Cornerstone Theater Company

Institute Summer Residency

Cornerstone’s Institute Summer Residency is a month-long training program held in different communities throughout the United States. See the places we’ve been and projects produced with our Institute students/participants here.

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 student participants how we create a theatrical community-collaboration from start to finish.

Cornerstone’s Institute Summer Residency program is on hiatus as we seek funding and partners to support future residencies.

If you are affiliated with a community or organization that is interested in hosting a Cornerstone community-centered play and/or Institute Summer Residency, please contact us to find out more about what that entails.

The descriptive and instructive information BELOW is useful and accurate if you are interested in participating in a future Cornerstone Institute Summer Residency. We work and plan responsively so some elements may change once an Institute Summer Residency is being planned to happen in and with a specific community. 

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

Our Process

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, though in 2018 some story circles and the writing process took place in the first week of the residency. In July, about a dozen Cornerstone company members and 15-20 10-20 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 Experience and Expectations

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 backgrounds 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.

Production Assignments

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

Student Community

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 2020 there are 190 individual graduates of Cornerstone’s 13 completed Institute Summer Residencies. Some live outside of the US,  most are scattered across all regions of the country. There are occasional regional meetings of these folks and their local 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 future Institute Summer Residencies will to be determined once planning is underway. For reference, the 2018 Institute Summer Residency in New York was $4000. Based on previous programs, tuition includes all curriculum materials, including the textbook Cornerstone Theater Company Community Collaboration Handbook: A Method, meals and, often but not always, housing. Institute participants are responsible for travel to and from the location of the residency.

Cornerstone may provide limited tuition assistance depending upon the generosity of donor sponsored scholarships. 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. 

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