CMU Alum becomes published playwright, world premiere last weekend

Courtesy Photo | University Communications - Samantha Madar Gladwin junior Lindsay Schwalm, left, and Novi junior Carolyn Nagle, right, act as if they are about to get hit by a train in the dress rehearsal of "Oakton High Homecoming Dance, 1999" on Oct. 8 at Theater on the Side.

1993 was an exceptional year. The Chicago Bulls won the NBA Championship, Leazna Cornett was crowned Miss America and sixth grader Randall Colburn wrote his first novel.

Colburn, then 11, produced 125 handwritten pages of a novel he based off of the Jurassic Park novels. 

“It was awful, of course, but I noticed that unlike my friends, many of whom had also tried to write stories, I was able to finish mine,” he said.

The 32-year-old Central Michigan University alumni has strayed away from writing "rip-off" versions of Jurassic Park. He is now an up-and coming playwright and staff writer for Consequence of Sound, an online music publication.

His latest production includes meteors, heartbreak, prom queens and Jocks. Colburn’s newest play, Oakton High Homecoming Dance, 1999 is making its debut on CMU’s campus on October 9. Colburn said it is a dark comedy about youth, faith, and popularity. The play is a reminder that childhood is ending.

Theater professors initially asked Colburn to write the play. 

 “We approached him and told him that we want to commission you to write a play," said CMU theater professor Tim Connors.

The Theater Department wanted a play that college students could relate to and based off of Colburn’s former works in college, he was just the guy to do it. Colburn wrote Oakton High Homecoming Dance, 1999 specifically for CMU.

He grew up in Mount Clemens and draws a lot on personal experiences and Midwest life. 

“His plays deal with characters that are relevant and understandable," Connors said. "They capture the concerns of his generation.”

Colburn said he is interested in archetypes of youth. Archetypes like prom queens, jocks and eggheads intrigue him. He said he loves dissecting and deconstructing them.

“Shared events like school dances are an interesting thing to revisit," Colburn said. "Everyone I know looks back on prom or homecoming differently; was it the best night of their lives, or was it a major letdown?” 

Colburn is familiar with the ups and downs his characters experience. In 2013 he was supposed to have a play open off-broadway and it fell through. When his play Hesperia was remounted at Writers’ Theatre in January 2012, Chicago Tribune writer Chris Jones called it “humorless, inorganic, under-paced, awkwardly staged and, at times, flat-out embarrassing.”

Colburn said that there are always difficulties. 

“These things happen, and they can either destroy you or push you to work harder," he said. "I choose to work harder. If you fall down, you get up, so on and so forth."

This can-do, will-do attitude is what keeps Colburn going. 

“I think that Randall has a great future,” Connors said.

Colburn has seen much success with his writing career in Chicago. His plays have been produced at such theaters as Writers’ Theatre, InFusion Theatre, The Mammals Theatre, Barefoot Theater, and The Right Brain Project, who dedicated their 2010 season to his work.

Colburn said his life in Chicago is nothing short of satisfying. 

“I have a great apartment with my girlfriend, I have lots of friends, I write for a living and make good money," he said. “I've got play readings and productions and commissions, and hopefully more on the horizon. Honestly, if I were doing the same in 10 years, that would be just fine with me.”

Despite the success for the plays that he has written, nothing compares to the joy he felt when he wrote his first Jurassic Park novel.

“I've never been as proud of anything in my life as I was of that," Colburn said. "Nothing feels better than finishing a piece of art, even if it sucks."