Columbus Makes Art Presents: Robert Cooperman’s Quest for Equal Time
Robert Cooperman is the president and founder of Stage Right Theatrics, a Columbus theater company focused on producing the work of conservative playwrights. Stage Right’s second annual Conservative Theatre Festival runs Jan. 26-28 at the Shedd Theater. Cooperman discusses his background, the workings of conservative theater, and the Columbus theater scene.
Stage Right: Tell me a little about your background in theater.
Robert: I’m originally from Queens, New York, and have been involved with theater since high school when I was cast in a lead role in the play Never Too Late. I’ve always had an interest in writing: for my seventh birthday I asked for a typewriter! The combination of a love of theater and writing led me, obviously, to playwriting. I had my own plays produced in college (Queens College) and subsequently have had plays produced in New York City and here in Columbus. My BA and MA are in English with a concentration in drama and my Ph.D. is from THE Ohio State University, again with a focus on drama. I have really made an effort lately to become part of the thriving Columbus theater community and that’s why I started Stage Right Theatrics and joined the Theatre Roundtable. Today I teach English and Theatre classes at Ohio University, Lancaster.
Stage Right: Why conservative theater?
Robert: Because it is an unheard and suppressed voice in the arts. I come upon this honestly as a very strange and unique political bird: I am a northeastern, Jewish conservative. There may be about six of us in the country (I’m kidding—there are probably more like 10). I have gotten a little tired of the obligatory attack on conservatives and people of faith in the arts and believe that there are a great many people—not just in Ohio but in the country as a whole—who would love to see their point of view get equal time on stage. I must be onto something because I get many thank you notes from people who feel as alienated as I did and from conservative playwrights who are thrilled to have an outlet for their work.
Stage Right: While we’re at it, what exactly is conservative theater?
Robert: It’s theater that promotes and celebrates the traditional values that have sustained our country for more than 200 years. It’s the idea that conservative solutions to our cultural divides are as valid and stage-worthy as progressive solutions (which, as history has shown, don’t work very well). It’s the notion that there is such a thing as human nature and that we should be humbled by forces greater than ourselves. It’s the belief that our Constitution and religions are the key to support human dignity and lay the groundwork for individual freedoms. It is, ultimately, a celebration of individualism untethered to big government and identity politics.
Stage Right: Between teaching and running a theater company do you have time to write?
Robert: Not a lot, but that’s my fault. I have a body of short plays and some full-lengths, but I have not sent them out to many contests or companies. I am working on a short book entitled Bad Playwriting, which demonstrates the best ways to avoid the pitfalls that I see regularly on current scripted television. I firmly believe that television has destroyed the art of playwriting. I’m concerned that students today are painfully ignorant of history, civics and competing points of view, and that this is the gene pool that writes plays these days.
Stage Right: What’s the best thing about the Columbus art scene right now?
Robert: You’ll be surprised by my answer, but its diversity. When I moved here 26 years ago there was some theater, but now there’s a ton! There’s improv and LGBT theater and opera and children’s theater and original pieces and non-traditional casting (which can be good or bad) and musicals and Shakespeare and acting classes and awards presentations – I’m so glad to be part of that thriving scene!
Stage Right: What productions are coming up for Stage Right Theatrics?
Robert: Our second annual Conservative Theatre Festival will be Jan. 26-28 at the Shedd Theatre. The Festival features six short pieces by writers from all across the country. In July we will be producing the Ohio premiere of Phelim McAleer’s controversial play Ferguson: Truth Matters. After that, we will continue to produce plays by conservative playwrights and look for new and inventive ways to bring the conservative point of view to theater-goers. I urge central Ohio theater-goers of all political stripes to come see what Stage Right Theatrics is all about.
Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art and sharing information about exhibitions, performances, concerts and more at ColumbusMakesArt.com. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at how #artmakescbus.