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Alumna returns to direct and inspire

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Perhaps Amy Anders Corcoran’s (c’98) husband could see the future when he told his music-turned-psychology-major girlfriend that she should just major in theatre while at KU, but the additional year for theatre classes was less than appealing. Corcoran took just one theatre class at KU, and it clearly left an impression.

She didn’t take the traditional pathway to a career in theater, but it turns out her whole life has been in theater.

After graduating from KU, Corcoran spent a couple of semesters in a graduate program for marriage and family therapy before realizing that her heart was simply somewhere else. So she entered the professional world of theater as a performer “tap dancing through butter” in a dinner theater production of “Singing in the Rain” in Rock Island, Illinois and never looked back.

“One of the things I love about the arts is that you keep some of the people from every project in your life,” Corcoran said. “I’m still friends with some of those fellow tap dancing performers.”

Corcoran landed several cool, bigger roles such as Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun” and Polly in “Crazy for You.” But when she felt relieved after not getting a big role on Broadway, she knew again that she needed to follow her heart into a different area of theater – directing.

“I started choreographing more and more and was able to dip my toe into directing a little bit, but to be honest I didn’t really think about it doing it. I didn’t really have a lot of female role models in directing. I didn’t know anyone who was doing it,” Corcoran said.

In 2010 she was the first female graduate of the M.F.A. musical theatre directing program from the Pennsylvania State University, furthering that number of women directors. While at Penn State, Corcoran was mentored by Susan Schulman, a Broadway director, who directed the debut production of “Little Women: A Broadway Musical.”

Coming back to KU to direct “Little Women: A Broadway Musical” made Corcoran feel like her education and career were coming full circle.

“It was so cool to be back. So many of the students I worked with are Kansas kids, and I was a Kansas kid. I understand that basic work ethic, guilt, obsession with getting everything correct. I understand that sort of feeling of inferiority because we’re not cosmopolitan. You feel like you’re not as good as these other people – but you absolutely are. You just don’t know it yet,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran was excited to return to KU because she knows the importance of seeing working creative professionals while in school. She would have loved to meet someone like herself at KU, “an outside person who came and said listen – you may not do things the traditional way, but here’s what you can get to.”

Coming to KU as a music major, graduating as a psychology major and spending her entire career in theatre, Corcoran truly exemplifies that life is not a straight path. She took advantage of the curves thrown her way and has found them hugely rewarding.

Corcoran always tells people that her psychology degree is infinitely more helpful than her M.F.A. in directing, and they always think she’s joking. Psychology is so important in her work while dealing with all of the people and personalities.

“When you’re a director, you’re a manager. You’re managing people, egos, personalities, designers, administrators, artists – all kinds of people – and everyone has their own way to handle things,” Corcoran said. “My liberal arts education gave me such a broad base of knowledge that I know how to approach a lot of things.”

She willingly admits she doesn’t know all of the answers, but she is grateful for the framework her B.A. provided. She uses it every day.

Opportunities continue to emerge for Corcoran. She has worked with Tony Award-winner Christopher Gatelli and is gearing up to be an associate director under Chris Ashley for Disney’s “Freaky Friday” at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego.

What would this theatre up-and-comer tell students in the arts today? “Diversify. Diversify. Diversify.” Don’t turn down any opportunity. Be willing to do lots of things.

“You learn so much from doing anything and everything in the arts. I’ve been a line producer, an actor, an artistic director. All of it helps me in the work that I do,” Corcoran said. “It helps me understand everyone else’s work and connects me better to what we’re all trying to accomplish.”

Find people that share your passion. Pick a project and do it. Say yes. Find what keeps you artistically driven. She’s pretty sure that circle will come around for you as well.