Alumnus Q&A: Creative developer Preston Copley '07
Preston Copley ’07 graduated from Dartmouth with a history major. After graduation, Copley transitioned from performance to production, working for companies that produced reality television, shows off-Broadway and, eventually, for the Disney Theatrical Group. Copley is now the director of Creative Development for Jean Doumanian Productions in New York City.
Can you describe your role as director of Creative Development for Jean Doumanian?
PC: Jean Doumanian Productions is a smaller shop, but we do produce three different mediums: film, theater and television. My role is broken down into three different parts. Part of my job is to go out and search out theatrical properties that are already in existence, like off-West End in London or off-Broadway in New York, and evaluate if that show could be moved to a larger commercial venue, such as on West End or on Broadway, and if that show would be right for us, as producers, to transfer that show to the larger commercial context. I also scout to see if a potential property might be fodder for another type of medium, like if a play might also be compelling for television or a film. The other scouting element is scouting for talent. I’m supposed to know who’s writing what and who’s performing well, and in the event that we do engage with a piece, in any of the various medium, I’ll be able to help and coalesce a team to best execution the vision of that piece. The last aspect of what I do adds a dramaturgical element to my work. Once we engage with a piece and begin to develop it, I will work with a creative team to make sure the story is being developed in the way that the team wants and to make sure that it aligns closely with the original intentions of the piece. It’s a bit editorial, a bit academic but also very fun.
What are some of the projects you’re currently working on as director of Creative Development?
PC: We’re in rehearsal right now for a play called “The Effect” by a British playwright named Lucy Prebble. It was done in 2014 by the National Theatre of Great Britain and we are teaming up with the National Theatre in New York for their first ever off-Broadway commercial production. We’re doing it at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York, and it’ll open in March. We have a movie that will come out this year, most likely in the spring or summer. It’s an adaptation of a play by a playwright named David Harrower, who also wrote the adaptation for the screen. The play was called “Blackbird.” Our movie has been titled “Una” and it stars a riveting Rooney Mara in the lead.
Were you involved in theater while you were at Dartmouth? How did your involvement in theater shaped the direction of your career path?
PC: I was a recruited athlete at Dartmouth. I played football my four years at Dartmouth and captained the team my senior year, which is something I take a lot of pride in. At Dartmouth, I was a little more reticent, not because of the [theater] community being unwelcoming to an athlete, but more so just the time that one has to devote to all of their pursuits. I was a recruited athlete, so I felt that my first priority after academics was my responsibility to the team. Once I felt like I got in the groove there, I started testing the waters, performing in student stuff and eventually making it to the main-stage productions. Most of the members of that community, especially the students but also the professors, have remained friends until now.
What at Dartmouth prepared you the most for working in the theater/production industry?
PC: The mandate of a liberal arts education, being all encompassing. I think it’s necessary to specialize eventually, but in terms of approaching any subject, I’ve found it beneficial to try to wear the hats in terms of the whole craft of theater making, from acting to the production side to tearing tickets and ushering — I’ve worked all of those jobs. I think the Dartmouth education puts a premium on getting that kind of diversity and interest, and that’s probably the thing that helped me the most. My achievements that I’ve had so far has come from a willingness to do something in service of this larger idea of theater making, which I think was very much a philosophy of the Dartmouth theater education.
What personal goals do you have for your current role at Jean Doumanian Productions?
PC: Personal goals for me would be to shepherd really compelling artistic but commercial content into large theater spaces like Broadway and West End. Additionally, to put into development more provocative film-making and to personally endeavor to get some television on the air, which would be a new thing for me.
What advice would you give to theater/arts students at Dartmouth?
PC: If there are any students out there who don’t know if they want to try theater because it isn’t their major, you’ll find it to be a welcoming community.
This article has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.