The power of arts education has been a part of Carnegie Mellon University since its earliest days, but Carnegie Mellon University’s founder Andrew Carnegie never intended to create a drama school or department.
In the early 1900s, he originally rejected plans to build a theater as part of the Fine Arts Building. However, architect Henry Hornbostel, who became the inaugural dean of the School of Fine and Applied Arts, relabeled plans for the building to include a "Dramatic Laboratory."
Thanks to Carnegie approving the creatively named 420-seat auditorium, he laid the foundation for the first degree-granting drama institution in the United States and, in doing so, changed the fabric of Pittsburgh and arts education.
Arts education continues to be developed and celebrated by Carnegie Mellon, and Pittsburgh City Councilperson Erika Strassburger added some dramatic flair to city hall by declaring Oct. 31, 2019, as "Tony Awards Day" in recognition of Carnegie Mellon’s unique and ongoing collaboration with the Tony Awards.
From left, Erika Strassburger, Pittsburgh city councilperson, Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League Dick Block, associate head of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama and Heather Hitchens, president and CEO of the American Theatre Wing gather in Council Chambers in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Carnegie Mellon and the Tony Awards have a longstanding shared mission to advocate for and to promote the importance of arts and theatre education. The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.
The honor by the city recognizes Carnegie Mellon as the first, exclusive higher education partner of the Tony Awards. As part of the collaboration, the two organizations launched the Excellence in Theatre Education Award , the first national recognition program to honor kindergarten through high school (K-12) theatre educators.
"With 50 Tony Awards to date, Carnegie Mellon alumni continue to shine a favorable spotlight on Pittsburgh, particularly each spring when Tony nominations are announced," Strassburger said. "Importantly, the campaign to promote arts and theatre education is year-round, and we applaud the Tony Awards and CMU for this vital effort."
In recognition of this shared mission, top officials from The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing made their first joint visit to Pittsburgh and to CMU’s campus this week. President of The Broadway League Charlotte St. Martin and President & CEO of the American Theatre Wing Heather Hitchens met with CMU President Farnam Jahanian upon arrival and were greeted by other university officials. St. Martin and Hitchens also participated in an exclusive "Business of Acting" panel discussion for CMU School of Drama students and students in the Masters of Arts Management and Masters of Entertainment Industry Management programs. The latter is a joint program of the College of Fine Arts and the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy.
"It’s an honor to host Charlotte and Heather, both luminaries of the Broadway community, on their first of hopefully many more visits to Pittsburgh," said President Jahanian. "CMU’s ongoing partnership with the Tony Awards underscores the essential role arts and theatre education play in our schools today nationwide. We’re also grateful to Councilperson Strassburger and to the Pittsburgh City Council for their continued support."
The partnership has continued to grow through expanded opportunities to celebrate the importance of the arts and theatre education. This summer marked the first time that two students from a winning teacher’s school were provided full scholarships to attend the six-week CMU School of Drama Pre-College Program. It was a new benefit to the teacher award winner in 2018. This fall, a CMU professor will travel to the 2019 winner’s school to conduct a master class.
"Pittsburgh is a stunning city and well-known for producing amazing talent," said Hitchens and St. Martin. "We’re very proud of our collaboration with CMU, and we look forward to discovering the next unsung drama teacher somewhere in the U.S. and to keeping arts and theatre education center stage."
The submission process for the 2020 EITEA is open through Dec. 6. For details on how to submit the name of a K-12 teacher who has positively influenced their students’ lives through arts education, go to https://www.tonyawards.com/education-award/ . The next Excellence in Theatre Education Award winner will be announced at the 74th annual Tony Awards at 8 p.m. on Sunday, June 7, at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Pittsburgh Stage Stars
Some talented native Pittsburghers tread the boards at Carnegie Mellon before heading out into the world. For four CMU alumni, their hard work has been recognized with Tony Awards.
When Christian Borle accepted his first Tony Award in 2012, he thanked all of his teachers in Pittsburgh. Borle, who graduated in 1995 with a music theater degree, won a Tony for the Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play for his role in "Peter and the Starcatcher." He won a second Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for "Something Rotten!" He also earned nominations for his work in "Legally Blonde, THE MUSICAL" and "Falsettos." On screen, Borle has appeared on NBC’s "Smash," "Peter Pan Live!" and "The Sound of Music Live!," as well as Showtime’s "Masters of Sex."
As one of Broadway’s most prolific producers, Jamie deRoy helps get productions up, running and funded. DeRoy appeared in films, including "Goodfellas" and "Raging Bull;" on television in "Spiderman" and "Knight Rider;" and on stage in "The Threepenny Opera" and "The Drunkard." She dipped her toe into the world of producing after seeing "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)." A member of CMU’s class of 1967, deRoy won three Tony Awards in 2018 as a producer for Best Musical for "The Band’s Visit," Best Revival of a Play for "Angels in America" and Best Revival of a Musical for "Once on This Island." In all, she has seven Tony Awards for her behind the scenes work.
Billy Porter, a 1991 Carnegie Mellon alumnus, made history this year with his win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his work as Pray Tell on FX’s "Pose" as the first openly gay black man to win the award. He also will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In June, Porter introduced the 2019 Excellence in Theatre Education Award winner Madeline Michel during the telecast. Porter won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Lola in the Broadway smash "Kinky Boots," and the he show received a Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack from a Musical.
Tamara Tunie, a 1981 alumna, is a film, stage and television actor, director and producer. Tunie is known for starring as Dr. Melinda Warner, in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and her character, Jessica Griffin, on the CBS Daytime Drama "As the World Turns." Tunie’s films include "the Caveman’s Valentine," "The Devil’s Advocate" and "Flight." Her Broadway performances include co-starring with Denzel Washington in Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar" and sharing the stage with Lena Horne in the musical "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music." In her first role as a Broadway producer, she won a Tony Award for the musical "Spring Awakening."