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by Muriel Hanover

From September 30, 2019 to February 29, 2020, students of Terry Knickerbocker Studio in Brooklyn and Barrow Group Theater Company and School in Manhattan will be able to apply for scholarship grants to study acting, playwriting or screenwriting, thanks to a fund set up by Claudia Corrieri, an English actress whose goal is to enable growth for other writer-actors by channeling them to the best aspects of her own training. 

It is not unusual for theater conservatories to offer financial aid, usually in the form of work-study. But it is unusual for such grants to be funded by third parties. Also, the fact that one of them is offered in a Brooklyn institution points out how much that borough is taking its place as an arts center, since acting training in New York has traditionally been concentrated in Manhattan, specifically in midtown and The Village.

So who is the source of these singular grants?

Claudia Corrieri in "Chiara The Musical" at Joe's Pub April 24, 2019.  Photo courtesy of Sam Falconi.

Meet Claudia Corrieri, an English-born actor/singer-songwriter, who set up the Claudia Corrieri Literary Prize to encourage emerging writers to grow and challenge themselves. Her grants, valued at $1,500 each, will help fund writing classes to be selected at the student's discretion at both schools and do not favor any performance discipline or genre. At Barrow Group Theater Company and School, where diverse classes are offered, students may enroll in classes in playwriting, screenwriting, writing for TV and writing for actors.  At Terry Knickerbocker Studio, the funds may be used for any classes including (but not limited to) solo show writing, acting and speech.

Ms. Corrieri appeared in April at Joe's Pub in her solo show, "Chiara The Musical," which had piano accompaniment and harmonization by Obie-winner Jonathan Hart Makwaia. Artistically, she does not consider herself a solo artist, but more a collaborator. There is always a whole team at work bringing a project together, she explains. And in her own eyes, her dominant role is that of a performer, even when she is writing or directing a piece for herself. That must be why she trusts the enrichment of studying acting, writing or directing--it all comes together in the process. Or should we say synthesis? That points us to the non-directive nature of her grants. They leave the choice of training--be it acting or writing--to the recipients.

Corieri's musical work is similarly syncretic. Her "Chiara The Musical" is a coming of age story that draws upon a multiplicity of styles: American Songbook, musical theater, Latin and Spanish. It resists categorization, but it might be labeled avant-garde due to the influence of her collaborator/pianist Jonathan Hart Makwaia, whose works have been presented by Roulette, La MaMa and Jean-Claude van Itallie's Shantigar Foundation, among others. He has been on the faculty of New York University’s Experimental Theatre Wing since 1988. Corrieri explains, "Jonathan has a very specific style rooted in the Roy Hart technique, which focuses on sound as discovered through physical movement, vocal timbre and range. And this was a technique which I practiced with him over a seven year period." Her next writing project is "Luna," a musical piece for multiple characters based on a mythological goddess of the moon.

Corrieri says she didn't start with the concept of supporting Brooklyn artists with her grants, she was only trying to channel artists on her wavelength to teachers who were her masters. She took a Masters at NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. In the course of these studies, she trained with Terry Knickerbocker while he was teaching at the studio of the late William Esper. Knickerbocker opened his own studio in Sunset Park, Brooklyn in 2015. Corrieri also trained in midtown Manhattan at Barrow Group Theater Company and School. She testifies, "The combination of these two techniques was pretty magical for me as an actor."

She reflects, "I have been teaching since I was eighteen and so education is close to my heart. I think there are so many talented individuals, but to train is difficult, and so many actors and grateful and seeking any kind of support they can find. As well, I was on a bursary from ages eleven to eighteen, and I am still grateful for the level of education and exposure to creative experiences which that granted me." 

Her performing resume includes the leading role of Claire in the indie film "Call of the Klondike" (2011), in which director Alice Evans re-imagined William A. Wellman's 1935 film adaptation of Jack London's "Call of the Wild."  Corrieri's role was played in the original by Loretta Young. Her favorite acting roles are those where "you get to stretch very far away from one's natural character" and confides that she is usually drawn to "particularly heavy subject material."

This is actually the second year of her scholarships. In May 2019, the first Barrow Group Theater Company and School scholarship was awarded to playwright Tracy Carns and the first grant for study at Terry Knickerbocker Studio was presented to a first year student there, Daley Baker.

AWARD RECIPIENTS, MAY 2019 -- Left: Claudia Corrieri and recipient Tracy Carns. Right: Claudia Corrieri, Daley Baker (recipient), Carolyn McCandlish and Terry Knickerbocker.

Kudos to Corrieri. Let's hope that her example will be catalytic to formation of other grant programs of a similar nature.

Applications for the Claudia Corrieri Literary Prize must include 5-10 pages of a short story, the first 1-2 scenes from a play or the first 1-2 scenes from a film, together with an overview/outline of the full work being submitted and a short bio.  Entries will judged by Ms. Corrieri alone and winners will be announced on April 15, 2020.  Writers are encouraged to contact the two institutions for further submission information [MH]

Barrow Group Theater Company and School
Terry Knickerbocker Studio



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