“A Local Theater Director Rises from the Ashes” – me, as the subject of a college paper

This past semester, I was the subject of a profile written by Long Island college student Potoula Anagnostakos. She had to create a business profile of a company and chose the theater company that I currently head. She also decided to do a great profile of me and tell the story of how it all came about. After I read it, I realized that it made me sound much more interesting than I actually am, though nothing is fabricated and it’s completely truthful – a sign of a truly talented writer.

With her permission, I’ve reprinted the entire profile below. This is less a “look at me” moment, and more a “look at this terrific young writer” moment:

“A Local Theater Director Rises From the Ashes”

by Potoula Anagnostakos

            A phoenix dies and is reborn from its ashes. It goes through reincarnation, continually going through the circle of life. A phoenix reinvents itself into something more, something greater than it once was.

           David Coonan, in a sense, is a phoenix.  He is currently the president and artistic director of Malverne Community Theatre, Inc. Based in Malverne and Lynbrook, N.Y., this non-profit theater company doesn’t have any real estate or actual theater; it just produces theatrical work. Producing is just one thing on his to-do list: “I do everything from organizing meetings, managing finances, promotions, marketing, advertising, community relation, and, of course, brainstorming ideas, planning shows and directing the shows and events.”

           He took many steps to get to where he is now, but there were obstacles, including funding and taking over the theater after 42 years of non-activity. In 2008, he worked at Hicksville High School in Hicksville, N.Y., as a theater, English and journalism teacher. He then left the school in 2010. Coonan went on to pursue his dream of opening his own theater company and doing the shows he wanted.

           From there, he produced shows with his former theater students from Hicksville and is still working with them. He works with a group called Paradoja, a Hicksville-based theater company started by two of his students, Michael Pagano and George Morrish. The group performs original work written by Pagano and Morrish. But Morrish is no longer involved in Paradoja, so Pagano is the main mind and he and Coonan are a team. The group recently had an improv show to raise money for their next project titled “Crossroads”.

           In addition to Paradoja, Coonan works with the Sarah Grace Foundation, a children’s cancer foundation based in Hicksville and raises money for the foundation by putting on shows. In 2011, he directed a production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” at Maria Regina School in Seaford, N.Y., and last year he directed “Unrehearsed,” an improv show.

           On April 13th and 14th, he produced another Neil Simon show. He directed and produced “Plaza Suite,” which he did as a dinner theater performance. Joe DiGirolamo, who played Roy in “Plaza Suite”, discussed his experience with Coonan, where he performs at Malverne and with Paradoja. He said he enjoys working with him. He describes him as a creative force and an inspiration. Coonan is both a director and a mentor.

           “I learned a lot from him as my director both in this show and previous shows I’ve done,” said DiGirolamo. “One of the most interesting things that I have taken away from Dave would be how to be natural while acting. He gives the actor full control over their movements on stage and really allows you to lose yourself in your character and truly be in the moment.”

           As a director, Coonan takes the role very seriously. Every part of putting together a show is very important and must be done well.

           Casting plays a huge part in a show. “I believe that it’s 90 percent of the show,” says Coonan. “Without the perfect cast, the show could flop. You could have beautiful sets, an exquisite space, great lights, and none of it matters if the acting is bad or the wrong people are in the roles. On the other hand, put great actors in a broom closet, give them an audience and you have great theater.”

           According to Coonan, a director should be committed to his or her vision and to the play or script itself, so much as if it were a marriage. “I have a connection to the work and the play needs to speak to me. I’m going to be married to this thing for a long time. I need to feel the connection.” Coonan holds himself up to high standards, and rightfully so, since he always wants to produce the best work. “If I’m going to put my name on it,” says Coonan, “it needs to be up to my standards.” In his mind, a David Coonan performance stands out because of its pristine and of its high quality. Also, Coonan always tries to top himself. He may have produced a great show, but the next one, he promises, will be even better. He is always setting the bar higher and higher. This shows his determination and dedication to the art and craft of storytelling, in a sense.

           Storytelling, in the proper way, takes a lot of steps. When it comes to telling a story on stage, Coonan takes each step with precision. He has a vision and he wants to make it come to life. It comes down to trusting the people he works with; the cast and the crew. With selecting the right cast, he chooses them based on their acting ability. But there’s more to it. “ I choose them because I see something deep in them that I also see in the character. They may not see it, but I do, and through the course of rehearsing, we discover, together, the subtleties of these characters-the things that make them human.” Bringing the characters’ stories to life is one thing, but developing a relationship between the characters and the audience is a challenge. “There isn’t any reason that the audience shouldn’t feel some kind of connection with the characters. It takes a while to get there, but eventually, the humanity of the character comes alive. And that is due to the actor- because before they get a hold of the parts, the character is simply black ink on white paper.”

           His reinvention has been a blessing in disguise for Coonan. Having left Hicksville opened doors to him creatively; he is now able to do what he wants and put on the shows of his choice. He doesn’t have to worry about a school holding him back. “I was pretty bummed,” Coonan said of his sudden departure from Hicksville. “I had no idea what any part of my future- including my artistic future- had in store for me. So by looking at what I’ve accomplished since then, it’s an affirmation that I have something to give, and that I’m strong and can recover from adversity. I’m able to do shows on my own accord, without the watching eye of too many administrators or overly sensitive parents. In a way, I’ve done exactly what I set out to do.”