CMU, Tony Awards teaming to honor teachers in the arts

Almost everyone who is anyone in the performing arts had a Mr. Mayberry, that teacher who encouraged or inspired actors, singers, dancers, designers, even producers, to dedicate themselves to the theater.

Thanks to a new collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University and The American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards, some finally will be getting long-overdue recognition.

CMU has been named the first, exclusive higher education partner of the Tony Awards, which is presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. The school will launch a national campaign to nominate and choose educators who have excelled in teaching the arts in grades K through 12.

The program will be highlighted during CBS's live broadcast of the awards show June 8 from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and the first winner will receive an honorary Tony in 2015. Carnegie Mellon's school of drama, which is celebrating its centennial this year, will also be featured on the broadcast.

"Not only does Pittsburgh and CMU get a leg up with that exposure -- I mean, it's watched by a huge number of people -- but the teacher and the program are recognized, which is really the important thing," said Peter Cooke, head of the university's drama department.

"They'll get a chance to say a few words about what they're doing, and why it's important to have these young people interested in theater at an early age."

The collaboration was a fairly recent event, backed by CMU president Subra Suresh and Dan Martin, dean of the university's College of Fine Arts. According to Mr. Martin, the Tony people brought the idea to them just after the New Year.

Online nominations will be accepted in September at A panel of judges representing CMU and the Tonys, as well as professionals from other areas of the performing arts, will then choose a winner.

A monetary prize -- an amount yet to be determined -- will be given to the winner's school.

The Tony Awards nominees will be announced this morning online at the site, beginning at 8:30 a.m.

YouTube is proof that acceptance speeches are a great time to thank your early teachers. Christian Borle, a Fox Chapel native and graduate of Shady Side Academy and CMU, said during his Tony in 2012: "I wouldn't be here without my incredible teachers in Pittsburgh."

For Mr. Martin, Paul Mayberry was the teacher who cared about inspiring his drama students back in Troy, Ohio.

"He demanded a discipline and a respect for the work that really resonated with me, and in high school I decided theater was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, which was a little difficult to do at the time," Mr. Martin said.

"I was in southeastern Ohio and I was 6 feet, 8 inches tall and the basketball coach chased me around for my entire 31/2 years ... ."

Mr. Mayberry, he added, was the kind of teacher who made students say "theater is what I want to do."

"I think we need to find people who are inspiring these young kids to do the kinds of things where they end up being the Zachary Quintos, and the Blair Underwoods, the Holly Hunters and the Megan Hiltys," he said, referring to a few of the many well-known actors with CMU ties.

Carnegie Mellon has the oldest drama degree-granting program in the United States. It has produced hundreds of Tony nominees and 31 Tony winners, including eight last year. Ninety-nine Emmys have been won by alums, as well as six Academy Awards.

Heather Hitchens, executive director of the American Theatre Wing, and Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, noted in a statement that "we are pleased to recognize Carnegie Mellon University's historic and unrivaled contributions to theater education."

Carnegie Mellon has been fostering theater with free shows for students. This year, it was a performance of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." Next year, it will be August Wilson's "Seven Guitars."

"You have to build an audience from an early age," Mr. Cooke said. "As one of the most responsible theater training organizations in the country, [youth education] is vitally important."

As part of its centennial, the university already has thrown two big events -- a party for friends and alums in Pittsburgh and a 450-guest gala in New York City. Up next is a May 8 party/fundraiser at Universal Studios in California.

"Stephen Schwartz is flying out from New York to play for the cabaret, and we'll have Telly Leung flying in from Tokyo to sing, and Hunter Herdlicka, who was on Broadway in 'A Little Night Music,' he'll come in to sing," Mr. Cooke said.

The string of galas, parties, fundraisers and network affairs befits the occasion, Mr. Martin. "It's a huge year for the school of drama, and the university," he added.

Maria Sciullo: or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG. First Published April 28, 2014 8:53 AM

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