Playwright Eric Coble has hit the big time. His play “Velocity of Autumn” premiered on Broadway in 2014, and lead actress Estelle Parsons earned a Tony Award nomination for her role. After so much promising success, Coble’s star has kept right on rising—and this fall, he soared right back to his alma mater, Fort Lewis College.
Coble (English, ’90) visited FLC to accompany the Theatre Department’s production of his play “A Girl’s Guide to Coffee” and to conduct a number of workshops with Theatre students.
“The play speaks to college audiences,” Coble says regarding the choice of performance. “It’s a play about youth and growing up. It’s about making decisions from a place of total freedom, when you should be ready to leap at any given moment. So it seemed like a natural fit for Fort Lewis, too.”
Coble’s entire career could be considered a series of great leaps when opportunities arose. For example, when he attended FLC, he didn’t intend to be a playwright at all. He was determined to be an actor.
“The idea of wanting to tell people stories has been constant through my life,” Coble says. “When I got to high school, I was like: Acting! I can tell other people stories. I will be an actor. Then I went to Fort Lewis College to study acting. I majored in English, so I was writing a lot and telling stories that way. But I was always thinking, I will be an actor.”
Between on-campus and in-town productions, Coble seized every chance to act while he was attending FLC. “There were actually years where I was doing twelve shows a year,” he recalls. “That was all I was doing. I leapt at every chance I had.”
These experiences were the genesis of his later writing career. “I thought I was just getting my acting experience in, but also I was learning about playwriting,” Coble says. “Even though I wasn’t practicing writing, I was acting on everything I could get my hands on. I was ingesting all these great playwrights.”
“So when I started trying to find my voice as a writer, I had this encyclopedic experience. That was laying the groundwork for once I decided to become a writer,” Coble says. “I guarantee you, I would not be writing plays if not for Fort Lewis College.”
FLC offered Coble a springboard to graduate school, internships, and success as a playwright in New York, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere. Yet Southwest Colorado continues to color his writing.
“I have no doubt that there’s some part of Durango that has absolutely influenced the way I think and therefore how I write,” Coble says. “The rhythms of this place shaped me. The mountains never let you forget where you are.”
These Colorado roots helped draw Coble back to offer his time and insights to FLC students. “It’s thrilling that I would get to be part of a coming-back lineage,” Coble says, “and to get to see this play on a home stage.”
Coble recalls a successful alumnus actor returning to FLC during his own undergraduate years. “That’s my frame of reference for how to do this well,” Coble says. “He was great. As a freshman, I just remember thinking, ‘He knows what he’s doing. He’s actually been there.’ The questions I had for him, that exposure to him, and his willingness to expound his wisdom was huge.”
Even with every advantage, success did not come to Coble overnight, and it is still not a constant. The lessons he learned while performing and studying at FLC help guide him through the tough times—lessons applicable to students in any field.
“Every step along the way, there’s this inherent, real serious chance of failure,” Coble acknowledges. “The odds are long. The chances of failure are always greater than the odds of success, at any given point. But you just keep going.”
He recalls a distinct influence on his writing and his attitude coming from an English professor. “He said, if you are going to call yourself a plumber, you have to plumb every day,” Coble says. “There’s going to be days it’s easy, and there’s going to be days where the pipes explode on you and nothing is going right and your day is horrible. But you have to do it.”
“If you’re going to be a writer, same thing,” he adds. “You get back up and you go write some more because you have to write if you’re going to call yourself that. Sheer endurance. It’s not about talent at all.”
Persevering through the hard days has been Coble’s key to success. “The more I wrote, the higher my safety net rose,” he says. “So if I miss the trapeze bar and I fall, I don’t have as far to fall to get back up and keep writing again. That’s been a nice discovery.”
Coble’s willingness to take a leap meant he had to be willing to fail. But it’s the same momentum that has allowed him to soar. “You just keep going for those little thrills of the times it works,” he says. “And then you try again.”