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Gary Cole is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., where he was a philosophy major and "an indifferent quarter-miler."

Cole co-founded CoHo Productions with Bob Holden, a schoolteacher. Lori Hardwick, Sen. Gordon Smith's chief fundraiser, sat on the board of CoHo.

Cole wrote Body Hold, the story of an expatriate Brit caught in a Third World revolution and the first play CoHo produced. He later led the fundraising effort to build a permanent home for CoHo, which has produced 17 plays.

Besides Poona the Fuckdog, plays StageDirect ([link] ) has filmed include The Magnificent Welles, a critically acclaimed take on Orson Welles, and Haint, the story of a Tennessee town haunted by a ghost. The company has sold about 500 copies of Poona, which retails for $19.95.

StageDirect's films of Poona, Straight and Welles played on consecutive evenings at Cinema 21 in the summer of 2002.

Tony Chauveaux, a lawyer and director of the Texas Arts Commission, ultimately got the NEA grants job on Sept. 30, 2004. The NEA has an annual budget of $121 million.

The Chicago Reader published a briefer version of Cole's story on Sept. 28, 2004.

Gary Cole


Gary Cole found out the hard way that Republican politics and fringe theater don't mix.


njaquiss at wweek.com

Four years ago, Gary Cole helped George W. Bush come within 7,000 votes of winning Oregon.

The finance chair of Bush's Oregon campaign in 2000, Cole stuffed envelopes, pounded in lawn signs and hit up the state's biggest donors. He was the ultimate loyal Republican soldier.

This year, however, Bush will not get Cole's vote. "I believed in George Bush, and it appears I made a major mistake," Cole says.

Cole's beef has nothing to do with the war in Iraq, the booming deficit or the controversy over stem-cell research. No, this is personal. The 44-year-old lawyer is angry because the Bush administration let a satirical play featuring a singing penis overshadow his credentials and years of service. For real.

"I don't want to say I was brainwashed, but I was a real loyalist," Cole says. "I found out that this courageous leader I had supported was a shameless panderer to the right wing."

Gary Cole has been a Republican for nearly as long as he can remember.

The Chicago native says the notorious regime of Mayor Richard Daley shaped his politics. "My earliest political memory was the Democratic Convention of 1968," he says. "After that, I always associated the Democrats with corruption and thuggery."

Cole graduated from Williams College and Stanford Law School and then took a job with the CIA general counsel's office in Washington, D.C. Five years later, Cole and his wife moved to Oregon to start a family.

In Portland, Cole prospered at the Ball Janik law firm while serving on the PSU Foundation and the Multnomah County Library Board, in addition to working on local political races and Gordon Smith's runs for the U.S. Senate. "He had far more energy than most lawyers and was very civic-minded," says Robert Ball, a co-founder of Ball Janik and Cole's mentor.

The 2000 presidential campaign coincided with a four-month sabbatical Cole had earned after a decade at Ball Janik. No traipsing through Tuscany for him. "I spent two or three hours every day of my sabbatical dialing for dollars for Bush," says Cole. "I believed him when he said he was a compassionate conservative."

During his time off, Cole also fleshed out an idea that he hoped would allow him to pursue his real dream--the theater.

Along with his family, the Republican Party and the Chicago Cubs, Cole was passionate about theater. After trying out for a play in his senior year in college on a whim, he caught the bug for good in law school, acting in eight plays.

In 1995, Cole co-founded CoHo Productions in Northwest Portland, which offered space and financial support to playwrights and directors.

"Gary didn't always rub the theater community the right way, because he's got a very businesslike approach," says Jeff Meyers, who met Cole while directing a play at Coho. "But he's a guy who before a show would walk into the bathroom and clean a toilet before the audience arrived."

While on sabbatical Cole hatched a plan for a business that would marry his legal training and entrepreneurial instincts with his love of theater. Cole's frustration with theater was that the magic died when the curtain fell--and even on the best of nights, few people attended.

His solution was the company he dreamed up while on sabbatical. StageDirect would film selected plays and sell them via the Internet to people who couldn't attend theater in person.

Cole believed in the idea enough to abandon a law practice that earned him well over $250,000 annually. He raised more than $600,000 from private investors, including $100,000 of his own money, and launched the company in 2001.

Ball says Cole's departure was a big loss for Ball Janik: "We told him our door was always open if he wanted to come back."

Cole knew that StageDirect represented a financial risk. He had no idea it was also a professional risk--one that could erase all the political capital he had accumulated over the years.

By early 2003, Gary Cole felt pressure on two fronts.

Although StageDirect had filmed six plays, received glowing press in the Wall Street Journal and other publications and was in talks with PBS and the Lifetime network for distribution deals, sales were slow. "Our product is inconsistent with people's desire for quick and easy entertainment." says Meyers, who became Cole's business partner.

The other factor was Cole's wife's ...


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Originally published on WEDNESDAY, 10/20/2004

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