<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Joy Vandervort-Cobb
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Department of Theatre and Dance
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Photo Courtesy Kelly Jewell
Spreading Joy in the Theatre Department
By Liz Poore

It's not every day that you meet someone who treats you like they've known you for years, is extremely fascinating, has the ability to make anyone laugh, is straight-forward, and genuinely loves hearing what you have to say, regardless of whether or not they know you. Professor Joy Vandervort-Cobb is one of these few. Her love for teaching theatre and for her students is obvious through her constant happiness and a smile that rarely leaves her face.

Originally brought to Charleston in 1990, Vandervort-Cobb says she never imagined she would be a professor. After living in New York for a while, her husband was eager to get back to his roots here in Charleston and the couple was expecting their first child. Although she worked in theatre in New York, Vandervort-Cobb had never considered teaching.

"I had no intentions of ever teaching," she said. "I always said that I coached for 'cigarette money.' My former cast members would call and ask me to help them with auditions and I would charge them enough to buy cigarettes."

Vandervort-Cobb's primary role in the theatre department is teaching acting classes and directing. She is currently associate professor of African American Theatre and Performance. Her favorite thing about working with the department is the relationships she has with her students.

"We have great students and I love working with them," she says. "I'm lucky I get to have students from across the campus and have a relationship with students in other departments."

She says her second favorite thing about working at the college is the way that she gets to teach. Vandervort-Cobb is a very creative person with a profound love for theatre. Teaching here allows her to create things the way she wants to, and teach the way she wants to teach, which she said she really loves.

"It's a tight knit bunch," she says. "We're a pretty dysfunctional family over here but I love it. It's always been a good place to work. People are really supportive and really loving."

Vandervort-Cobb has directed numerous plays at the college. This year an autobiographical, one-person play called "Moments of Joy" that she wrote and will act in will be in the 2010 Piccolo Spoleto Festival. She wrote the piece although it worried her she wouldn't be funny to strangers.

"I believe I'm funny with people I know," she says. "I didn't trust that I could write this show and be funny to an audience, but I got lucky."

Vandervort-Cobb said that at the college she mostly directs and doesn't usually act. She doesn't like to take great roles from her students.

George McLeer, a senior at the College of Charleston, says Vandervort-Cobb's respect and admiration toward her students are mutual. McLeer, an arts management major, says that even though he isn't a theatre major, it didn't hinder their interactions and he believes that she fills a "crucial spot in the department."

"She has given advice, constructive criticism, and support for me many times," McLeer says. "I've come to her with issues that I've been facing academically, socially, you name it, and she always gave me an attentive ear and great advice."

Vandervort-Cobb considers her best accomplishments to be two plays she directed that were in the same year. One, "Funnyhouse of a Negro," she said "was one of the most beautiful pieces"she had ever done and a show that she saw more than once, which is something she rarely does. The other was "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," which was performed in Baton Rouge, La., at the John Reilly Theatre.

Vandervort-Cobb said that "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" demanded that she consciously had to stage the play because there was simultaneous action on three different levels. She said that as a director whose focus had always been on the heart of a piece, being "forced" to stage was scary.

"It changed my work because I realized I could and should make both pretty pictures and souls explode," she said. "I did it and it was beautiful."

Vandervort-Cobb idolizes many playwrights and actors, but she raved about Lucille Ball and August Wilson, saying that she "loves the world the man built" when referring to Wilson. She says Ball was part of the reason she wanted to become an actor because of the way that she could make her grandmother laugh.

"I thought, 'Wow I want to make her laugh like that.' My grandma showed me what could happen to an audience when they were completely engaged," she said.

The one thing Vandervort-Cobb would still love to do that she hasn't is to perform on Broadway, but until then she says that she is very content for now and is so blessed by the "amazing opportunities and life changing experiences" that the College of Charleston has given her.