Merry wanderer of the stage

An actor’s journey to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival

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Scott Coopwood, known as Coop, will play Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at this year’s Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
Jennifer Koskinen

It’s 1981 — maybe ’82 — and The Arizona Theatre Company is putting on a performance of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. The crowded Tuscon theater holds its breath as the narrator, Tom Wingfield, steps onto a makeshift fire escape and begins a monologue wherein he struggles between supporting his dysfunctional family and following his own dreams.

In the audience is a young man — 15 or 16 — who whispers to himself, “I’m not alone.” 

As he listens to Tom, the teenager realizes that despite his struggles — his alcoholic parents and chaotic homelife — he was going to be OK. 

Scott Coopwood, known to many as Coop, recalls the night vividly, like a lightbulb turning on in his teenage mind. 

In the darkened auditorium he thought to himself, “[I]f I can give the gift that I just received, then that’s what I want to do with my life.” 

So, at the age of 16, he turned to theater. And it turns out he’s good at it. Really good at it. 

Before discovering theater, Coop wanted to play baseball professionally. But when he was suspended from the team for getting into a fight with the coach, Coop needed credit hours. His high school was doing a production of M*A*S*H, and he tried out. He was given “this little, teeny part that doesn’t even exist [in the TV program].” But he loved it. The next year, he was invited to take an advanced drama course. 

While his home life was filled with divorce and alcohol abuse, Coop found a support system at school. He threw himself into theater, and an English teacher took him under his wing and convinced Coop to join the debate team. These two interests converged in college, where he majored in theater and minored in speech. 

Pursuing acting at the University of Arizona wasn’t an easy road paved with encouragement. The chair of the theater department told Coop he should learn how to hang lights because he would “never make it” as an actor, Coop remembers. 

But Coop had made his decision: “I was going to do it no matter what.” He acted in college performances and landed a semester internship with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Coop worked personally for the English classical actor Julian Glover — fetching cigarettes and coffee — who told him late one night, “‘We think you have it, and we think you should take it even more seriously.’” 

He met other actors in Arizona who saw his talent as well, and landed the role of Mercutio in an Arizona Theater Company production of Romeo and Juliet.

It was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with the Bard’s work.

Since, Coop has acted in 23 of Shakespeare’s 38 plays. He’s played famous roles ranging from Hamlet and Macbeth to Iago and Brutus. 

Everyone in the acting world has heard of Shakespeare festivals, where several of the Bard’s plays are performed, traditionally outside during the summer months. A quick Google search yields dozens of results, with performances everywhere from Alabama to Queensland, Australia. The mecca in the United States is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, but the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF) isn’t far behind. 

Jennifer Koskinen

Coop originally heard of CSF because of Tim Orr. Coop counts Orr as a dear friend, and even officiated Orr’s wedding. The day after Coop married his friends, the couple moved to Colorado so Orr could begin his new job as CSF’s production manager. Coop remembers thinking, “Aw man, my friends are moving to Colorado, when are we gonna see each other?” 

So he told Orr that if the festival ever invited actors from out of town, he should let him know. Four years ago, it finally happened. Coop was offered the roles of Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew and Brutus in Julius Caesar. This year will be Coop’s third summer performing in Boulder, and he’s as ready as ever. 

Reflecting on the pandemic, Coop says “the hardest thing … was losing tribe.” Tight-knit, hard-working groups have been a part of his life since he first stepped onto the baseball field, and then onto the stage. These have been places “of peace, contentment, joy and security” for Coop.  

The crew of thespians in the 2021 CSF have already begun their first performances, and tickets are completely sold out (though there is a waitlist). Over the course of the summer, CSF will present three different plays: the middle of June features the premiere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, July will feature Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of The Odyssey, and August will conclude with two performances of Pericles

Midsummer is a classic for outdoor Shakespeare performances. Set in a forest filled with fairies, it makes the perfect production for a summer evening. 

Several plots intertwine as people — along with sprites and one very special donkey —  search for love and entertainment. While four Athenian lovers form the romantic backbone of the play, the comedy is made possible by Puck, brought to life in this iteration by Coop. 

Trusty servant to Oberon, the King of Fairies, Robin “Puck” Goodfellow is a sprite with a hankering for mischief and a soft spot for humans. 

But be warned: “[I]t ain’t gonna be your mom and dad’s Puck,” Coop says. He’s interested in exploring Puck’s not-so-spritely side. 

“Even though [Puck] says he’s ‘the merry wanderer of the night,’ I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder.”

The opening night of Midsummer on June 18 will be Coop’s first time on stage since December 2019. But he’s been busy using theater in other ways to serve two widely different communities — K-12 students and detectives. 

Coop runs a Shakespeare program at a private school in San Francisco. In the spring, he teaches Shakespeare at a public high school. 

When he’s not helping students relate to Shakespeare, he works with the San Francisco Police Academy. Anyone transitioning from being a police officer to a detective has to go through a specific program that simulates potential scenarios. Just a few months ago, Coop played a hate crime victim. The detectives in training were given a file about his crime and then interviewed him, along with other suspects. 

While he loves his various theatrical ventures, Coop admits that the life of an actor is a steady grind, and that respect is key. You look for “bigger theaters, better parts, always treating it like a holy thing, never taking it for granted.”  

At times, the process has moved slower than others. Coop was 30 when his parents finally supported his career in theater. His mom constantly asked, “What are you doing? When are you gonna quit this hobby?” 

Coop recalls her encouraging him to become a “cop or a postal worker.” Finally, after he acted in summer performances in Vermont, he told her that this was it, and she understood. Then she became her son’s biggest fan. 

Coop has nothing but gratitude for his journey: “I really think it saved my life… life without theater is unimaginable.” 

And once he found theater, he never even tried to imagine his life without it. 

“I’ve never had a backup plan,” he says. “Ever ever ever.” 

ON THE BILL: Colorado Shakespeare Festival presents ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ June 18-Aug. 15. Performances are sold out, but there is a waitlist: cupresents.org