When Corey Mitchell met a field producer for the Kelly Clarkson show, he took action. In hopes of being on the show Mitchell took a chance and shared a video explaining the work and mission of his performance arts organization, Theatre Gap Initiative.
Theatre Gap Initiative is a seven-month-long college prep program for recent high school graduates interested in a Bachelor of Fine Arts. The program primarily focuses on students of color and helps them develop in the performance arts.
His risk paid off; Mitchell and a former student will be on Clarkson’s show Mar. 17.
After receiving Mitchell’s video, the show requested a background check.
Mitchell, a Tony Award winner and longtime theater educator, jokingly told QCity Metro that he thought he’d failed the background check during his months long wait for a response.
Then, he said, out of the blue one Friday, he received a text asking if he wanted to appear on the show.
Last month, Mitchell flew to Los Angeles with a former student of the program, Tommie Wofford, to film the episode.
“Know what your message is, and don’t sweat the other stuff,” Mitchell said when asked if he was nervous about taping.
From Harmony to education
Mitchel grew up in Harmony, just outside Statesville. “Statesville feels like the sticks, and Harmony feels like the leaves,” Mitchell said, describing his small-town roots.
Mitchell grew up participating in chorus, dance and drama, and said the arts were an “integral” part of his school day.
He was one of few male students in some of his performance arts classes but continued his craft. He said his love for performing “just kept deepening,” so he decided to pursue a career in it.
Eventually, he became a performing arts teacher and spent 20 years teaching at Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte.
Beginning the organization
Mitchell said the mission of the Theatre Gap Initiative is to help students jump through some of the “hoops” present in the theater world, particularly ones that are “cost prohibitive.”
“I started this to give students that don’t have the $25,000 that it takes to hire a coach,” Mitchell said.
The program provides courses on dance, singing, acting and more to prepare students ahead of studying the arts in college. Mitchell said he believes all students deserve to be represented in the theater space.
Mitchell said opportunities are hard to come by for students that don’t have the resources or training beyond school programs. “I don’t think anyone should be shut out because of their circumstances.”
The program serves local students and students from out of state, like Wofford, who is originally from Florida.
Mitchell’s philosophy is built on three pillars: building skills, building books — finding the best song for auditions — and preparing college paperwork. He said he works with students to help them cut through the “noise” of other auditions.
“We try to put students in front of as many schools as we possibly can,” Mitchell said. “I always say that schools aren’t as interested in what you can do as they are who you are.”
Theater Gap Initiative’s website lists a host of talent on its advisory board, including Coleman Domingo, Billy Porter and Aunjunae Ellis. There are fourteen teachers in the program which focuses on dance, public speaking, music theory and more.
Mentorship beyond the program
Wofford, who finished the program and is now writing a musical, said he was in New York for a family trip when Mitchell called to tell him that he had been accepted into the program.
Wofford moved to Charlotte for the program and met Mitchell for the first time in Charlotte at Optimist Hall. “Mr. Mitchell was just always the coolest guy to me,” Wofford said, citing Mitchell’s accomplishments and connections.
Wofford said he wanted to learn from Mitchell and “glean some [of his] wisdom.”
“I think [students] can expect to have a really successful gap year, and you can expect to leave the program with more tools than you had when you went into it.”
The program is currently taking applications through June 20th. Mitchell said his goal is to have eighteen students enrolled this year.