Fearless Coates takes on Afghanistan

By Judith van Berkom –

GCTC’s new Artistic Director, Eric Coates, brings the Afghan war right to our doorstep in This is War. Heightened by sexual tensions and differing interpretations, four soldiers engage the audience in the psychological struggle of war, in a performance that’s “not for the faint of heart,” says Coates.

GCTC’s artistic director, Eric Coates, recently moved to Kitchissippi.<br />He’s looking ahead to a banner year at the GCTC. Photo by Al Goyette.
GCTC’s artistic director, Eric Coates, recently moved to Kitchissippi.
He’s looking ahead to a banner year at the GCTC. Photo by Al Goyette.

Coates had been Artistic Director of the Blyth Festival Theatre for 10 years and prior to that at the Stratford Festival. Blyth Theatre is located in rural Huron County, and is part of the Blyth Centre of the Arts. The theatre is produced inside a cenotaph.

Eric Coates’ directing credits in Blyth include Dear Johnny Deere, Vimy, Against the Grain, Queen Milli of Galt, The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom, The Gingko Tree, I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, Having Hope at Home, and The Drawer Boy.  He has also directed for Thousand Islands Playhouse and Drayton Entertainment.  For CBC Radio: The Train, broadcast live from Blyth Memorial Hall, and twelve episodes of The Morning Scoop.

As artistic director at Blyth, Coates launched twenty-eight world premieres, published eleven scripts and two plays were finalists for the Governor General’s Award (Reverend Jonah by Paul Ciufo and Innocence Lost: A Play about Steven Truscott by Beverley Cooper).

In September, 2012, Coates took over the artistic directorship of GCTC. “It was a natural transition for me,” he says. “I wanted a change and this job was posted at the same time,” he adds. GCTC’s mandate was similar to Blyth – to promote Canadian artists, Canadian ideas and Canadian plays.

“Blyth was driven by local concerns and local issues,” says Coates. [In Ottawa] I’m able to execute in a much more cosmopolitan place. The canvas is bigger and I have more colours to choose from,” he adds.

“I’ve always loved Ottawa,” Coates says. “It’s one of the only cities in the country where I have access to the wilderness so readily – to bike paths and ski trails. I’m a serious outdoor junkie,” he adds.

At the launch of the 2013-2014 season, Coates commented, “I wanted to program a season by and about Canadians – with a particular focus on Ottawa artists. Four of our scripts are by women – two of whom grew up here. GCTC is committed to its community.”

February 4 to February 23 2014 brings us This is War, “a very gritty play, not for the faint of heart,” says Coates. “It’s about the human element of war – really it’s about decision-making and just happens to be in this context. There is no situation where the stakes are higher than in war. It explodes the human condition,” he adds.

Written by Hannah Moscovitch, playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, the play follows an ill-fated operation in Afghanistan, where four Canadian soldiers recount different versions of the mission.

As director in Blyth, Coates says he “programmed something that would actually honour the veterans each year. The one that really stands out for me was Vimy which was also done here several years ago,” he adds. “Right before I left, the last play I commissioned for development there is a piece that’s about the death of Corporal Matthew Dinning who was the first Canadian killed in Afghanistan who grew up in the area,” says Coates.

Eric Coates is also an accomplished actor and will perform the lead role in the World Premiere of The Burden of Self-Awareness, playing at GCTC from June 3-22, 2014.

As part of the Fearless Women Series, a panel of military and civilian women, moderated by Jennifer Simpson, a community activist, will discuss women in the military, the differences between men and women personnel, and what is being done to improve the lives of women living in conflict on Sunday, February 16 from noon to 1:30 p.m. Register at GCTC’s box office: 613-236-5196.

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