I met Joan for lunch at Denalis in Beloit because I knew she was directing a play next spring for Beloit Civic Theater. But, I had many questionsamong them, why she spells her namejoan e. colewith lower case letters.
Let me say this, theres no money in theater, she began. You cannot make a living at it. So one of the things I had was my own consulting training company. I found a font I absolutely loved. I did it as a marketing tool; it drew peoples attention. Now, she says, to un-train them to do it the regular way would be far too challengingand I like it. Her simpler explanation: Its little letters for a little lady.
Her passion for theater, however, is not petite. Joan is completing her second doctorate. Her thesis: Creating a theory of directing for senior theater production in a community theater setting.
Because? I asked.
Senior theater is growing by leaps and bounds, she explained. In year 2000, there were 200 community theaters. Now there are probably closer to 600.
Boomers, Joan said, will be different than todays seniors. Its not OK anymore to just do plays, charge people for it, and watch seniors make fools of themselves. Horrible, she winced. A serious thing is very funny because its so badbut dont charge people to come and see that. My position is that when we increase the standards, the professionals will come.
My main concern is this: the baby boomers, as they age are going to be either the actors, the designers, or the audience members. They have far more education than todays seniors, far more experience in professional occupations, and far greater exposure to the cultural artsIm talking about doctors, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, electricians. Those people will bring with them a certain set of expectations into a theatrical setting.
How long will it be before theyre here? I asked, sensing her urgency.
Not very long, she smiled, almost rubbing her hands in glee.
Heres my goal: Not everyone wants to go play golf and make quilts, or go to Florida and play tennis. Theyre not going to pay $25 to see someone sitting in a wingback chair and talk about what it was like the first time I got a computer. They want something intellectually stimulating, entertaining.
Joan is from Michigan, where she earned bachelors and masters degrees from Michigan State. She spent summers apprenticing at the Barn Theatre in Augustathe oldest equity company in Michigan. That gave her experience and a philosophy.
All those equity actors from New York, who moaned and groaned about how little work there was. I mean, I loved it, I just loved it, but in the back of my mind wasI have to be able to support myself, and Im not going to be able to do it in theater.
Joans hummus and pita arrived. Oh that looks wonderful! with characteristic enthusiasm.
What do you look for in a good hummus? I asked.
Cumin, coriander, garlicthis is good, she said.
A circuitous route took Joan through California, Ohio, Florida, and Colorado, where she completed her first doctorate in interpersonal communication at the University of Denver. But she was dedicated to community theater.
She met husband Carl at a grocery store in Colorado, and soon after they were transferred to San Francisco, and then to Illinoisnot Chicago.
I felt like someone had reached across Lake Michigan with a long hook and pulled me back, because I said I would never return to Michigan until it became as cosmopolitan as Chicago.
After a period of adjustment, Joans love for community theater led her to direct for several community theaters. Now she is president of Main Street Players of Boone County.
Oh, look at what we have done, what the board has done in three years. We have people who are repeaters, who have 40-hour jobs, kids, family.
What brings them back? I asked.
Every time we do a show, we up the ante. That was my goal. Every show we didquality directing, scenes, publicity, organizing the theater, and keeping it going? Its wonderful. Its established our credibility. Its inspiring to the board to look at where they were and where we are.
Community theater is the training ground for professional theater. Thats where the opportunities are for actors and directors. Its the place for people whove never been on stage.
Watch out for joan e. cole baby boomers! She has the experience, the standards, and the passion to take our local community theaters to the stars.
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.