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.

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.

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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