Mark Charney ’78
“Everybody says theater can be transformative. Well, sure,” says Mark Charney, the director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Texas Tech, “so can every art form, I think. But the live aspect of theater will always be significant.”
Charney says the magic of theater comes from creating something — a story, a character, a set, a performance — that’s strong enough to live in the audience’s imagination long after they’ve left the stage. Every day at Texas Tech, he strives to achieve this goal with his students and colleagues, most recently with the writing and development of two plays: Garage Door and Last Rights.
But when Charney was headed to Clemson as a first-year political science major, he never thought he would be a playwright. In fact, he had law school in mind. It wasn’t long before he switched his major to English.
“It wasn’t until I walked into a university that I realized I wanted to work at a university,” he says. “I have stayed in university life for 44 years and counting.”
Charney earned his master’s and Ph.D. from the University of New Orleans and Tulane, respectively, before returning to Clemson — this time teaching film and rhetoric in the Department of English. Charney eventually moved to the performing arts program, where he began to write and direct plays. One favorite was The Decameron Project, a yearslong effort by Charney and students to turn Giovanni Boccaccio’s masterpiece into a play, which they took to Scotland and Florida.
Those playwriting years at Clemson set the stage for Garage Door and Last Rights, both of which Charney co-wrote with Cory Norman, the director of marketing and communication and company manager of Texas Tech’s School of Theatre and Dance.
Garage Door, a two-woman, academic take on The Zoo Story, was developed by Rose Theater in Washington, D.C., in October 2022. Last Rights, a fantasia surrounding the life of controversial figure Jack Kevorkian, sparked the interest of London director James Kerr and is in consideration for some prominent London playhouses. Over the summer of 2022, Charney, Norman, Kerr and his crew of London actors took Last Rights to Marfa, Texas, for a two-week workshop.
“[Kerr] spent the two weeks going over it bit by bit,” Charney says. “He let the actors, many of them BAFTA and Olivier award winners, contribute to what they were reading and experiencing. A strong development process shows the playwrights what works and what may need addressing.”
Recently, Charney received Texas Tech’s Global Engagement Community Award for establishing partnerships with theater programs in Romania, Korea and Turkey. Theater can often transcend language and cultural barriers, which Charney has experienced firsthand through his extensive travels. It’s one of the many reasons why he thinks theater is unique — and worthy.
“Theater has the tendency, if we’re not careful, to disappear,” Charney says. “I just don’t want it to disappear. I don’t. I think we have to fight hard to keep it alive.”