William S. E. Coleman

William S. E. Coleman

Enjoying a successful career that has spanned more than 60 years, William S. E. Coleman is an award winning and produced playwright, screenwriter, author, director, professor, historian, and actor. For 37 years he served first as Chair and later as the senior professor of theatre at Drake University where he taught playwriting, screenwriting, acting, history, and directed more than 200 stage plays. He has also directed professional and amateur productions for television, radio, and film. His students have won 8 Emmys, one Obie, and many national and regional awards.

As a historian, Coleman has been active in British, American and Greek theatre and the American West. For more than twenty five years he and his wife, Linda Robbins Coleman, researched the events leading to the Massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1890. This resulted in their internationally acclaimed non-fiction book, Voices of Wounded Knee, published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2000. It has received unanimously positive reviews both in the USA and Europe. William was featured on Book TV and other venues including the Yale University bookstore, the Iowa Historical Society, the Judge Advocate General’s Law School at the University of Virginia, and Drake University. Voices of Wounded Knee is considered the definitive work on this event, and Dee Brown (author of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee) provided one of the book jacket recommendations. It is available online and in bookstores. 

Coleman has also been recognized here and abroad as one of the leading experts on the life and career of William F. (“Buffalo Bill”) Cody. His acclaimed two-hour mixed media lecture Buffalo Bill’s WILD WEST has been presented at universities, film festivals, museums, and learned societies in England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and United States more than forty times. Both aural and visual segments have appeared on BBC radio and television, National Public Radio, and on more than 200 Public Radio stations. Coleman has shared his Buffalo Bill expertise with National Geographic Magazine, Monte Montana’s recreation of Buffalo Bill’s WILD WEST, and several Cody museums and collections.

As a writer, Coleman has been active as a playwright and screenwriter for more than four decades. His plays have been published, received numerous awards, and enjoyed more than 70 productions nationally and internationally including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Greece, and Des Moines in professional, regional, amateur, and educational theatres. During the 2007-8 theatre season his plays received a total of eight productions including venues in Australia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Iowa.

Coleman has served as playwright-in-residence for Drake Theatre and the Central Iowa Repertory Theatre. In addition, he has published three non-fiction theatre books, scholarly and journalistic articles, dramatic criticism, and educational aids. Coleman appeared twice in Who’s Who in America, twice in Outstanding Educators in America, the International Dictionary of Biography, and many other listings.

In 1990 Public Television’s production of his screenplay, The Split Infinity (drawn from his stage play), was awarded the Finalist Fourth Place award in WorldFest Houston, the Houston International Film Festival out of 3150 entries from 47 countries. (The winner that year was Lonesome Dove.)

Coleman’s screenplay, Out of the Night (funded by a developmental grant from Thanks to Scandinavia, a foundation created by the late Victor Borge), received the prestigious e pluribus unum best screenplay award from the American Cinema Foundation.

             His full-length comedy two-hander The Morning After the Night Before received the 2007 James Sunwall Prize for New Comedies in an international competition. It was presented by the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre in Gainesville, Florida at the annual Gainesville Association for the Creative Arts’ Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Writing for the Region Workshop in July, 2007.


His two-act romantic comedy, One Golden Moment, won the prestigious Jennerstown (Pennsylvania) Mountain Playhouse International Comedy Contest’s annual Grindstone Award. It was the only award given in this highly competitive annual competition. The Mountain Playhouse, one of 12 remaining stock companies in the United States, is an Equity theatre that has been in operation since 1939. The award included a cash prize, a September reading by Equity actors at the Playhouse’s Theatre in an 1805 Gristmill, and a trip to the awards ceremony and reading. The play is optioned through 2010 for possible production by the Mountain Playhouse.

At the same time he signed an Option/Purchase Agreement with Adventures in Film, Inc., for his feature-length screenplay, Kefi.  It is based upon his award winning stage play, One Golden Moment.

As part of Coleman’s lifelong interest in developing new playwrights and screenwriters he created and produced the Drake’s Playwrights Acting Company, which became a model for playwriting companies throughout universities in the country. Over more than twenty years this company provided the opportunity for students to have their works produced in a workshop setting. Many students went on to enjoy professional writing careers both in theatre and movies. Coleman was also co-founder of the Iowa Scriptwriters Alliance and its first president.

As an actor Coleman has appeared in more than 25 stage plays, short films, radio dramas, and numerous commercials.

Born in Parnassas, Pennsylvania, Coleman grew up in New Kensington where his father worked for ALCOA as an electrical engineer. In early 1944, William dropped out of high school, enlisted in the U. S. Army at the age of 17, and was assigned to the Army Specialized Training Unit at Virginia Military Institute. There he took courses in basic engineering, and received the last cavalry training offered by the United States Army. At VMI he made his stage debut in a supporting role in Ercsapoppin, a Special Services production that featured Melvin Kaminsky, later to be known as Mel Brooks. 

After completing one term at VMI he was assigned to an infantry basic training unit at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, and then assigned to the 76th Infantry Division which was attached to Patton’s Third Army. Coleman was in front line combat with the First Infantry Battalion of the 417th Infantry Regiment for five weeks before the end of the war. For his service as a rifleman and assistant BAR man in the Rhineland and Central European campaigns he was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge and two Bronze Stars.

             After the war, and much to his surprise, Coleman graduated with honor from Slippery Rock State University with a B.S. in Education. He received an M.A. in playwriting and directing from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in theatre history and criticism from the University of Pittsburgh. 


His dissertation, Shylock: From Dogget to Macready was accepted with great distinction. In recent years the notable actors David Suchet and F. Murray Abraham studied his research regarding the London performances of Shylock for their respective appearances in The Merchant of Venice. His doctoral studies were funded by two Danforth Foundation Fellowships. Only 45 were granted per year to college teachers throughout the United States.

            Coleman lives in Des Moines, Iowa with his wife, noted symphonic and chamber music composer Linda Robbins Coleman, and their three cats. Since his retirement from Drake he has been enjoying a lifelong passion for baseball. He holds season tickets to the I-Cubs AAA baseball team and to spring training games of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Much to his wife’s dismay, he has assembled an impressive collection of signed baseballs, including many Hall of Fame players and managers. When not watching baseball games, the Pittsburgh Steelers on television, or writing plays, he can be found working as a consultant and advocate to various causes.  

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Linda Robbins Coleman, owner

This website was last updated on

April 10, 2012