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James Colgan

A question James Colgan hears a lot is “Is there anything you can’t do?” “Tennis,” he replies readily. “I’m a lousy tennis player.” 


James Colgan is an author, actor, award-winning playwright, and director in his present life, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Colgan grew up in a small town in Eastern Kentucky. He graduated from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, in 1971 with a Bachelor’s Degree in music theory and composition, and in 1974 earned a Master’s Degree in the same areas from San Francisco State University. He also studied Classical Guitar with world-renowned virtuoso, Rey de la Torre, after which Colgan earned a modest national reputation in the 1970s and early 1980s as founder of and performer with the San Francisco Guitar Quartet. He published two scholarly articles on the 17th Century guitar music of Giovanni Battiste Marella. Two of his compositions received critical acclaim. He taught himself calligraphy and had a small graphics arts business in the early 1980s. He was a bartender for fifteen years. He learned to sail, and also took up competitive fencing, wielding the sabre. “I wasn’t a very good fencer,” he confesses, “but it was a lot better than my tennis game.”


In 1985, at age 35, Colgan went to law school, graduated near the top of his class in 1989, and won the law school’s Outstanding Law Student Award. He then went on to have a successful career as a lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area, which included six years as a judge pro tem, and during which he was voted one of the Top Ten Civil Attorneys in the San Francisco Bay Area. He also published two law review articles, one on criminal law and another on defenses in civil litigation. During this time, Colgan also took up bonsai gardening and at one time had over thirty bonsai on the patio of his condo.


It was during his twenty-five year legal career that Colgan was lured into the magical world of theatre, showing up for an audition in order to meet with and schmooze a potential client and ending up with a supporting role (but not the client) in a production of Seven Year Itch for which he received two glowing reviews from local newspapers. “I was hooked,” he reports. Over the next several years, Colgan appeared in nearly thirty plays, mostly as a leading character, playing everything from the Ghost of John Barrymore to a schizophrenic, a mountain climber, a Russian diplomat, an Italian jewel thief, a Welsh parson, Miguel Cervantes, and many more.

In the early 2000s, Colgan became interested in playwriting. It was a slow process at first, but he finally crafted his first full-length play in 2007. In the next six years, Colgan authored five more full-length plays and one short play.

During this same period of time, Colgan became interested in writing fiction and wrote his first novella in 2012. Since retiring in 2013 (and retiring to his native Kentucky), Colgan has written ten pieces of fiction, one of which, “Shelter,” was published in 2016 by the venerable Sewanee Review. He’s also written another five plays. Now, well into his 70th year, Colgan has completed his first novel, “The Game.” He continues to appear on the stage in local productions, having most recently played Morrie in Tuesdays with Morrie, one of his most memorable roles.

Colgan now lives on a five-acre lake in the middle of a wildlife management area in Eastern Kentucky with his lovely wife, Mary Beth, herself a singer, poet, and artist, and their goofball cat, Mooch. Along with writing and acting, Colgan spends a good deal of time in his large yard growing flowers of all kinds, still creates bonsai, and also makes jewelry using sea glass that he collected in California. Since turning 70 he has also taken up scuba diving, gotten his first tattoo, and had an ear pierced. He is still a lousy tennis player. 

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