George Coates
Interviewed by John Papageorge
Story by Chris Borris

Frank Zappa is George Coates' muse. Coates is not an avant-rock musician weaned on the psychedelic pranksterism of a '70s pop genius. He's a playwright and producer who deeply admires Zappa's ability to mix metaphors.

"It's the mix that's important," says the local theater impresario. "Being able to make performance out of sculpting a mix of media is a very strange art form."

Coates has been creating odd art forms since the mid-1970s. Inspired to come west in 1969 by the sunny specter of Dinah Shore ("my first Madonna"), Coates soon made his mark as an actor in Berkeley and San Francisco. In 1976 he founded his multimedia theater group, George Coates Performance Works.

Now in its 20th year, GCPW continues to push the envelope, using cutting-edge technology as its trump card.

Coates' 1994 Nowhere NowHere production was the first use of live video conferencing in a stage performance: audiences were able to "see" a Bulgarian bagpipe player jam with Coates' onstage Nowhere Band via CU-SeeMe software on the Internet.

Another digital oddity undertaken by Coates and company was the use of stereographic 3-D animation in real time with an actor. In GCPW's Invisible Site, a performer is pursued by a flock of computer-simulated birds, with the joystick operator essentially performing along with the actor.

Referring to himself as a "provocateur," Coates goal is simple: "We try to create a mix of characters that will take an audience for a ride into the kind of experience one never has in a live theater -- something that's really very different."


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