While sitting in the office of the new Fine Arts Center director, Richard Cowden, you can learn a lot about him in a short period of time. From the family picture drawn in pencil with a shaky hand, to a poster of “Race” by David Mamet which he starred in, your eye can tell you lot about who he is and what is important to him.
Unlike many Castleton State College faculty members, Cowden’s office is not clustered with dust covered books. In fact, his tidy and well organized office contains only three, “American Musical Theater,” “The Yale Shakespeare” and “Theater Management.” When combined, the three books make up his personal theatrical Bible or handbook. Cowen’s story is not only complex, but with the help of his fruity and passionate animated voice and facial expression, his story is practically impossible to recreate.
“He is another great individual who is invested in the success of students here and making sure they know they have another person on their side. From the first time I met him during his interview, I knew he would be the perfect match for the job. He’s witty, clever, funny, very goal-oriented and gives off the vibe of teamwork being a key factor,” said senior theater major Meghan Hakey.
From Colorado, Ohio and now Vermont, Cowden has spread his witty character to those around him. He and friends created their own theater company called Round Fish right out of college. Because no one was willing to hire a bunch of greenhorns, they decided to create their own company to gain experiences to add to their rÃ©sumÃ©s. Cowden was then pulled back to his original territory of Metropolitan State University of Denver in Colorado, where he had received his undergraduate degree. During his 10-year teaching run there, he was able to turn a program with 37 majors into one that had more than 150.
When the time appeared to be right, Cowden, his wife and four kids took a hop-skip and a jump to New York, where he had grown up. Although we all know that the New York life is not always filled with celebrities, parties and riches, Cowden did find himself working closely with some A-listers. He performed five times at Carnegie Hall, was a speech coach for the president of Mexico and worked with Liam Neeson. But how did he get here? A catchy job description on hireedjob.com drew him in, he said, and once he explored our pure Vermont terrain, there was no going back for him.
“It was three totally different positions in one. I had never seen it before,” said Cowden. “It was the only job I submitted paper work to. And I mean actual paper work. I had to send in a hard copy of everything, they didn’t want it sent to them online.”
Although the job may have seemed a little bizarre at first, he was intrigued. But there were family consideration too.
“Anybody that knows me knows my family is at the top of my list of priorities. It had to be an extraordinary job for me and also a good opportunity for my family. I really wasn’t expected to be blown away, but at the end of the interview day I was sitting on the stairs of Woodruff and called my wife. I said ‘If they offer me the job, I think we should move here,'” said Cowden who was offered the job that very same day. “I had a very strong feeling that this place was going to change our lives.”
After three weeks of being offered the job, Cowden was unpacking his moving boxes in Vermont.
“(He) is exactly the kind of person we needed upon Mariko Hancock’s departure. When paired with SallyAnn Majoya, the two have made a pair that allows for the future of the Fine Arts Center to be even brighter,” said Meghan Hakey.
With Cowden now leading the show in the FAC, his goal is to bring the groups and programs within the building together. He also hopes to see the program expand, including possibly using a building next to the Paramount Theatre for additional rehearsal space for CSC students.Is he talking building a new building or using existing building?
“The footprint of CSC here is maxed out. There is not enough land to expand here, but there is in Rutland,” said Cowden.
He is also very interested in the careful planning of a new theater masters program and its impact on the need for space. “The way the budget works is we are not going to be able to expand our infrastructure until we get the demand,” he said.
Within the next few years, he said he wants CSC to be the “it” location for students interested in degrees offered within the FAC.
“I really want to make Castleton the destination for the arts for the students and the community. What I want is for five years from now, two high school students are going to be sitting in a coffee shop in Boston. One will say ‘Where are you going to go to school?’ and the other will say, ‘To Castleton State College in Vermont to be a music major.’ And the other will say, ‘I heard that place is amazing, I think I will go there to.'”