A Long Way Home: David Coonan’s Journey to Becoming a Community Theatre Innovator

David Coonan of Nassau County re-founded the Malverne Community Theatre (MCT) back in 2012. He has since nourished the organization into the thriving hub for actors, producers, and directors to collaborate and perform.

Coonan’s high school Social Studies teacher and Theatre Director, Sal Zaccaro, was one of the original founders of MCT back in 1966. It was Zaccaro who first taught Coonan during his freshman year at Malverne High School in 1996. This encounter would spark the chain of events that ultimately had Coonan’s love for theatre flourish into a career.

“I wanted to be part of it, but being a shy kid, I didn’t really think that being on stage was in my wheelhouse” says Coonan prior to his first confrontation with Zaccaro. Coonan attended the general meeting for Little Shop of Horrors, in the back corner, assuming his position would be a stage manager.  When the meeting concluded, Zaccaro asked Coonan to do a dry reading for the part of The Dentist.

“I don’t know what it was that he saw in me, it will always be a mystery to me why he asked me to read” says Coonan. “His talent was seeing talent in other people, which I think is something I have taken on from him.”

Coonan was casted for the part of The Dentist. This performance ignited Coonan’s interest, having him delve into further studies in acting. He continued performing in every Malverne High School production until his graduation, under the mentorship of Sal Zaccaro.

“I didn’t realize how much [Zaccaro] actually taught me, until I saw how other productions were run.” shares Coonan. “It was because of the environment that he set up that allowed us to learn and experiment.”

After high school, Coonan attended Hofstra University to study Journalism. During this time, opportunities to act were both sporadic and sparse. It wasn’t until a call from Zaccaro during Coonan’s junior year, in 2002, that exposed him to a drastically different experience with acting among adult performers.

“It showed me the level of work, and the level of commitment and the level of study that I didn’t have at that point as far as theatre goes.” Submerging himself within this group of talent, Coonan was reenergized, and sought out more learning opportunities for himself.

The next call from Zaccaro came in 2005 when Coonan was offered to participate in the One Act Festival at the Author’s Playhouse in Bayshore, NY. Coonan was casted in 7 of the 12 one-acts, performing in front of a panel of judges.

“I just knew I was going to be working with Sal again” explains Coonan who did not anticipate the scale of the festival.

After college, Coonan became an educator teaching English in high schools on Long Island. His outlet for acting was simultaneously becoming Theatre Director for these schools. As the Theatre director in high school environments, he shares that he found himself emulating the same teaching styles that he learned under Zaccaro’s teaching.

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Students performing Our Town under the direction of David Coonan

“I start to see it come up in various places” says Coonan of Zaccaro’s influence. “I find myself repeating  the same things he would say. It’s remarkable how much directing knowledge he gave me while teaching me to act.”

When Coonan sought out Malverne Community Theatre, he was unaware of Zaccaro’s previous involvement. When the baton needed to be passed and ownership was signed over, discovering his mentor’s name as a part of the original founders of MCT brought it full circle for Coonan.

His involvement with MCT has evolved further and grown into a space of authentic partnership with other producers and performers. “This project is bigger than me, it’s not about me anymore” Coonan admits of MCT. “It’s bigger than I ever thought it would be.” The climate Coonan established for the company allows him to now take his time to plan what’s next, putting intentional work behind further steps.

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Malverne Community Theatre’s original production Demon Trail (Oct 2015)

Coonan’s most recent project was a return to the basics. In a search for something different, he found an opportunity to work as the director for Oceanside Library’s Script-In-Hand Production series. Coonan’s involvement began in March 2015 with the play Doubt by John Patrick Shanely, then again that August with The White Liars by Peter Shaffer. This month, Coonan had the unique opportunity of working with award-winning playwright, Richard Vetere, to help mold the play Alone for its debut performance. On April 15th, Coonan with a  cast of 4 actors showcased the play as a part of Oceanside Library’s Script-In-Hand Theatre series.

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Alone cast with playwright Richard Vetere (center left) and director David Coonan (center right).

“The thing I liked most about the script was that it wasn’t finished” explains Coonan. This new challenge consisted of an open line communication between Coonan and the playwright. The script underwent a series of drafts that, with both the actors’ and director’s  feedback, sculpted the play. By the time of the performance, the script was altered 5 or 6 times from what was originally written.

Despite this new advantage of forming a script, Coonan explains that it is still the actors that bring it to life. He expresses that “Once the actors hit the stage in front of an audience there’s a certain level of control I lose. It is what is is at that point.”

Moving forward, Coonan is now transitioning into a season that offers more freedom for his creativity and passion. In addition, Coonan operates his own website, “Theaterific“, which features interviews with theatre professionals, news in the theatre world, along with acting and directing advice from Coonan himself.

“Life is a series of one act plays…I feel I’m moving to the next one” says Coonan.

To follow Coonan’s latest projects and to tap into excellent resources on theatre and acting, subscribe to Theaterific or follow the website’s Twitter account. For videos of performances and events, visit MCT’s Youtube page.

 

 

 

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Brooklyn Cartoon Artist Sharon Stokes Talks How To Remain Confident in Competitive Field

 

Aspiring cartoon artist and freelance illustrator Sharon Stokes has been drawing since childhood. “I used to draw on things I wasn’t supposed to” shares the 25-year old Brooklyn native. Now, with both social media and local shows, the artist has grown a following and a career in digital based artwork.

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Stokes graduated from City College of New York with a BA in Studio Art in 2012. Her inspiration derives from anime artist Masashi Kishimoto , and first African American female cartoonist Jackie Ormes. Among these big time names, Stokes shares that the online community through social media has allowed her to thrive.
“Not everyone’s in museums, not everyone’s in history textbooks” Stokes shares. She says tools such as Facebook, instagram, and online galleries allows her to engage in community and exchange with artists she otherwise would not know.
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Although the internet has offered numerous opportunities for Stokes, the young artist talks how it can be both a blessing and a curse. “The key is not to get too caught up in other people’s art” Stokes explains. “There’s a balance. Yeah there’s always going to be someone out there better than you, but you have to put your best out there at that moment.”
This strive for confidence permeates through her artwork. Her latest project in the works is a collection of affirmations, with pieces having titles such as “Speak Up” or “Breathe”. These personal mantras were created out of a need to get back to what really matters for Stokes. This particular collection will be featured at her next event, Pancakes and Booze, happening in Manhattan on April 28th.

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Stokes also teaches art at P.S. 193 Gil Hodges Elementary School in Brooklyn along with her freelance work. What she teaches her students is to get out of their comfort zone by drawing everything, and not just what you know. Stokes’ hope is to someday work for a corporation such as Disney or Nickelodeon. “I was watching these shows on TV, and now I’m in an actual studio making them” Stokes shares she hopes to one day say. “It would be coming full circle.”

Follow Stokes’ Instagram for updates, or purchase art from her online store

Long Island Poets Gather to Celebrate the Beats

This Wednesday, April 13th, local poets met at Valley Stream’s coffee shop, Sip This , to have a reading of the post-1950’s Beat Poets. Pieces from Charles Bukowski, William S. BurroughsAmiri Baraka, and more were shared in the group to honor the poetry movement.

Peter Dugan, who orchestrated this event, is an active member of the Performing Poets Association (PPA), which is lead by the Long Island Poet Laureate Lorraine LoFrese Conlin. Dugan is a published poet and performer, who has dedicated his time to organizing events allowing the local poetry community to meet together and grow.

Other poets included Suffolk County Poet Laureate George Wallace, Nassau County Community College Professor and published writer Christina Farone, poet and Hofstra University Alumni Vicki Iorio, poet Lloyd Abrams, and Brooklyn poet Ptr Kozlowski.

Enjoy footage blow from this recent event of poets honoring The Beats

 

To learn more about events organized by PPA, visit their Facebook page for a calendar of events, updated monthly.

 

CreativeNYC’s List of Top 5 Most Useful Books for Artists

Artists are typically the trend setters and rule breakers. However, though the instinct is to deviate from the norm, mentorship and growth are vital for artists being recognized and building a platform.

Aside from cultivating my craft, my personal journey in the art world consisted of delving into other’s artwork, and surrounding myself with other artists. This is vital in order to get connected and thrive in community.

Since the market for art is fluid, constantly altering, and rather unstable, knowing how to present your art and make these connections become a skill in and of itself. To do that, I hit the books to learn how other artists are propelling themselves and their art forward. Here is my list of Top 5 Books to learn about pursuing art

1. The Profitable Artist by Artspire

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This book teaches practical skills in learning how to designate value to your work. It aids in knowing what most artists typically know little of, that is the laws, copyrights, and regulations that surround selling artwork and building a business. It teaches very tangible ways to connect with audiences, and how to constantly expand that audience into a broader circle outside of just the people you meet (using social media). Most importantly (for someone like me) it poses inventive ways to fund your art and thinking of how to (as the title suggests) be profitable from your art.

 

 

 

2. Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

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This near pocket-sized book unpacks the near impossible process of getting your work noticed in 10 concrete and sensible steps. The author speaks with a cheeky tone (one that I truly appreciated) to move through the tendencies and habits needed to being discovered and connecting with the people who will be vital to your journey. What Kleon emphasizes throughout the whole book is that the power to have your work discovered is in YOUR hands; that the ability must be self initiated and self-promotion is game changing when done correctly.

 

3. ART/WORK by Heather Darcy Bhandari

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Authors Heather Darcy Bhandari, an art gallery director, and Jonathan Melber, an art lawyer, takes the reader through the hairy details of sponsorship, representation, and legalities in a simplified manner. This book is an outstanding tool in understanding exactly what details are required of artists to make a business out of their art. The authors share their own experiences, but also interview a wide spectrum of artists and curators to provide a vast and all-encompassing tool based off of experience and the current reality of the art-world.

 

 

4. Living and Sustaining a Creative Life Edited by Sharon Louden

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This book is very different from the rest. Rather than instruction and steps, this book takes literary essays written by different types of artists to create a mosaic of stories. Each individual story shares the artist’s journey of expanding their art and becoming known. You hear from artists both hugely successfully, as well as tapping into the currents of the underground art realm. The stories share both small, intimate details of the artist’s process as well as those who share secrets and tips due to their own shortcomings and trails. Rather than reading front to back, this book is better read sporadically in fragments for jolts of inspiration along the way.

 

5. Art, Inc. by Lisa Congdon

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This captivating book allows the reader to unpack “success” through their own unique standards rather than those set in the world. Additionally, it deconstructs the idea of the “starving artist” and challenges the reader to obliterate this idea entirely. It is a necessary tool for emerging artists to acquire the proper mentality in basing a career off of their artwork. It asks that the artist reading think in an innovative manner to share their work and push limits, paralleling the way in which they succeed to the art itself. This idea that the practical can also be creative is vital in breaking out of one’s comfort zone.