Atlanta to Portland to Denver. That’s the up-to-date career path for Atlanta native Chris Coleman, the actor/director who co-founded Actor’s Express and was its artistic director for the first 12 years.

Chris Coleman

This week, Coleman was named artistic director of the theater company at the Tony Award-winning Denver Center for the Performing Arts. He officially joins the company in May 2018.

Coleman helped create Actor’s Express in 1988 and, in 2000, moved to Portland Center Stage in Oregon, where he’s been artistic director for 17 years.

His most memorable onstage roles in Atlanta include Harvey Milk in the musical The Harvey Milk Show (1992) and Marvin in Falsettos at the Alliance Theatre (1993). The Express, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this season, presents a special concert version of The Harvey Milk Show (March 9-10), with Coleman reprising the title role.

Chris Coleman directed the musical “Fun Home” to open Portland Center Stage’s 2017/18 season. The Tony Award-winning show is based on the memoirs of lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/

The Express came to life in a church basement on Clairmont Road, and soon moved to Inman Park, occupying an Elizabeth Street space (the one more recently vacated by Dad’s Garage Theatre Company). Since 1994, AE has been in West Midtown’s King Plow Arts Center.

Portland Center Stage does a 12-show season of classic, contemporary and new works on two stages. It has a playwrights’ festival, education programs and community events. Under Coleman’s leadership, the company grew its artistic reputation locally and nationally, and committed to new-play development. Fifty-two of its world premieres have gone on to 115-plus stages in the United States and abroad. He also led the design and construction of Portland Center Stage’s new home in the Historic Portland Armory and has directed shows around the country.

Director Chris Coleman, in the rehearsal room.

The 40-year-old Denver Center Theatre produces 8-10 classic, contemporary and new works each season; holds the annual Colorado New Play Summit; and presents experimental works through its Off-Center producing division. It’s also involved in the center’s cabaret and education shows, employing up to 330 people each season.

“Through theater,” Coleman said in a statement, “we can draw our neighbors into a dynamic relationship by telling the world’s big stories — those we’ve traditionally thought of as ‘the great plays,’ those from other cultures that haven’t found their way onto our stages and those big stories waiting to burst out of the mind of the young playwright down the street.”

Coleman will direct his adaptations of Astoria: Part I and Astoria: Part II, plus Shaw’s  Major Barbara at Portland Center Stage before moving to Denver with his husband, actor Rodney Hicks.

About Kathy Janich

Kathy Janich, Encore Atlanta’s editor, is a longtime arts journalist who has been seeing, working in or writing about the performing arts for most of her life. She's a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, Americans for the Arts and the National Arts Marketing Project.

View all posts by Kathy Janich