Any Rhode Islander is familiar with the interconnectedness of living in a small state
and, as CCRI’s alumni network grows across the country, even a place like the Big
Apple can feel
as close-knit as Little Rhody.
We were reminded of this when we reached out to actor Lin Tucci for a feature on her
career and came back with not just one, but two alumni success stories. Doug Coleman, who
grew up in Cranston, is the special effects supervisor of “Orange Is the New Black” and graduated from then-RIJC in 1976 with an associate degree in Liberal Arts. Like Tucci, Coleman said his experience with the classes and professors at CCRI was instrumental to unlocking his true passion, rather than simply putting him on the path that might have been expected of him.
G&W: What made you decide to begin taking classes at CCRI? Did you always know you wanted to become involved in a creative field?
DC: I come from a family of engineers, but I knew that, early on, while some aspects of the engineering field appealed to me, I did not inherit the engineering gene, particularly when it came to math. It was mutually decided that I attend RIJC to study retail management; I had a proclivity for photography and we had a friend who owned a camera store. But then I met the folks that built the sets for the theatrical productions. The scene shop was visible from the Great Hall of the Warwick campus and it looked like they were always doing something interesting. I went to the shop and asked around and found out that it was a very welcoming environment.... Professor of English Jerry Emery, assisted by Jim Knott, showed me how to facilitate and problem solve.
G&W: How so?
DC: During the time we spent at the junior college, Jim was also a commercial lobsterman out of Point Judith. He also had a degree in electrical engineering and recently retired after a career at Boeing. So, when you spent time with Jim, you were always looking at things from three distinct points of view: technical, artistic and social, which is a perfect fit for the film business. Regrettably, Jerry died very young; this left a large hole in me as, even after leaving the college, I would reach out to him for advice.
G&W: So you’d say the college was pretty instrumental in your career today?
DC: I had no idea what I wanted to do when I entered the college. It was a breeding ground for me to find what I wanted to do, and the low cost of attendance allowed me to find my way without the constant pressure of a plan that comes for most with attendance at a high-cost university.
G&W: How did you make the transition to film?
DC: After three years working at Trinity Repertory Company and the now-defunct Chateau DeVille Dinner Theater, I applied and was accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Within a week of arriving, I had a side job working in a prop shop in the city. For the next two years, I juggled work and school until I graduated and started doing work on television commercials. New York continues to draw a lot of television and film production.
G&W: Do you have any advice for students – or fellow alums – who might be just starting out in the working world, figuring out what they want to do?
DC: I see not a shortage of dreams becoming a reality so much as I see people having difficulty finding their dream. Particularly today, most people are thrust into a trajectory based on someone else’s expectations. We strive for success rather than balancing success with contentment. The earlier you can figure out what your dream actually is puts you that much closer to experiencing it.
G&W: When did you realize that you and Lin shared a home state – and an alma mater?
DC: There’s a certain attitude about Rhode Islanders that I can always detect. And “Orange” is a very communal show; everybody eats in the same lunch room at the same time, and tables can be very diverse with the mixture of on-camera talent, technicians, directors, producers, writers, etc. Lin was on the opposite end of a table and I heard her say something. I can’t remember what it was, or if it was how she said it rather than what she said. But I turned to her and asked her: “Are you from Rhode Island?” The rest, as they say, is history.