Will Coleman: Playwright, Director, Theatre Company Owner

Posted on: Thursday, November 12th, 2015 by Brent Treash
Will Coleman, a playwright and director based in Chicago, has started his own theatre company in Chicago, appropriately naming it Wheelhouse Theatre, which is in the midst of its first production, “Hoist.”

It’s no wonder that the student who was so heavily involved in theatre while at Emory & Henry is doing big and bold things as a graduate.

Will Coleman, a playwright and director based in Chicago, has started his own theatre company in Chicago, appropriately naming it Wheelhouse Theatre, which is in the midst of its first production, “Hoist.”

“Our official mission is to ignite and cultivate the ideas of artists for this generation through collaboration, innovation and risk,” said Coleman.

“We want to gather artists who are good at diverse practices and willing to try something that might not be in their wheelhouse. We want to give them a safe environment in which to learn,” Coleman said.

“Our goal is for Wheelhouse to be an artistic home for people, and the name carries that meaning as well.”

Coleman said the Wheelhouse Theater will focus on civic and community enrichment through producing original plays, readings, adaptations, re-imaginings, sketch comedy, and dance pieces. “Less formally, we want to make a theatre in Chicago for writers, directors, actors, dancers, designers and others to have a home,” he said.

Most importantly, Coleman aims to give people opportunities to have their work seen and get it up on its feet, a concept that is outlined in his monthly reading series, Pancakes & Playwrights. One Sunday each month, he hosts two readings of new plays over brunch and mimosas at Hamburger Mary’s, a restaurant with a performance space upstairs.

“This is a chance for playwrights to see how their work reaches audiences and for directors and actors to network and get experience in a low-key, casual atmosphere,” Coleman said.

What I want to create is an environment where a playwright can approach me with a new play, and next month we can get it in front of an audience. Or a director wants to work with a certain actor, but hasn't had the opportunity, or an actor who wants to play a part against type -- Basically, we want to make a place where it is safe to fail, for all theatre artists.Will Coleman

After graduating from Emory & Henry in 2007 with a degree in theatre with specialization in directing, Coleman moved to New York, where he landed an internship with New York Theatre Workshop, an off-Broadway theatre.

“I learned so much during my time there, but the internship ended, and New York is expensive, so I later moved to Roanoke, Virginia, and worked for Studio Roanoke, a small local theatre focusing on new plays.”

It was here that Coleman was able to mount his first play as a writer, “Zombie Boyfriend!”a musical he wrote with Emory & Henry alumnus Chandler Davis.

Coleman is currently a Master of Fine Arts candidate at the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University.

Before opening his own theatre company, Coleman already had made a name for himself in the theatre world.

His play, Helvetica, received the 2015 Getchell New Play award from the South Eastern Theatre Conference (SETC) and a full production of the play was produced at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, Virginia, in January.

The play has had readings at SETC in Chattanooga; the Rose of Athens Theatre Festival in Athens, Georgia; and Off-Off-Broadway with Rising Sun Performance Group in New York this month. Auburn University in Montgomery is producing the play in November. Helvetica will be produced at Wheelhouse in 2016.

His ten-minute play, "Spooky Action at a Distance" premiered at Tesseract Theatre in St. Louis in 2014. He has recently published a short play for teens, “Speech and Debate,” with YOUTHplays.  

Coleman said he’s grateful for the well-rounded education and hands-on experience he received at Emory & Henry. “I directed a lot of shows that I wouldn’t have been able to do at a larger school. The hands-on experience was great training for the real world.”

Coleman is married to Caitlin Morgan Coleman, a 2009 graduate of Emory & Henry College, who also majored in theatre.

Major:  Theatre with specialization in directing
Hometown: Johnson City, Tennessee
Extra Curricular Activities: Reinstated a chapter of Alpha Psi Omega (along with classmates Chandler Davis and Kate Morton) on the Emory & Henry campus, Winter Forum Discussion Leader, sophomore through senior years, Honorary for Theta Chi social fraternity



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