Estate of Michael Cook

 

Michael Cook, one of Canada’s foremost dramatists of the 1970s and 1980s, was born to an Anglo-Irish family in London, England on Valentine’s Day, 1933. During 12 years of Army service, Cook spent much his time writing, directing and acting in Army shows. In 1962, he enrolled in Nottingham University’s College of Education, which led to a brief stint as a high school drama teacher before his decision to immigrate to Newfoundland “to visit an Army buddy” in 1965.

His first job in Canada was directing a production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone for the Memorial University Dramatic Society. Memorial eventually hired him as a Drama Specialist and he continued to direct plays. The St. John’s Summer Festival developed out of this and moved into the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre where Cook served as Artistic Director.

In the late sixties, while teaching full-time at Memorial, Cook started writing a weekly theatre column for the St. John’s Evening Telegram and new plays for the Open Group Theatre. Between 1970 and 1975, he worked closely with Open Group to produce Colour the Flesh the Colour of Dust, Head Guts and Soundbone Dance (published in the first issue of Canadian Theatre Review), and Jacob's Wake (produced widely in Europe)full-length plays attracting significant attention. 

A well-produced radio playwright in both Canada and the UK, in the 1970s, Cook traveled widely across Canada to see productions of his plays, and he became active in the battle for the recognition of dramatists’ rights, joining the newly-formed Guild of Canadian Playwrights and later serving on its executive board.   

In 1979, Cook was chosen to be part of a Canadian acting/dramaturgy/playwriting unit at the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference in the U.S. His play, The Gayden Chronicles was workshopped with Kenneth Welsh in the title role. Dramaturgs included Martin Esslin, Peter Hay, and CTR Editor Don Rubin. This experience formed the basis of many later playwriting workshops across Canada.

Leaving Memorial in the early 1980s, he and his wife, Madonna Decker, moved to Stratford, Ontario where it was hoped some of his large-cast plays would be recognized, but despite being named Playwright-in-Residence, Stratford did not produce any of his plays.

Among other major works are the short plays Quiller and Theresa’s Creed and a powerful full-length play about the genocide of a Newfoundland first nations’ community, the Beothuks, On the Rim of the Curve.  Numerous stage and radio plays – especially Jacob’s Wake – have been anthologized and studied in universities and high schools. Cook also served on the editorial board of Canadian Theatre Review, and was active within the Arts Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Cook died in 1994 following an ill-advised trip to Newfoundland to see a production of one of his plays. He had been battling both cancer and diabetes and the trip proved too much for him.

--Kallee Lins, Don Rubin