Theatre Program Stages Alum Peter Gil-Sheridan’s Play


The Fordham Mainstage production of “Cockfight” will run Nov. 17, 18 and 19. (PHOTO BY ANA FOTA/THE OBSERVER)


We’ve heard it from our parents and friends: “It’s hard to make it in the arts.” No student pursues a degree in the liberal or fine arts without worrying about future career prospects. So it is important to hear stories like that of our own Peter Gil-Sheridan, who despite finding his calling later than expected, pursued his passion with determination and practice and found success in the process.

Gil-Sheridan, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’98, is an extremely busy professor. Not only is he in his second year of teaching at the University of Iowa, he’s also a noteworthy playwright with work that has been performed from Tucson to Minneapolis to Queens. One of his pieces, “Cockfight,” hits the Fordham stage on Nov. 9.

Gil-Sheridan arrived on campus as a freshman performance major who wanted to be an actor. It was not until his time here at Lincoln Center that he became certain his future career would lie in theater. He credits Elizabeth Margid, the current head of the directing program as his “mentor.” Gil-Sheridan dabbled in the department, honing a variety of skills. He branched out from acting to directing, and even wrote on the side when he had the chance.

However, when he graduated, his path took an unforeseen turn. Disillusioned with acting and fearing his youth would bar him from directing jobs, he decided to exclusively pursue playwriting. He joined a writing group with other Fordham alumni. After writing two new plays, he sent them off to two of his favorite undergraduate professors. The feedback was overwhelmingly supportive. With his professors’ encouragement, he pursued further education in the field. Gil-Sheridan got to work on his applications, and at age 23 ended up a graduate student at the University of Iowa with only two plays under his belt. By the end of his schooling, he would have six more.

It was at the Soho Repertory Program for writers and directors, a year-long program in which playwrights create new material, that Gil-Sheridan created “Cockfight.” The idea for the show came about when he thought about his adolescence, comparing his father’s admiration for men to his own. Whereas Gil-Sheridan—a gay man—desired men romantically, his father appreciated their machismo and strength.

At the center of “Cockfight” is Juanie, a teen with a white birthmother being raised by his Latin father and step-mother, both drunks. Throughout the play, he realizes and struggles with his sexuality to the dismay of his father. The play isn’t what you would call autobiographical. “My parents aren’t drunks,” clarifies Gil-Sheridan, but there are parallels to his adolescence—he was a “gay, awkward white kid in the middle of a Latin family.” In both the play and his own life, a father must weigh his parental love against his masculine pride. In a way, says Gil-Sheridan, the show is an alternate version of his own childhood—”the way [he] wishes [it] went.”

While working on “Cockfight,” he met Anna Brenner, who is now directing the production. Gil-Sheridan collaborated with Brenner and then took the play to PlayPenn, a Philadelphia-based conference, for further development. This is where the piece took its final shape.

The strength and limits of human relationships seems to be a popular theme in Gil-Sheridan’s art. In “Ritu Comes Home,” another of his more notable plays, two gay men sending money to a woman in Bangladesh must question the constraints of their charity when she shows up in America. In “Topsy Turvy Mouse,” the son of Lynndie England (the woman tangled in the Abu Ghraib scandal) must come to terms with his mother’s horrible past.

Although some of his work involves magical realism, Gil-Sheridan shrugs it off as a “critic’s term.” He doesn’t like to label his work as a specific genre; he simply uses plays to “make sense of the world he lives in.” Theater may be a form of catharsis for him, but he certainly works hard at his craft. He took full advantage of the opportunities Fordham had to offer, and used his connections to break into an unforeseen career after graduating. A talented playwright, Gil-Sheridan is a fantastic example of an artist who took time to learn his skill and now creates powerful material.