Institute Summer Residency
Cornerstone’s Institute Summer Residency is a month-long training program held on alternate years in different communities throughout the United States. The most recent was for Cornerstone’s 2018 production of The Cardinal: A Journey Through Flushing in Queens, NY.
The Institute Summer Residency is the most comprehensive way to learn Cornerstone’s process for creating community-engaged theater. It is designed for people who are looking for insight, tools and inspiration for engaging a community toward a specific project or goal. Through classes and hands-on participation in a production, Cornerstone’s Ensemble, staff, and guest artists share with students how we create a theatrical community-collaboration from start to finish.
This program is currently on hiatus.
If you are affiliated with a community or organization that is interested in hosting a Cornerstone Institute Summer Residency, please contact us to find out more about what that entails.
The description and instructive information below is useful and accurate if you are interested in participating in a future Cornerstone Institute Summer Residency.
I continue to be tremendously grateful for what the Institute changed in me, allowing me to see potential for theatre everywhere nowadays. Next step: turning inspiration into action 😉 – 2016 student participant
Launched in 2004, the Institute is inspired by Cornerstone’s initial years (1986 – 1991) spent as a traveling company collaborating with residents of (mostly) rural communities by living in that town for the length of a production. Those early residencies were often 3-months long, but the Institute Summer Residency is a more manageable but very full 32 days.
In the months preceding the residency, a Cornerstone playwright and other company members become acquainted with the community through research, visits, interviews, story circles, and other events and activities. Our playwright writes a new script reflecting what she’s learned and what she is artistically inspired by. Usually the script is written before the residency begins. In 2018 the story circle and writing process will take place in the first week of our residency. In July, about a dozen Cornerstone company members and 15-20 student participants are in residence in the chosen community for a month. Cornerstone strives to involve community members in every aspect of the production, including acting in the play, working backstage, and being in the audience. During the four weeks of the Institute Residency, we audition, cast and rehearse the play. We build the set and costumes and other elements of the play. The production usually has three public performances.
Admission to the play is always pay-what-you-can. Once the three performances are over, it is time to take down all the theatrical accouterments and end our residency.
I learned a lot of new tangible exercises and facilitation techniques. I also learned a lot about how to bring people to the table and allow ways for them to stay. I feel much more able to connect with communities different from my own. – 2009 student participant
Student participants have joined us from across the United States and from other countries. The application process is open to everyone over age 18. Theater experience is helpful but not required. Previous Institute students have included people aged 18 to 60+, educators, artists, undergraduate and graduate students, activists, community organizers, filmmakers, clergy, writers, community and arts organization board members, social workers, administrators, producers, etc. It’s not uncommon to have someone very early in their career in the same class as a person who has run their own theater company or had lots of other life experience.
The personalities and core values of successful participants are as varied as their occupations but it is helpful to be flexible, to appreciate diversity and to value mutual mentorship.
Institute Summer Residency is an immersive experience that works best when you can commit to leaving other work and studies behind to focus on and make yourself available for experiential learning and unexpected opportunities. Be ready to commit to an intense 32-day schedule. Participants should be open to participating in the variety of tasks in an all-hands-on-deck manner.
Participants should come prepared for the joys and challenges of living and working in adapted environments within the collaborating community. Occasionally the living circumstances are such that we commute limited distances between our living and working spaces. Depending on the circumstances of the particular collaborating community, sometimes the participants do not live in the community but rather commute daily.
I learned much more than I expected and got the chance to do many different things and fill roles that I didn’t think I could. – student participant, 2016
Classes usually take place in the morning and are taught by experienced Cornerstone company members and guest artists. There are approximately 10 class sessions that focus on sharing our process for creating theater in a community-based context. We do not teach the specifics of acting, design, playwriting, etc., but rather explore- through discussion, lecture and activities- how community engagement and involvement can inform and impact the various theater disciplines.
Summer Residency curricula have included classes on the following subjects: Case Studies from Cornerstone’s 30-Year History, Concepts in Community-Based Theater, Community Engagement, Rehearsal Room, Story Circles, Community-Specific Playwriting, Design in Community Context, Community Representation, Principals of Directing in Community Context, Creative Compositions, Future Projects, and Fundraising & Budgets Overview. Sometimes the Institute includes workshops with guest artists sharing other related practices.
Note that not all of the topics above are addressed in the classroom in a given summer, but almost all are incorporated into the experiential opportunity of the production and ongoing conversation.
Each student is given a primary production assignment but can expect a variety of experiences. Preferences are communicated in the application process and assignments are made based on students’ goals, background and experience, as well as the needs of the show. Everyone has Community Engagement responsibilities and opportunities. Students should expect to assist in areas outside their production assignment. They should expect to support technical and design teams with building or painting set pieces, creating costumes and props, etc. You might work with the lighting or sound departments, or assist in managing box office reservations. You may be asked to temporarily step into roles for absent actors during rehearsal. Each summer, and in each moment, the needs and opportunities vary.
Production Assignments have included: Actor/Performer, Musician, Assistant Stage Manager, Assistant Director, Movement Associate, Design Associate (costumes, sets, props, lights, sound), Script Assistant, Community-Engagement Associate, and more.
Cornerstone brings people together in a supportive, creative environment unlike any I have ever experienced. It is a space that allows you to see the good inside you and in others… While I’m not continuing in theatre professionally, I am continuing in the work of social change, and that summer…helped me return to a place of confidence where I could actually quit thinking about my own problems and reach out to others. -2005 student participant
Each Institute Summer Residency involves a series of distinct but overlapping communities. There’s the local, collaborating community, the Cornerstone Theater community- staff in residence with the program and others with limited presence, and the community of the 10 to 20 Student Participants.
The distinction between Cornerstone Theater and the Students is not relevant to the collaborating community; however, during the course of the residency the students are blended with Cornerstone and represent the company. The Students are also a unique circle sharing classroom discussions, a particular schedule and a double-outsider factor. The living and socializing circumstances are usually another unifying experience for the students.
Cornerstone strives to put together each class of students with an eye toward multiple levels of diversity and experience. There’s a great potential in learning as much from your student colleagues as from the rest of the Institute experiences.
There’s an additional community bond post-residency: the Institute Summer Residency alumni. As of 2015 there are 162 individuals out in the world who are graduates of the first 10 Institute Summer Residencies. Some live outside of the US, many are scattered across most regions of the country. There are occasional regional meetings of these folks and their colleagues with shared interest in the intersection of art and community.
I learned a ton from working within Cornerstone’s methodology alongside a group of peers equally passionate and learning in collaboration. And it was tremendously inspiring and validating to be in a room of people so similarly passionate and full of faith about the same ideals.
– 2009 student participant
Tuition and Tuition Assistance
Tuition for the 2018 Institute Summer Residency was $4000, the tuition for future summers is to be determined. The cost will be published when applications become available in January 2020.
Tuition includes the full immersive experience of the residency: all curriculum materials, including the textbook Cornerstone Theater Company Community Collaboration Handbook: A Method, some local transportation, and usually includes meals and lodging.
Tuition does not include travel to and from the Institute location.
There is limited Tuition Assistance available from Cornerstone through the generosity of sponsored scholarships. However, we cannot accommodate all requests for assistance. It is strongly recommended that if needed, applicants seek grants and scholarships or professional development funds through your employer, university or cultural and civic service organizations in your community to help you meet tuition and/or travel costs. Some previous participants also utilized crowd-sourced funding to help support their Institute Summer Residency.
If you are applying for tuition assistance through Cornerstone, you must include the Request for Tuition Assistance Request form with your application, available with the application.
Some examples of places where you might seek funds in support of your Cornerstone Institute learning opportunity
- Your local or state Department of Cultural Affairs
- Your local or state Arts Council
- Some local or state historical societies
- Organizations supporting & educating nonprofits
- Center for Cultural Innovation – for Californians
- New England Foundation for the Arts – for New Englanders
- WomenArts – for women
- Network of Ensemble Theaters – for NET members
- Theater Communications Guild – for TCG members
- Creative Capitol – for non-students
- The Puffin Foundation – for US Citizens and permanent residents
Continuing Education Credit
The Institute Summer Residency is not directly affiliated with any accredited institution of higher learning.
Universities and other institutions may give internship credit, course credit or professional development credit by arrangement with the individual student.
The classroom curriculum, practical training, and experiential education are equal to many requirements for course and/or internship credit. Contact your institution’s advisors to see how you might gain useful credit for your summer with Cornerstone Theater Company.
Estimated work hours over the 32-day residency depending on your production assignment-
55 Hours – Classroom (all assignments).
145 Hours -Rehearsal/Performance (primary assignment).
70 Hours – Production Calls & Community Engagement (secondary assignment/group activities).
The Institute went beyond my expectations and I learned more than I thought I would. Since it finished, I am still thinking, processing, and appreciating what I have been given. –2010 student participant