On Friday, June 16, Mia Corbett will be walking across a floor with a crowd of people. It just won’t be at the graduation for the Verona High School class of 2017.
Yes, Corbett is graduating, but on the evening that VHS hands out its diplomas, Corbett will be on stage at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, performing in the ensemble of Julius Caesar. This August, she will head to New York University as a theater major and, hopefully, a career on stage. “If I don’t do this,” she says, “I would always have wondered ‘what if’? ”
If you don’t know Corbett by name, you may know one of her alter egos from Verona school dramas and musicals. She was Janet in The Drowsy Chaperone, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, the Ugly Duckling in Shrek, and Rapunzel in The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon, among others.
Her theater journey started the way most do in Verona, in the ensemble of a middle school play, Once Upon A Mattress. “I was in two songs, way in the back and I was terrified,” Corbett recalls. That was followed by several rounds of Verona Summer Music Program theater, including The Wizard of Oz. (She wanted to be Dorothy but, as the tallest student in the production, wound up as the green-faced Wicked Witch.)
But nothing in Verona quite prepared her for the grueling slog of the college application process for would-be theater majors. Corbett did all the same Common App paperwork as her VHS classmates for 16 colleges, but then had to follow it with dozens of auditions that took her and her mom from New York, to Boston, North Carolina and the Midwest. The two-step application process meant that Corbett could be accepted academically and rejected as a theater major, or the opposite, both of which happened. She had to apply separately for schools’ drama and musical theater programs: At one university, there were 600 students auditioning for 22 musical theater spots. And then there was the audition marathon known as “Unifieds”. In one weekend, Corbett had auditions from Friday afternoon to Sunday night, sometimes having just minutes to shake off a critical review and recover her beaming smile for the next monologue or song.
Corbett acknowledges, with gratitude, the commitment that her parents have made to her theater bug. They made it possible for her to start vocal lessons with Montclair-based Linda Baker Grimm in the eighth grade, and for her to twice attend the rigorous summer theater camp at Oklahoma City University. “That totally changed it,” Corbett says of her thinking on drama vs. musical theater. “I did Shakespeare for the first time there.” After camp, her parents paid for a team of acting and vocal coaches to help her prepare her college applications, which she says was necessary.
“I was late in the game, I started when I was 12,” Corbett says, noting that that was well after some other students at VHS. “Maya Fortgang had headshots before I even knew what they were. Grace Gault did the Invisalign commercial.”
In Julius Caesar she gets to work on the same stage as some of the leading actors in American, like Corey Stoll and Elisabeth Marvel, who played Peter Russo and Heather Dunbar in the Netflix political drama House Of Cards. “I had an extra orange with me at one rehearsal and I got to give it to a Tony nominee,” Corbett says, in obvious awe.
With the New York stages practically at her back door, one might wonder why Corbett is going to college first. “I didn’t feel that I could go on professional casting calls without more training,” she says. “You’re not going to let someone operate on you five days into med school.”
“What’s Next” is a series of profiles about what members of each Verona High School class intend to do after graduation. MyVeronaNJ has been publishing the series since 2010 and you can read all of them here.