Producer and director Mike Putman reflected on those early days last week as he and his students prepared for the opening of their new show as well as a public reception for the Academy, one of only two in the state.
Corner did not have its current statewide reputation for performing arts when Putman was hired as an English teacher at Corner High School in 1988. It was up to him to first convince the administrator that the school needed an afterschool theatre program and then to get it off the ground.
Putman and his longtime partner in the program, Debra Reeser, joke about the days when rehearsals were held in parking lots and they produced one show a year in a dilapidated “gymnatorium” or any other facility they could beg permission to use.
Proper sound, lighting and even a stage were luxuries to Corner’s first theatre students.
Today, Corner Theatre Academy is housed in its own wing of the newly-constructed high school. Putman lovingly refers to the current 652-seat theatre as “The Palace” and “The Seats of Gold.”
The 2012-2013 season includes such ambitious projects as Shakespeare with a steampunk motif and “Little Shop of Horrors.”
While preparing for each show, the students have the opportunity to learn from not only Putman, Reeser and Putman’s wife, Pat, but also the various professionals that Putman hires to coach them in everything from costume and makeup design to sets and playwriting.
“When they go to college theatre, they are prepared. They are not lacking in anything,” Putman said.
For years, Corner students have consistently ranked among the best in the state in almost every category at the Walter Trumbauer Secondary Theatre Festival.
The hallway of the theatre department is lined with pictures of students who have received scholarships and callbacks on the basis of their talent.
However, Putman and his team want their students to succeed academically as well as artistically.
As a result, Corner Theatre Academy was created in April. In order to be part of the Academy, students must meet attendance requirements and minimum GPA standards, participate in ACT study sessions and have no school discipline referrals.
Students also follow a curriculum designed for their field of study and must audition to be part of the program.
In return, they receive the principal roles in all of Corner’s productions and also have a better chance of securing scholarships that can be used while pursuing any degree of their choice.
There are more than 150 students involved in the theatre department but only 32 are in the Academy.
Putman stresses, however, that the Academy is not intended to turn theatre students into elitists. Neither is its purpose to exclude anyone who has an interest in performing arts.
Theatre, according to Putman, is a place where people of various backgrounds and a wide range of interests come together to find their moment in the spotlight.
“Theatre reaches kids that other things don’t,” Putman said. “It’s really hard to fail in theatre. If you can’t act, you can sketch. If you can’t sketch, you can sing. If you can’t sing, you can handle sound design. If you can’t listen to sounds, you can do lights. It’s just really hard to not be successful at something in theatre.”