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Community Spotlight: Cora Turlish

By Ginny Butsch posted 06-23-2020 15:06


One of the main goals for our Theatre Education Community is to help theatre students and professionals from all over connect and identify with each other in order to build resources and support the theatre education field. We shine a spotlight on a different member every other week by conducting a simple interview.

Our next Spotlight is Cora Turlish, an EdTA professional member from Metuchen, New Jersey and the Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Rutgers Preparatory School. Cora has been contributing thoughtful advice and generating meaningful dialogue in Community for the last several years.

Why do you believe theatre is important?

It is the art form for which our whole selves, and the whole of human experience, is medium and material. Also, the palpable joy it can produce, in practitioners and audiences like.

A triumphant curtain call after “First Lady”

Do you have any special training or skills?

I feel really fortunate that I’ve had access to a wide range of workshops in New York (I live on a major train line into Manhattan)  – there’s nothing like being a student again to remind me what it’s like to be vulnerable in that way, as well as, of course, to learn a whole lot. I’ve done workshops in acting Shakespeare with Fiasco and Red Bull Theaters, creating theater with Elevator Repair Service, playwriting at Primary Stages, improv at Upright Citizens Brigade, clowning with Fiasco, and a week-long directing Shakespeare intensive at Juilliard. 

What does a typical day look like for you?

I teach 7th and 8th grade Drama – courses the students are required to take and have for a third of the year – as well as Introduction to Acting, an Upper School elective, every year. I also teach an Advanced Acting elective each year, which rotates – Solo Performance, Scene Study, and Improvisation. For most of the year I have rehearsal after school from 3:15 to 5:30 pm each day. All of my classes and performances take place in a funky black-box style space, which has its challenges, but I don’t have to share it with anyone, and the designers I’ve worked with have found ways to use it creatively. I’m the founding member of the theater department at an independent school (Rutgers Preparatory School), and as such I have a lot freedom in what I do.


Directing a sequence from “Much Ado About Nothing”

Tell us about the best day of your career.

When we produced an adaptation of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, our school arranged for Gail Carson Levine to do an author visit, part of which was our performing a special matinee with her in the audience. She was incredibly gracious, and my actors were over-the-moon about getting to meet her. (Later I got to experience similar treatment when a middle school in Massachusetts produced my script and I went to see it. They treated me like a celebrity – I had to keep myself from giggling the entire time!)

Do you have any tips for new theatre teachers?

Ask, and keep asking, for support and help. I got told “no” a lot in my early years, and I stopped asking for a while. Sometimes I think I need to get told “no” a lot so that sometimes I’ll get a “yes.” Also, one of the things I love about my job is that I’m learning so much with each production, and often that learning comes from hands-on experience, but I can learn just as much, if not more, when others come in and help.


With Gail Carson Levine and the title characters of “The Two Princesses of Bamarre”

Everyone has at least one good theatre story. Tell us yours!

Well, there was the performance of An Italian Straw Hat, where the entire play leads up to finding a hat in a hatbox, and the ASM forgot to put the hat in there, and I think may have lost consciousness briefly! But the most epic “the show must go on” moment from one of my productions was when my lead actress cut her finger on stage snipping open a tied bundle in the final act of First Lady. I’m not sure if the whole audience noticed, but most of us could see her bleeding. Her character doesn’t leave the stage for the final 20 minutes or so, and so I kept trying to find ways to help her – sent cotton pads in on the butler’s tray, tried to get her attention and hand her bandages when she called off-stage for another character, but she just powered through, never missing a line or cue even as she found ways to keep pressure on the cut. And this is after the previous night’s show, when the other leading actress popped her knee out backstage and needed to be carried onstage to do the entire final scene seated! I think that the play’s message, that extraordinary women will find a way to run the show even when everything is stacked against them, was conveyed on a number of levels in our production.


A scene from the fall 2019 production of “She Kills Monsters”

What is something we would be surprised to learn about you?

I have a nineteen-year-old autistic son. He is non-verbal and finds society’s behavioral expectations challenging, but in the last couple of years he has enjoyed going to see a few performances designed for special needs audiences, and those have been the most joyous and meaningful theater-going experiences of my life.

If you enjoyed Cora’s interview as much as we did,
add her as a contact in the Community. Cora has also written several plays that she has directed with her students, including:

  • Malarkey (a TYA one-act)
  • She Ventures, and He Wins (verse adaptation of the 1695 original)
  • Haven
  • The Two Princesses of Bamarre (adapted from the novel)
  • Play Like a Girl

Check them out on the New Play Exchange or by contacting Cora directly.

Do you know someone who deserves a moment in the Spotlight? Tell me their name and why at Want to read more Community Spotlights? You can find them here.