For interview number seven, we check in with Gary Cole, one of the original co-founders (along with Bob Holden) of CoHo Productions in 1995. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Cole was a dynamic and very recognizable presence in Portland theatre. He led the campaign to convert a former bookbindery into what is now the CoHo Theatre and produced a string of quality shows that put CoHo on the map, injecting some welcome energy into Portland’s “off Broadway” scene along the way.
But Cole’s profile was a little different from most other theatre producers’. A graduate of Stanford Law School and a former attorney at the CIA, he worked by day as a corporate lawyer at one of Portland’s top firms and was a nationally connected Republican fundraiser and organizer. For some time Cole had successfully combined his interests in the arts and Republican politics, seeing no conflict between the two. In 2001, he founded StageDirect, a company that captured live theatre on video and sold the rights to distribution. In June of 2003, his political and art interests aligned, and Cole was offered his dream job: the position of Deputy Chairman for Grants and Awards at the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) in the administration of President George W. Bush.
And then the theatre caught up with him. At the last minute, Cole’s NEA offer was withdrawn when the Republican vetting process turned up two productions shot by StageDirect whose content worried senior staff. POONA THE FUCKDOG was a production of Theatre Vertigo which StageDirect shot in Vertigo’s space. STRAIGHT, by Seattle writer/performer David Schmader, dealt with the movement to convert gays and lesbians to heterosexuality. STRAIGHT was shot in the CoHo space, but had no connection to CoHo (nor did POONA). Trailers of both shows can still be seen at www.stagedirect.com.
Cole left Portland soon after his NEA offer was withdrawn and ended up writing a memoir about the experience, ARTLESS: THE ODYSSEY OF A REPUBLICAN CULTURAL CREATIVE, in 2006. He now lives in Raleigh, NC, where he continues to work in both law and theatre. He founded Theater of the American South, an annual festival in Wilson, NC, in 2006. In addition to his memoir and play BODYHOLD, which was CoHo’s first show, Cole has now written his first novel, BLACK BOX, which largely takes place in Portland and concerns a theatre not unlike CoHo. Several recognizable Portland theatre figures make cameos in the book, including – well, you’ll have to read it and find out.
Cole will give a reading from BLACK BOX at CoHo on Monday, October 22 at 8:00PM. The event is free but is a benefit for CoHo, and Cole will donate $5 for every book sold to the company. His book is also available online exclusively via his website, www.garydcole.com.
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