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“It was honestly so emotional to be in a rehearsal room with people,” says Randy Harrison. “I had forgotten how much I missed it, and how special it was.” The actor, best known for Showtime’s Queer as Folk, is talking about Studio Theatre’s Cock. Filmed in February at the company’s 14th Street venue, the process of rehearsing and shooting under “very, very, very strict” COVID protocols ended up heightening the whole experience.
“We basically did nothing besides go to rehearsal and go back to our apartments,” Harrison says. “We got our groceries delivered. We rehearsed with masks the vast majority of the time. I remember after a week or two of rehearsals…it felt so risky and dangerous and naughty to be taking our masks off inside [even though we] were more than six feet apart pretty much the whole time. But just to see each other’s faces after rehearsing with masks, it created an even greater intimacy.”
The debut digital production from Studio, Cock also marks the first full-scale show Harrison has done in a year. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like to be on a stage in front of a full house again someday. I just think it’s going to be overwhelming, and hopefully for the audiences, too.
And yet, Harrison isn’t resting on his laurels, or even betting his career on a live arts renaissance.
“I’ve actually gone back to school,” he says. “I’m getting a second bachelor’s degree. I already have one in theater, but I’m getting one in psychology and potentially getting a Master’s or a PhD in the future [to] become a counselor. We’ll see.”
Still, Harrison is hesitant to make a drastic career shift. “I love acting and have made a great life for myself for 25 years doing it. So it’s going to depend on how things open up this year: the kind of work opportunities that become available or don’t become available. And my passion for school, and the kind of grad programs I get into or don’t get into. And where I end up living. Everything’s up in the air.”
Since Queer as Folk ended, Harrison has worked pretty exclusively in the theater, both on Broadway and at the regional level. “We can theorize reasons why, but the opportunities weren’t that interesting as a young gay guy who’d been on television in that show,” Harrison says of his first few years after Queer as Folk concluded its run in 2005. “It was often offensive auditions or things that I just thought, ‘This is not something I want to be doing,’ ‘This is not the kind of image I want to be creating,’ or ‘I don’t want to be performing straight people’s idea of gay people.'” By contrast, “the kind of writing that was available to me in theater was just astoundingly better. And the opportunities were better.”
The 43-year-old says his “capital in the film and television world is certainly of another generation at this point.”
Prior to the pandemic, Harrison had a gig lined up Off-Broadway that was punted to the fall of 2021, and is eagerly waiting to see whether that actually comes to fruition. In the meantime, he’s still relishing his experience with a show he’s wanted to do since it first made waves on London’s West End in 2009. Harrison plays John in Mike Bartlett’s Cock, a gay man stuck in a zero-sum “situation” of being torn between lovers — one of whom is “the only woman he’s ever been with.”
A high-stakes drama that’s also extremely funny, Harrison calls Cock “extraordinarily relevant” and “an interesting discussion-starter about the way we’ve already changed how we talk about identity and sexuality and gender.” In Harrison’s hands, John is about as likeable and understandable as the character gets, yet even so, one’s feelings about him and his handling of the situation are deliberately complicated.
“There’s something attractive and charming about him, and there’s something enraging about him. But most people are like that, once you get to know them. Especially the people you love.”
Cock streams on-demand through April 18. Tickets are $37. Visit www.studiotheatre.org.
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