By: Valerie Simon
Photo Credits: Beth Coleman
“What is art to you?” I asked Beth Coleman after a heartfelt interview on her career. “Art is the marriage of the heart and mind. An exploration to make life for better for everyone.”
Beth, an only child raised in East Vancouver, described her mother as being a hands-on craft person who encouraged Beth to seek the arts at a young age. “I didn’t think of myself as an artist,” Beth said with a chuckle. “I thought of myself as a kid having fun.”
Throughout her career Beth combined theater with her life through teaching. She first started teaching at a high school in Prince George, British Columbia, where she worked for seven years, directing and coaching students through creative drama and theater. She then ran her own business in Vancouver teaching voice and speech to the business community. She emphasized her “seven-year itch,” where she found herself continually starting something new with her life every seven years. “I don’t like getting stale. If you’re going to be artistic in any way you have to look at things from different angles. You can’t just get jumbled in the same old thing.”
All her life she found herself drawn to self-expression through journaling, theater, creative writing, and painting. She has written hundreds of volumes of journals, some dating back to when she was just twelve years old. She later got her Master’s Degree in Language Education based on her personal journals and broadened her research on how women learn. One of her most compelling discoveries was found in a questionnaire study related to women’s most significant learning experiences. Interestingly, the responses revealed that many women learned through happy and sad experiences relating to their reproductive systems. Difficult topics such as infertility, pregnancy, and abortion surfaced throughout the study.
After she got her Master’s Degree, she found herself teaching university in Japan and then Abu Dhabi, UAE, where she taught English to the first camera woman, female sports broadcaster, and other women who were making their dreams come true. Coming back to Vancouver from the UAE, she remembered her success with a short play about two deceased 95-year-olds paired in guardian angel training which was picked up by CBC radio years before. This prompted her to begin writing seriously again.
Her full-length comedy-drama, Evolutionary Tango, is about a 108-year old woman in a longevity study and her android caregiver. It explores themes about loneliness and friendship, as well as celibacy and sexuality in the elderly. The Shift Theatre Festival will host a professional public reading of the play on July 12, 2019.
Not only does Beth’s play surface the taboo topic of a senior’s sexuality, it also makes us question Western society’s relationship with death. “Our culture is strange about how we don’t accept death. We tend to want to ignore it. Honoring the death of a loved one encourages us to ask ourselves what we want for our older years, what they have given us, and how we can live life meaningfully.” While Beth’s plays have their satirical overlay, they encourage dialogue in old age, and the inevitable truths we as human beings will run into at some point.
Her plays also remind us to laugh and to live by our truth. She ended on the inspirational note, “You have to love what you do, you have to weave it in to your life, and you have to be disciplined. It’s hard work but it’s worth it if you love it, because you’ll get your rewards one way or another. And maybe not in the way you think, but you have to be open to that.”