How one theatre student overcame failure

Student Spotlight: John P. Cox

By Nick Hawks

A&E Editor

John Cox has a confidence about him that makes you think he knows exactly where he wants his life to go. The Cleveland State University theatre major has just been cast in Russ Borski’s “The Real Inspector Hound,” in the title role of the Inspector Hound, and he couldn’t be happier about it. 

After graduating in the spring, he plans to bartend for a year and move to Los Angeles with pal and co-star Sullivan Ratcliff in June 2021, in pursuit of a career in acting. He spoke with no doubt, the prospect of striking out not at all an option. Acting is what he wants to do with life. However, that has not always been the case. 

In high school, Cox’s parents pushed him to partake in extracurriculars, which made him gravitate towards theatre. He skated by for a while without having to put much effort into it, but that all changed his junior year when he was cast as a lead. 

“I got cast as the lead in one of our productions, and typically I was in the ensemble, so I was just kind of there,” Cox said. “I didn’t have responsibilities to prepare stuff, it wasn’t very involved for me. I got cast as the lead, and I was used to that attitude of just showing up unprepared, and the show tanked. It was 100% my fault.” 

The show, in his own words, was a disaster. Cox festered in that failure. He shouldered the bulk of the blame, as other members in the production came unprepared as a result of his example. There was lots of dead time onstage and sometimes late entries, a big no-no in the world of theatre. It drove him. It made him want to be better. 

“Something that comes easy, it’s not very interesting,” he said, taking sips of his iced coffee in-between sentences. “It’s all about the pursuit of bettering yourself. There were so many opportunities I left on that stage, and it made acting a challenge.”

That’s where Cox’s attitude comes from. Where others may have curled up into a ball and given up, he set out to learn from the experience and make it his craft. 

After coming to Cleveland State as a business major initially, he changed his major to theatre after his first year and hasn’t looked back since. 

“The Real Inspector Hound” will be Cox’s fourth time taking part in a Cleveland State theatre performance, but he has had plenty of experiences outside of just school shows. He estimates that he has worked in around 70 short films at Cleveland State, a familiar face in the new film school. 

He has also taken paid theatre gigs outside of school, recalling his experience from this past fall semester when he was cast as a lead with just two weeks until opening night. In contrast, students here at Cleveland State usually have about six weeks to prepare for a show. 

“I had two weeks to learn 30 pages of dialogue, on top of school and work,” he said. He called it a “pretty OK” performance, but nonetheless thinks it was a good experience. 

When talking about “The Real Inspector Hound,” Cox was downright giddy with excitement. The show is a satire on old detective movies, a self-aware comedy in the form of a whodunit. Cox smacked his lips together and let out a “hmmm,” noise, scrunching his face to mimick a 1950s detective putting together clues.

As for what the future holds, Cox hopes to land something in either commercial or voice-over work. It’s where the money is for acting, that is if you can’t be an A-lister like Brad Pitt, he explained. 

But for now, he’s just focused on this show, and if there’s one thing you should take away from this Student Spotlight, it’s that he’ll come prepared.