Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eric Coble: prolific playwright

Spotlight on Eric Coble, Cleveland’s prolific playwright!

He’s been called “A Playwright to Watch.” His writing has been praised as, “astute portraits [that] hit home with rib-tickling acuity.” His work has been termed, “a tour-de-force.” He’s been summarized as “the most astonishingly accurate—eye and ear on society and its foibles--of any current writer.” Who is this? Eric Coble, the present day Cleveland area’s most prolific stage writer. And, according to Coble, he owes it all to his children!

Coble, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, raised on the Navajo and Ute reservations in New Mexico and Colorado, and has an MFA in Acting from Ohio University, had his sights set on performing on stage. But, when he became a stay-at-home dad, he figured the casting agents weren’t going to let him tryout in his living room, and he couldn’t ask the audiences to join him in his kitchen for a family dinner, so he went down a different path.

Coble decided that he could use his undergraduate degree in English, the imagination that allowed him to be a cartoonist, and his curiosity in the logical and illogical view of current events, to spin tales for stage, radio and books. He set up a schedule around his kids…”they go off to school, I go to my work of writing, they come home, I take off my professional hat and put on my dad hat.” The results have been astonishing. From 1994 until today, there are over 100 works that have been produced.

In the next two months, several plays will be transformed from page to stage in the local area. A GIRL’S GUIDE TO COFFEE, which features a barista whose creations elevate the humble bean to unknown heights, will be produced at Actor’s Summit in Akron. It’s part of his “The Alexandra Plays,” a trilogy concerning commitment, freedom, and how a person identifies him/herself. Another of the series, VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, will be performed at Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood. It will star Dorothy Silver, the grand dame of Cleveland theatre, as an elderly woman with a wicked sense of humor, who finds herself in physical decline.

Where do the ideas come from? Coble admits he is addicted to the media and when he reads on-line and watches TV, he starts asking who and how would someone be affected by those instances. “An idea just gestates. Sometimes it takes five to six years. I just let it sit. Come back to it.” “You can’t force a good play and when it’s time to be, it will be.” He indicates that he doesn’t have any half finished plays stuffed in a drawer. Once he starts, he finishes. Fortunately, Coble states, “I don’t get writer’s block.”

Surprisingly in this electronic age, Coble hand writes his creations. The scripts are transferred to computer, but the #2 pencil, is his tool of choice.

He pays attention to the readings and early productions of a show and makes adjustments after the production. “You see something before an audience that you don’t see until the words take life.”

An Emmy nominee, the recipient of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education Distinguished Play Award for Best Adaptation, the winner of the AT&T Onstage Award, and the Cleveland Arts Prize, Coble is a member of the Cleveland Play House Playwright’s Unit. The purpose of the group is to critique each other’s work in order to aid members to produce a better product. He depends on these writers and a select group of others to give him criticism that helps develop the final product.

Coble is a full-time playwright, stay-at-home dad, a member of the Cleveland-University Heights Board of Education, and obviously a talented writer of plays, media scripts and books.

His play BRIGHT IDEAS, which premiered at the Cleveland Play House and went on to much off-Broadway praise, may well be a way of describing Coble. He’s full of bright ideas, that seem to give birth to bright audience-pleasing works.