NEW YORK (AP) — The first special Tony Award to honor educators has been given to a veteran North Carolina high school arts teacher who wants to create magic but doesn't believe in making stars.
Corey Mitchell, from the Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, has won the inaugural Excellence in Theatre Education Award presented by the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University.
"No one takes a star bow at my school," Mitchell said by phone this week. "I don't believe in stars. I believe that the work itself is paramount, and that's what should take center stage and not your own ego."
Mitchell encourages students to participate in productions any way they want, as performers, of course, but also far from the stage as lighting technicians, costume designers or sound engineers.
"There are a lot of kids whose lives we've been able to touch and that I've been able to advocate for and to value when other people don't," he said. "When a kid recognizes that they can see there is value in themselves, they start to apply it to other aspects of their lives. To me, there is nothing better than that."
The award includes a $10,000 cash prize, a flight for two to New York City, hotel accommodations and a pair of tickets to the Tony Awards ceremony and gala. Upon learning the news, he called his own high school theater teacher, who inspired him, and "we sat on the phone and cried together."
Over 14 years at the 984-student school, Mitchell has mentored thousands of children and directed more than 76 shows, including a recent production of "Rent" and a past production of "Hair" that "literally made the walls shake in our black box theater."
He is particularly proud of an all-black version of "The Color Purple" which was asked to perform on the main stage at the International Thespian Festival in Nebraska in 2013.
It was the first time a North Carolina school had graced the main stage since 1980, and Mitchell went all-out, taking 107 people — including actors, crew and orchestra — and renting the original set and props from the Broadway show that were sitting in a West Virginia warehouse. He raised $171,000 to get it done.
One of the school's alumna is Eva Noblezada, who made her professional debut last year as Kim in London's West End in the 25th anniversary revival of "Miss Saigon." Another is James Kennedy, an up-and-coming composer who wrote "And Then He Painted the Sky."
Mitchell, who this year is celebrating his 20th year as a teacher, said he was deeply honored by the Tony Award but tried to deflect attention to his colleagues.
"It's not me. I am part of a whole department," he said. "It's just, I guess, sometimes I have the biggest mouth and I'm willing to stick my neck out the furthest."
He was picked by a panel of judges from the American Theatre Wing, The Broadway League, Carnegie Mellon University and other leaders from the theater industry.
Nominees must be current teachers at an accredited K-to-12 institution or recognized community theater organization anywhere in the United States.
Mitchell's school sits in the inner-city, but he doesn't see it that way. "To me, there's madness all around outside of the walls sometimes, but what we create inside of our theater and inside the auditorium is something magical," he said. "We just create our own space inside and I think it's wonderful."