Theatre News

Randolph Professor, Author Featured in Newspaper

March 31, 2009
WildCat Theatre's newest production written by James Peterson

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The following story appeared in the March 31 edition of the Lynchburg News & Advance. It is reprinted with permission.

By Casey Gillis

For writer Jim Peterson, there’s nothing quite like live theater.

“A play is kinetic,” says Peterson, a Randolph College professor and the author of poetry, books and plays.

“When you’re in scenes, you’re creating a living moment. With a novel, you can get some of that feeling but, still, there’s a lot of exposition. There’s a truth to theater, an energy that a play has that no other medium does.”

Peterson’s latest play, “Seeing Purple,” is being produced by Randolph College’s theatre program. Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 2, 3, 4 and 6 and 2 p.m. April 5.

The piece is about a woman who, a year after her baby dies during childbirth, starts quite literally seeing everything in purple hues. She believes her new view of the world is connected to other abilities she’s developed, like reading people’s minds, Peterson says.

“It’s largely about her trying to cope with what she thinks this ability is,” he says.

“It’s an unusual story, and one that I hope will challenge the audience.”Director Ken Parks, a professor of theatre, says Peterson writes from the heart.

“The important thing, when you’re working on a project like this, (is) to know that the (other) person is so invested.”

Writing has been an almost life-long investment for Peterson, who grew up in South Carolina.

He says it all started during high school, when “I sort of caught fire and started thinking of myself as a writer. If anybody could even call it a play, I wrote my first play there.”

Peterson went on to earn his undergraduate degree, masters and Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, and took his first full-time teaching job at Presbyterian College, where he started the creative writing program.

He also created the creative writing minor at Montana State University, where he taught before coming in the late 1990s to what was then Randolph-Macon Woman’s College to teach English. He’s now the chairman of the English department and the coordinator of the creative writing program.

“To me, literature is a living thing,” says Peterson, a casual guy who often wears his long, gray hair pulled back in a ponytail and underneath a ball cap.

“It’s not just intellectual, where you’re talking about it. It really connects to how a person lives their life. It’s not just a

subject.”

Over the years, he’s published several books of poetry and chapbooks, as well as a 2005 novel, “Paper Crown,” which was released by Red Hen Press.

Peterson began seriously writing plays about 15 years ago, when he was teaching a summer course about modern theater at Montana State. Most of his training, he says, came from the Montana Repertory Theatre’s Missoula Colony, a 10-day intensive program devoted to organizing stage readings of new plays.

“You get an opportunity to see whether the thing is working or not.

“Writing a good play is a very difficult thing to do, to get it to really work,” he says. “It’s a challenge on every level. … But it’s a very powerful process.”

“Seeing Purple” has been a work in progress for years. He started writing it about four years ago, before the college went co-ed. He wanted to write something with a strong female lead character.

This production marks the first time Peterson’s work has been performed by a cast made up mostly of students. He says they’re the ones wh

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