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OUL’s Robert Cooperman Brings Conservative Theater to Southeast Ohio

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Robert Cooperman is a conservative in the world of theater. Perhaps it goes without saying that he often feels excluded because of his political persuasion.

Last year, Cooperman, who is an instructor at Ohio University Lancaster in both the English and Theater departments, had had enough of seeing his conservative political views lazily torn apart by liberal and progressive playwrights whenever he’d attend a theatrical production. In response, he founded his own theater company, Stage Right Theatrics .

“Every time I would see a conservative character in a play, they were a straight laced, humorless kind of a person who doesn’t accept everyone for everything,” said Cooperman. “I started to say to myself: that is a caricature and a stereotype and it is pervasive – people don’t understand what being a conservative means.”

Over the course of several months, Cooperman sent out a call for plays with conservative themes for Columbus’ first ever Conservative Theatre Festival, which took place at the Columbus Performing Arts Center’s Shedd Theater January 7. The event consisted of six plays, one of which being Cooperman’s own Drop the Barbie!

All of the plays chosen for the festival exemplified what Cooperman refers to as conservative beliefs. Among them are the central belief in a higher being that provides the baseline guidelines for living; a belief in a definable “evil”; strict adherence to the Constitution; a reverence for the past and the belief that it provides guidance in figuring out the future; a belief in a central “human nature,” among other tenants, outlined on Stage Right Theatric’s website.

Cooperman said his festival was modeled after the Republican Theatre Festival in Philadelphia, the left-leaning founder of which Cooperman interviewed for his podcast, Stage Right.

“It’s a very unfortunate name for a festival, I don’t like to pin it to a party, really, but it was exciting to hear about,” said Cooperman. “When I interviewed the founder of the festival, she said that as a liberal, she was sick and tired of seeing her views reinforced over and over again in theatre, which was very brave of her.”

Ohio University Lancaster Theater students rehearse Robert Cooperman's "Drop the Barbie!" for Columbus' first ever Conservative Theatre Festival. (Submitted)
Ohio University Lancaster Theater students rehearse Robert Cooperman’s Drop the Barbie! for Columbus’ first ever Conservative Theatre Festival. The play challenges modern perceptions of gender in the context of a child in a progressively liberal family.  (Submitted)

As Cooperman had expected, getting professionals from the theater world to participate in an unabashedly conservative festival was difficult. While he was surprised at the number of plays that were submitted (36) he still had a hard time finding performers and directors, a problem that he eventually solved by involving his Ohio University Lancaster theatre students.

“It was nice to be able to give some younger folks a chance, and we found some local directors, too,” said Cooperman. “I had a little trouble getting it together, but, at a point, I decided I really couldn’t obsess about it, I just needed to put it on and see what happened.”

That’s precisely what Cooperman did, to considerable success.

For the 2018 Conservative Theatre Festival, Cooperman is getting started on the organizing work a little sooner, but his principal project as of late is bringing acclaimed playwright David Mamet’s The Anarchist to Columbus Performing Arts Center July 1 and 2. Cooperman also hopes to bring in an academic who can speak to Mamet’s well-publicized “coming out” as a conservative in the Village Voice in 2008 and his reception before and after he did that. He is currently running a GoFundMe campaign to help out with the fundraising for the event.

“Since the festival, there have been lots of people who have approached me thanking me for what I have done, have thanked me for opening this particular door,” said Cooperman. “Then sometimes they’ll offer me their play and tell me about how they’re been getting a lot of slings and arrows for it.”