Tony-Winning Charlotte Teacher Intends to Boost Diversity in the Performing Arts | DFA 90.7

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Corey Mitchell has seen a lot in his 25 years of teaching.

He won the very first Tony Award for excellence in teaching theater. He has helped countless young students in the Charlotte area learn to find their creative voice and express themselves on stage. He’s seen many of them audition, land places in college programs, and launch successful careers – some even landing on Broadway.

But Mitchell also saw something else: the dreams of some students are derailed by the complexities of navigating the system. He noted that it’s the students with more resources – say, the ability to fly any weekend for an audition – who tend to be more fortunate.

“These tended to be the kids who were able to get into BFA programs and were able to progress and eventually make the transition to a career,” Mitchell said this week. “And generally speaking, those kids, for the most part, weren’t my African American students, who in many cases were equally talented but didn’t have the same opportunities.”

Corey mitchell

Corey mitchell

Mitchell aims to do something about it. In June, he retired from Northwest School for the Arts in Charlotte, where he had been for 20 years, and launched the nonprofit The Theater Gap Initiative, a college preparation program to help students of color prepare for and be accepted into Bachelor of Fine Arts programs in theater and theater.

The program, which accepts applications from Thursday, can accommodate 24 fresh-high school students who will spend seven months in one-on-one training – not only in theater and performance, but also hosting auditions and strong academic applications. He notes that a barrier for students may be family members and support systems that reject theater as a bad career path – something he hopes will experience practical experience in approaching the. Gap year may resolve as it also includes training in areas such as life skills, budgeting, and public speaking. .

“We’re going to, like I said, ‘build the actor’s toolbox,’ Mitchell said.

Of course, being accepted into a program is only one piece of the puzzle. Mitchell also wants to help students stay enrolled. As TGI grows, he hopes the program can gather information on the ins and outs of the various BFA programs in a way that opens a dialogue that not only helps students navigate the process, but leads to the diversification of the program.

“I want to help create a network for BIPOC students in an academic setting,” Mitchell said.

As an example, he pointed out that Howard University is the only historically black college or university with a BFA musical theater program.

“What happens is we send BIPOC students to predominantly white institutions, and then there’s this feeling of isolation that goes with it,” Mitchell said.

And he thinks there’s a growing appetite for change right now, especially amid calculations about systemic racism in the United States. Like many industries, the theater world has faced calls for change. Responsibility groups like We See You White American Theater and Plain black theater trained, pushing for a fairer industry.

But much of these efforts are focused on professionals. And Mitchell knows getting people into the industry pipeline starts earlier – in high school.

“The thing everyone seems to agree on is widening the pie, if you will,” Mitchell said. “What should matter is that the students are talented and have the ability to tell an interesting story. And these are the things that I think are valuable because the arts are the things that seem to last and that we judge and understand cultures by – the art that is produced. And so we need more voices to help reflect what our culture is and understand the intricacies of what this country is. “

Mitchell says there has already been a lot of interest in his program. And TGI has already recruited a few notable members of the advisory board, including Aunjanue Ellis, Billy Porter and Charles Randolph-Wright, among others.

“If you’re in the arts and you’re a person of color, you mostly understand what this struggle is like,” he said.

The program is carried out in collaboration with the Central Piedmont Community College. Registration for TGI is free and the program itself costs $ 6,300. Applications must be sent before May 17th, and the first cohort of students will start in August. Mitchell says this isn’t limited to students in the Charlotte area, and the program will try to find host families for anyone accepted but not already living here.

As for Mitchell himself, he will miss teaching at Northwest, but he says he’s ready for the new challenge.

“I was worried about becoming an institution,” Mitchell said. “And the problem with institutions is that they are difficult to adapt and change. And when you can’t adapt and change, you don’t grow. And I was very interested in growing up.


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