Excellence in Theatre Education Award Winner Says Winning a Tony Was a "Dream I Had Put on a Shelf"

Tony Awards   Excellence in Theatre Education Award Winner Says Winning a Tony Was a "Dream I Had Put on a Shelf"
Corey Mitchell, a Theater Arts Teacher at the Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, NC, has been announced winner of the inaugural Excellence in Theatre Education Award being given by The Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University.
Corey Mitchell
Corey Mitchell

The award will be bestowed at Radio City Music Hall during the 69th Annual Tony Awards telecast June 7.

Finalists were Marianne Adams, Director of Education at the Grandstreet Theatre School in Helena, MT, and Donald Hicken, Theatre Department Director at the Baltimore School for the Arts in Baltimore, MD.

The winner and finalists were chosen from among more than 4,000 teachers nominated by members of the public from January through March 31 of this year.

In addition to his work at Northwest, Mitchell is involved as a director and actor with the Charlotte-area theatre community and is an advocate for arts education through his work on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Mitchell, his colleagues, and his students were the subject of a feature-length 2015 documentary, "Purple Dreams." The film chronicles the journey of Northwest's production of The Color Purple to the main stage of the International Thespian Festival.

Mitchell told Playbill.com that he caught the theatre bug in one of the unlikeliest of places, a "little country school surrounded by cornfields" in rural North Carolina. He was encouraged by outstanding teacher mentors there, in high school (Debbie Miller) and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (Lou Criscuolo), the latter of whom died earlier this year and will, coincidentally, be included in the Tony "In Memoriam" list the night Mitchell accepts his award. Mitchell appeared in high school productions of Annie Get Your Gun, Once Upon a Mattress and The Wizard of Oz, but he said his performance as Sancho in Man of La Mancha in college was "a huge inspiration for me." Mitchell said he began watching the Tony Awards on TV when he was 12, and remembers Jennifer Holliday's performance in Dreamgirls as helping him "when I decided to devote all of my life and all of my energy" to theatre.

He tried acting professionally but eventually decided that winning a Tony Award "was one of the dreams I had put on the shelf"--ironically, as it turned out.

In another irony, he said that applying to Carnegie Mellon University was something his mother strongly encouraged him to do, "but I always said I don't think I'm good enough."

Instead, he became a teacher and works at Northwest [Charlotte] School of the Arts, a 1000-student public magnet school located in an inner-city section of Charlotte.

In recent years he directed productions of The Color Purple, Rent and West Side Story. His choices are not always popular. "When we did Hair everyone told me it would be a failure, that the show was not appropriate for a high school. Well, we did it and the walls were shaking, there was so much excitement in the audience."

Make sure to follow us on social media for all of our awards season coverage. The 2015 Tony Awards--hosted by Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming--will be broadcast on Sunday, June 7, 2015 (8-11 PM ET/PT time delay) on CBS, live from Radio City Music Hall in NYC. For information, photos, videos, and more, go to TonyAwards.com.

The winner and finalists were chosen by the following panel of judges:

  • Peter Cooke, head of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama
  • Sue Frost, founding member of Junkyard Dog Productions and current Executive Committee member of The Broadway League
  • Nina Lannan, founder of Bespoke Theatricals and former chair of The Broadway League
  • Judith Light, Tony Award-winning actress and Carnegie Mellon alumna
  • Lawrence Otis Graham, New York Times best-selling author and American Theatre Wing Trustee
  • Thomas Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Group, American Theatre Wing Advisory Committee member and The Broadway League Executive Committee member.

To determine the award finalists and winner, these judges will reviewed selected nominations that were chosen by a larger group of experts in theatre and education from across the country.
Members of the public were asked to submit an essay describing a teacher, kindergarten through grade 12, who has made a “monumental impact” on the lives and careers of their students. College instructors and professors, and former college teachers are not eligible.

“Anyone—from students and school administrators, to friends, neighbors and family—can submit a worthy teacher for consideration,” according to a statement from the Tonys.

The award was first announced in April 2014 in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon’s sponsorship of the Tonys—the first time an institution of higher education became a sponsor of the awards. In addition, a yet-to-be financial contribution will be made to the school where the winner works.

“This new award underscores our longstanding commitment to theatre education,” said Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theatre Wing, and Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League in a statement. “Innumerable Tony Award winners have thanked their teachers during acceptance speeches. Starting this year, we’re putting educators and their essential roles at center stage.”

The Tonys also posted a YouTube video showing Tony winners praising the teachers who inspired their careers. Watch the video below:

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