwrights, take note!)
 
BOBBY: When you sit down to write a new script, do you like to start with a character, a scenario, or just a scrap of an image or piece of dialogue? Do you like to know the end before you write the beginning?
PAT COOK:  It's never the same way each time. Sometimes I begin with a type of show (Christmas, Halloween, mystery, etc.), sometimes just an opening. In fact, I've started with just a title and went on from there. Oh sure, I have a notepad next to my keyboard and, whenever I get an idea for a line I jot it down, hoping to work it in later. And I NEVER know how a play will end when I begin one.
 
BOBBY: Part of what I would like to achieve with my blog is to stress the importance of school and community theaters (the "amateur" markets) to our overall culture. Do you believe that the amateur markets are necessary, not only for individual communities, but for the world of professional theater as well?
PAT COOK: I have no idea how amateur or community theaters affect professional theaters other than as a springboard for budding talents. I remember hearing years ago that comics would work the Catskills to hone their craft before hitting the big time. I suppose, in many ways, this is true of the amateur theaters as well.
 
BOBBY: In looking at your "Monday" murder mysteries, I can't help  but imagine it must be fun to write a series of plays with the same  protagonist. With this series, did you find it easy or difficult to
keep the character growing from play to play, yet still have each individual play work as a standalone piece?
PAT COOK:  Actually, when I wrote the first "Harry Monday" play I had no idea there would be sequels. However, when I got an idea for a new mystery he just seemed to fit the scheme of things. The easy part is knowing your main character before you start, without having to invent him all over again. After that, just coming up with other characters to react to him becomes slightly easier as well, since I know him so well. As far as each piece standing alone, here I try to make sure the story and dialogue are intriguing enough, even in Harry wasn't involved, to hold an audience's interest.
 
BOBBY: Here comes an "advice" question: What advice would you give to a playwright who would like to focus on the school and community theater publishing market? Do you find it challenging to write within the guidelines of what is considered publishable for this  market?
PAT COOK:  First, write the play - that should, by its nature, dictate which market you think best suited to it. Then go online and look up publishers web pages - they usually have submission guidelines along with the kinds of plays they publish and what they're looking for. It's actually much easier these days to find this kind of info, what with the World Wide Web and so on. I remember, when I started out, I found a book called "the Writer's Market", which listed hundreds of publishers, play publishers as well, and how to submit. They may still be putting that book out, in fact. If so, I'd heartily recommend any playwrights look into it.
(INTERVIEWER’S NOTE:  The book is still in existence, and is highly recommended, along with the Dramatists Sourcebook, for aspiring writers)
 
BOBBY: You have plays published with nine different publishers. Do you find the editorial process fairly similar with each of them, or do they differ quite a bit (you needn't mention favorites or least  favorites)?
PAT COOK:  This seems to have changed a bit over the years. Not mentioning any particular publishers, I know one (at least one, anyway) which listed in their contract that they may change any lines or characters they deemed necessary. Some will send you the 'galleys' for your to proofread while others simply take care of that themselves and you find out later what changes they made AFTER you get your complimentary copies. For what it's worth I'd recommend that when a publisher offers to publish your play you ask about their editorial process. This can save a world of heartaches later.
 
BOBBY: Aside from a few here in Maine, I have yet to travel to see too many of the productions that are done of my plays... they're so far away. Do you like to go see productions of plays that you have written?


PAT COOK:  Like you, I rarely go very far to see any productions, especially these days. Again, a great thing about the age we live in is they can send you a DVD, if they've received permission to record the production. One note here about seeing one of you shows - always wait until you're invited. I can't tell you how many times I saw one of my plays advertised and went to see it, only to wince constantly at the changes made to the script. It's only when they do the play according to the script do they feel comfortable inviting the author.
 
BOBBY: If you could have coffee and talk shop with any playwright, alive or dead, who would it be and why? What would you like to talk about with him/her?


PAT COOK:  First, George S. Kaufman, then Neil Simon. Simon's work inspired me to write plays, as mentioned above, but I really learned about comedy characters, structure and diversity. What would I talk about? Nothing. I'd let them do all the talking, with a possible question or two from me.
 
BOBBY: What finally prompted you to decide to write full-time? Was this a scary endeavor, or were you at point where you knew things would probably work out?


PAT COOK: Actually, I had a few plays published by the time I met my wife, Rose Ann. After we got married she taught me how to use a computer (this was around 1990.) Then after she had nailed down a good job, we agreed that I would just write play after play and see where it went. Not just occasionally but making it a full time job. Up until that time I would normally write 1 or 2 plays a year. That year I wrote 7. I suppose it was a bit scary but now that I look back at it I don't believe I worried about it at that time. Fortunately, after I was making a living as a playwright, Rose Ann wanted to get out of her then job (computer engineer) and buy a quilt shop. I told her to go ahead now that I would support us both. By the grace of God we are both now doing something we love.
 
BOBBY: A good number of writers talk about having a first reader, or even an Ideal Reader. Who is this person for you, and how to they inspire your work and your success?


PAT COOK:  Actually, no one reads my stuff here, although I tell Rose Ann what I'm working on and she give me lots of advice, in some cases even ideas for new plays (my play "Scrambled" was her idea, complete with title.)
(INTERVIEWER’S NOTE:  “Scrambled” is one of my favorites of Mr. Cook’s recent plays.  From the first scene, you can tell it’s a pro writing this script, the way he weaves the subplots into the main plots, and introduces characters so seamlessly.  It is available from Eldridge Publishing, and I highly recommend it for any community theater groups out there)
 
BOBBY: I know this is probably not an easy question, but I'll try it anyway: is there a particular play of yours, or maybe a few, that you feel are special to you but haven't had quite the success you think they deserve?

PAT COOK:  That is a tough one. I really can't think of any offhand. I don't know if this is true with other writers but after I finish a play and submit it I think it over and wonder if it's any good at all, I start
picking it apart and looking for faults. Then, if it DOES get published, I stop all that. Go figure.
 
BOBBY: This isn't really a question so much as a chance for you to acknowledge any special community theater groups that may have a fond place in your heart or that have helped you in your life, past or present.

PAT COOK:  Not any particular theater but a group of guys and gals I used to know both back in college and at Astroworld. I knew SUCH a variety of characters then, full of enthusiasm, idiosyncrasies, adventures and schemes. I now have a wealth of character types to draw from and, to this day, I miss them all.

Again, I would like to thank Pat Cook for taking the time to answer my questions.  If you would like to learn more about him and his plays, I encourage you to visit his official webpage:  www.patcook.org
Thank you all for taking the time to read this interview.  Tomorrow at Theater is a sport, I will be talking about the writing process of my second published play, CONFESSION:  Kafka in High School.  (Click here to read that post!)
If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com.  If you would like to become a fan of Theater is a Sport's facebook page, please follow this link:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/TheaterIsASport
See you tomorrow.  Until then, remember:  theater is not just a craft or an artform.  Theater is a sport.

10 comments:

  1. This is terrific! Pat Cook is such a terrific writer and his zest for life certainly comes through with his work. Thanks for doing this.

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    1. He's a great guy. Not only has he been very kind and encouraging to me, I know he has been for many other up-and-coming playwrights.
      I think what I admire most about Pat Cook is his work ethic. Like all successful writers, he keeps plugging away at it. It's not only his career, but also his job, which is something I aspire to.
      Thanks for reading this post, Bradley. I would actually really like to interview you at some point, if you're interested.

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  2. He sounds like a sincere person who loves theater and his contributations to it. I enjoyed reading the interview very much.

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  3. I really enjoyed this blog. Having been in community theater I enjoy learning about the people who have made it possible for me to "play".

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  4. Thank you for this interview, always interesting to hear someone who managed to succeed doing what they love talk about their story.

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  5. Wow. I was looking for information on one of my most favorite playwrights when your interview with Pat Cook popped Up! I love his plays and have directed several with my high school students. It would be a wonderful challenge to try to compute thousands of hours of joy and entertainment Mr. Cook has made possible for many thousands of people. My thanks to him... and my thanks to you for the interview.

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    1. Thank you for reading the interview! I am glad you enjoyed it.
      Mr. Cook is a very nice man, a class act, and I was so happy he agreed to this interview!

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