by Gay Eyerman
At an historic theater just off New York City’s Times Square, Josh Coakley ’94 feels right at home. He is Head of Properties for the Hudson Theatre, founded in 1903 and the oldest on Broadway. Coakley is responsible for all hand props, furniture, draperies, and set dressings along with maintaining the magnificent theater’s 975 seats and artwork.
“Everything that comes into the building, from wardrobe to wigs and make-up, all goes through me,” says Coakley. “I put the pieces together to fit seamlessly. Theater is the art of storytelling, and the goal of the props is to help the show tell its truth, to envelop you in that world.”
Coakley grew up near Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood, in St. Jerome Parish. At age 5, he begged to take dance lessons like his older siblings and eventually migrated to theater. At Saint Ignatius, he kept those passions alive in speech and debate with Joe Buzzelli Hon. ’19 and the One Act Club with Pierre Davignon. “The biggest thing I got from Saint Ignatius was the ability to ask the right questions and continue digging until I got a satisfactory answer.”
Studying theater at Marquette University, Coakley realized he wasn’t willing to put in the work needed to excel as an actor – but he loved creating props. He dropped out and worked as a technician in several children’s museums. “I loved the intersection of education and play, developing exhibits, and the hands-on construction.”
Through a series of serendipitous events, he became a props carpenter at a St. Louis theater, followed by a similar role at Houston’s Alley Theatre, where he met actress Stephanie Kurtzuba. He joined her in New York City, where they married in 2005 and have two sons, ages 12 and 14.
Earning his union card, Coakley worked at the Imperial and then Lyric Theatre, developing his skills under a props master who became his mentor. His most memorable show was “Billie Elliot” at the Imperial in 2008, his first Broadway show and with his wife in the cast. He landed his role at the Hudson in 2017, becoming the youngest head of props on Broadway, only 11 years into his career.
“I got to where I am because of my ability, but even more due to my willingness to take on any challenge. I can look at a phone from the 1920s, take it apart, repair it and make it work for the stage. Or if I can’t fix it, I can recreate it.”
The pandemic put Coakley out of work for 22 months. He and his wife sold their house and took their sons cross-country in a rental RV, visiting family and national parks. They moved to Hawaii and then to Denver before finally returning to work at the Hudson Theatre. Like all of Broadway, he agrees – it’s good to be back.