Dallas — Bruce R. Coleman, Interim Artistic Director of Theatre Three, has written several plays about the Texas experience ranging from contemporary Oak Cliff to 1950s Galveston to a historical San Antonio. Coleman notes that because of the vast geography and folklore of Texas, the possibilities for dramatic stories are endless. His latest play, Day Light, opening Monday at T3, shines a light on post-Civil War rural life; it is the 13th play of his that has had a professional production.
One unique aspect of Coleman’s work is that he wears the playwright’s and director’s hats, which is a rare practice unless you’re working in the avant garde theatre circuit. By stepping into both roles, playwright/directors enjoy significantly more artistic control over the final result, as they do not have to consult between artists to make major changes to the performance. As Coleman has served in both capacities before, he notes that he has grown quite adept at self-editing and remaining objective so that the story is clear.
Day Light takes place in a fictional town in the Texas Panhandle, in the aftermath of the Civil War. Coleman became fascinated with this era of American history while directing Paula Vogel’s A Civil War Christmas two years ago. Coleman says, “The story was really terrific and the music was great and I got really interested in the time period. I’ve always been interested in family dynamics and the way families operate outside of what the ‘ideal’ is—particularly when the journey to get to happiness isn’t what you thought it would be at all.”
Coleman’s new play follows the Poteet family, which includes a widowed matriarch and four sons. A storm is approaching their household, and Coleman examines their family dynamic and the rough nature of living in a rural landscape. Since it is a work of fiction, Coleman utilized previous research and character studies he had created over the years to pull this new work together.
He submitted the play to the prestigious Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center’s National Playwrights Conference, writing a full draft of the play in just three and a half weeks. While nothing came of that, he received positive feedback from local collaborators and continued to develop the script. With revisions, he submitted it to the Southwest Playwriting Festival at Stage West. The stars aligned and he won the grand prize, which included a staged reading of the play. That was particularly meaningful to Coleman as it was a blind submission, noting that the work stood on its own.
But many plays live within that staged reading acclaim and never move forward into a full production. Since Coleman is now the Interim Artistic Director, he thought he may never have the chance again to submit his play for a season at Theatre Three. He added the play to the season last January, with the full enthusiastic support of the staff.
Coleman notes that the collaborative nature of the rehearsal process has been one of the most rewarding aspects of creating Day Light. Initially, he stayed away from the play for months, but he made a significant amount of adjustments a week before rehearsals began. Small elements, like syntax. were adjusted; but other major changes were made, like changing where the act break fell and rewriting an entire scene. With the changes made in rehearsal, Coleman aims to take the audience on a multi-layered journey in small town Texas, with a strong emphasis on the ever-changing concept of “family.”
» Shelby-Allison Hibbs is a Dallas-based teaching artist, playwright, director, performer and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. In her Work in Progress column, she'll have conversations with playwrights, theatermakers, directors, designers, dramaturgs and others involved in the process of realizing new work from page to stage as she explores new plays and musicals being developed/created by theaters of all budget sizes in North Texas.
PREVIOUS WORK IN PROGRESS COLUMNS
- Len Jenkin's Jonah at Undermain Theatre (April 15, 2016)
- David Lozano and Lee Trull's Deferred Action in a co-production between Dallas Theater Center and Cara Mía Theatre Company (April 28, 2016)
- Janielle Kastner's Ophelia Underwater, presented by The Tribe at Margo Jones Theatre (May 11, 2016)
- Caridad Svich's De Troya, a developmental reading presented by Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth (May 13, 2016)
- Steve Yockey's Blackberry Winter and The Thrush and the Woodpecker in Kitchen Dog Theater's 18th New Works Festival at Undermain Theatre (May 18, 2016)
- Stefany Cambra's Finding Myself in Bed from Proper Hijinx (June 1, 2016)
- Acoustic Nerves/Therefore, a collaboration by Dean Terry and University of Texas at Dallas artists, at the Texas Theatre (June 9, 2016)
- Checking in with playwright Jonathan Norton (July 22, 2016)
- Lake Simons and John Dyer's visual theater adaptation of Don Quixote at Hip Pocket Theatre (Aug. 6, 2016)
- The Third Dallas One-Minute Play Festival, presented by One-Minute Play Festival and Kitchen Dog Theater (Aug. 8, 2016)
- Justin Locklear's Dreamless at the Ochre House (Aug. 15, 2016)
- Jeff Swearingen's Old McDonald's Farm: A Children's Fable about the Obama Presidency at Fun House Theatre and Film (Aug. 17, 2016)
- Iv Amenti's Deep Remembrance Project in the Deep Ellum Unplugged series (Sept. 13, 2016)
- Jessica Cavanagh's Self Injurious Behavior, as a staged reading, performed at Theatre Three's Theatre Too! (Sept. 15, 2016)
- Kirsten Childs' Bella: An American Tall Tale at Dallas Theater Center, a co-production with New York's Playwrights Horizons (Sept. 22, 2016)
- Katy Tye's movement theater piece Midas, presented by PrismCo at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center (Oct. 4, 2016)
- Wild, Wicked, Wyrd: Fairytale Time by Maryam Obaidullah Baig, Michael Federico and John M. Flores, presented by the Drama Club (Oct. 23, 2016)