Double duty

Tristan Arnold

I imagine the life of an actor is a boring one,” says Michael, a character in Frank McGuinness’ play, “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me.” To avoid said boredom, Thomas Cox, who plays Adam, an American prisoner of war in the three-man play at the Victory Gardens Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., combats it by teaching.

Cox says he teaches to give back to the community, help others foster their own creativity, and ensure he has work. Since graduating from Northwestern in 1988, he’s taught workshops for students of all ages, but the opportunity to teach a course this quarter at his alma mater has been “a dream come true.”

Ten o’clock in the morning is usually a god forsaken hour to students in a class, but with rehearsals for his show sometimes lasting until midnight, it’s no surprise that Cox looks exhausted leaning against the Theater and Interpretation Center at 9:45 a.m., blankly inspecting the pavement in front of him.

He won’t be hanging around after class for office hours, either, with the day’s rehearsal beginning at noon. And with previews for “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me” in two days and opening night in a week, his schedule won’t be clearing up.

The play is a story of an American doctor, an Irish journalist and an English professor held hostage in a Lebanese jail. It takes place in the early 1990s, but the choice to produce it was clearly inspired by recent events, making the work particularly relevant.

Despite being chained to a wall for most of the play, Cox’s role is very physical and involved, like those of his two colleagues with whom he shares the sparse, dirt-covered stage.

But for the long hours that Cox puts in, his 26 students will leave the quarter with tips gleaned from not only a successful acting career, but one still in progress. All of NU’s acting faculty boast years of professional experience, but few have the time to teach while acting.

Cox was first tapped for teaching when David Downs decided to take a year off to focus on his writing. Cox and four other former students, Christine Dunford, David Kirsner, Andy White and David Katlin — all of whom are Lookingglass Theatre Ensemble members — are currently filling in for Downs’ two acting classes.

“It occurred to me that those people have been together for 14 years and many of them have been teaching,” Downs says of his temporary replacements. “They were the best second best I could come up with.”

Downs says it was hard to leave his students but his interim replacements all have the benefit of having taken the classes they are teaching.

Communication senior Andrew Perez says he took an interest in the class after seeing Cox in Lookingglass’s recent production of “1984.”

“He’s a big ensemble member in an important Chicago theater company,” Perez says. “It’s a real connection.”

Cox says he makes a point to stop by the campus occasionally to walk around and to visit friends in the theater department, so it wasn’t awkward for him to return to his alma mater on the other side of instruction and to view his former mentors as colleagues.

“It is weird having a key to an office in this building,” Cox says, sitting in Downs’ office where he once sought advice.

He says his teaching is more than simply a source of income for someone in an unstable field, but is intimately tied to his career as a performer.

“Acting is about communicating and teaching is about communicating,” Cox says. “Watching someone else make a discovery helps me continue to make discoveries and refresh myself.”

“Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me” is playing until Feb. 27 at 2:30 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; and 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Saturday at the Victory Gardens Theatre.4

Music junior Tristan Arnold is the PLAY theater editor. He can be reached at [email protected].