Onstage / Former Buffalo artists took a piece of our theater community with them
A conversation with Chris and Sarah Clare Corporandy
Sarah Clare and Chris Corporandy
Photo by kc kratt
Chris and Sarah Clare Corporandy spent just two years as part of Buffalo’s theater community, but they’ve taken with them the memories and lessons of tight-knit artists finding ways to do what they love. The couple now lives in Detroit, where Sarah Clare is producing artistic director of Detroit Public Theatre and spends summers as managing director of Chautauqua Theater Company, and Chris is an actor/teacher/dialect coach. Buffalo Spree caught up with them this past summer at Chautauqua:
What brought you to Buffalo in 2008?
Sarah Clare: I was a year ahead of Chris in graduate school at Wayne State University, so, in 2007, Patrick [Moltane, a Buffalo actor and WSU alumnus] and I and a group of grad students toured a big showcase across the country, and that’s how all of us from Wayne State got introduced to Buffalo—me, Chris, Patrick, and Megan Callahan. When Chris’s class went the year after, he was cast in two shows at Irish Classical Theatre.
Chris: The shows were at the beginning and end of the ’08-’09 season, and we were trying to figure out what to do between. Sarah Clare had just quit her job [as managing director of Pig Iron Theatre Company] in Philadelphia, and we were enjoying Buffalo, so we decided to stay.
You were both working steadily, Chris at Irish, Kavinoky, Road Less Traveled, and Sarah Clare stage managing and landing the job at Chautauqua. How did your stay get cut so short?
Sarah Clare: I got a full-time faculty position at Savannah College of Art and Design [SCAD], so I moved down there in September 2009. Chris stayed until February 2010 because he had work, and then he came down.
Chris: Ironically, Savannah at the time seemed like a wasteland for the industry, but there was a teacher at SCAD who had a curious career as filmmaker, so I ended up doing a union film called Savannah, and I got a SAG card through that, which helped when I went to New York.
Which was only two years later; what prompted that move, and then, in 2016, from there to Detroit, where you had both met and were married?
Sarah Clare: I moved from being company manager to managing director at Chautauqua, so we moved to New York and I did managing director full-time and went to adjunct teaching online for SCAD.
Chris: I was looking to get back—I went to NYU for undergrad—I thought we had to be in New York. I did a little bit of extra work and a couple of small projects, but then we had a baby [Miles, who turns four next month], and it was hard to live, and, after a while, realized New York wasn’t working for us the way we’d planned.
Sarah Clare: I’m going to contradict that just a little bit, that it was the opportunity to build a theater in Detroit that prompted us to move. I don’t feel like it was until after we moved that we realized New York wasn’t working; we were reluctant to leave.
Chris: I had gotten a sense of something not quite right and Sarah Clare had been wanting to be involved in the renaissance that seemed to be happening in Detroit, so everything kind of converged, but, yes, I was very reluctant. But I was able to see the advantage, and it sounded like a new adventure, and that’s what we’ve always been about—going on little adventures together. Once we got here, it was like, “Oh my god, this is so much better.”
Sarah Clare, how did the Detroit Public Theatre opportunity come about?
Sarah Clare: In January 2015, I was home for the holidays, and I had lunch with Courtney [Burkett, producing artistic director]; I went to graduate school with her at Wayne State. She said, “I’m going to start a theater company. Will you look at this budget and business plan, and give me your advice?”
Most of the theaters in Detroit are small, storefront theaters, and that was one of the reasons I thought I would never move back, because there wasn’t one substantial enough for me to make a career. They asked me to be on the advisory board, and pretty quickly to “move back and be our partner.” It was so cool, and I was so honored, but the thought of leaving New York hadn’t crossed our minds; we’d worked so hard to get back there. And immediately after I said no, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started introducing the idea to Christopher, and it took a lot of asking from them, and a lot of meditation from us, but, after three months, we knew were going to do it. We bought a house in the city, and we are in the middle of our third season.
And, Chris, how has your career continued to develop in Detroit?
Chris: A lot of us have this idea of you have to be in New York or LA, and, to be candid, a lot of my self-worth was tied up in that. And it turns out it’s not true. [My career] has changed, but there’s a lot more space and time that we have as a family and also to pursue our interests. All of the moving around and trying to feverishly climb that ladder, I really did get tired of that; I only want to do work that I want to do, only want to work with people that I want to work with, in the way that I did in Buffalo. Over the past couple years, I realized how deeply interested I’ve always been in accent work, and I’m actually coaching nine productions this year.
Sarah Clare: What’s awesome is that he worked for this catering company in New York and a lot of people who worked there were artists, and they gave grants, and Chris got a grant to get certified in dialect work [with Knight-Thompson Speechwork].
Chris: It was kind of in keeping with Savannah: Savannah and catering weren’t really moves toward my career, but they both had a big impact on me going forward with my career. One of the things that I wrote in the grant proposal was that I wanted to be able to create accent resources for actors of color, because the vast majority of accent resources, particularly the ones used in schools, are for white actors. And that was a gross issue. I’ve been talking to people in the field, and learning and gathering information to make sure there is more balance. For instance, in one grad class, there are four white actors and four African-American actors, so normally on the syllabus, it says teaching cockney, but I made sure we’re teaching cockney and multicultural London English, which, ironically, is spoken by younger white people, but was initially a mix of cockney, Caribbean, and even African dialect, a more contemporary working class accent.
So, coming back to Buffalo is out of the question now?
Sarah Clare: We didn’t want to leave Buffalo. I remember looking at Chris, and saying, “When we’re in our eighties, we’re going to say, ‘remember that brief time we were in Buffalo?’” It was a magical time; we weren’t in a rush to leave, but, for me, as an arts administrator, there were no jobs I felt like I could make a career of. I wasn’t interested in teaching, so when I got that Savannah job, I said yes to that opportunity.
Chris: We’ve always both been interested in whatever the universe gives us, or a new part of the country, or a new part of work.
Sarah Clare: Right before Detroit happened, we were talking about if we ever leave New York, where would we go next? We made a list of cities, some we’d lived in before and others we hadn’t. Buffalo was on that list, and we looked for houses in the summer of 2014 when we were in Chautauqua, thinking maybe we’d invest and then move there later, because I knew I was going to be at Chautauqua for a long time. Buffalo was never really off the list.
What do you miss about Buffalo?
Chris: I miss being able to turn on the local NPR and hear a show about theater in Buffalo. Is that still on? [Not only is it still on, but Theater Talk just celebrated twenty-five years.]
Sarah Clare: We lived in Elmwood Village, things were closer, you knew what people were doing. There’s an ease to Buffalo, and I love the working class feel, but also the history of it. There’s also a lot of food that we miss.
Chris: There was always a light, airy, breezy feeling to me, despite the otherwise would-be heaviness of Rust Belt city, something always just felt floaty. I miss the feel of the city and the warmth of the community. We have a great community here, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten back to that constantly being around the community en masse. We always make sure to come down and visit friends [while we’re in Chautauqua], and I did Master Builder, Neal Wechsler’s adaptation, at Silo City.
What did you learn or do here that you’ve taken with you and applied to other situations?
Chris: It gave me a lot of confidence. People gave me a lot of work. I made good friends and connections, and it helped me solidify my own aesthetic and the kind of stuff I wanted to do. I liked the way everyone worked, the community; people had a lot of love and respect for each other, and it was a joyful time of working for me, working constantly and making friends and making me feel like, this is what I do; I can continue to do this.
Sarah Clare: Being in Buffalo inspired me to realize that my career didn’t have to be that traditional nine-to-five. That’s where I learned to put together a career that’s flexible with the lifestyle I wanted. Megan Callahan, Paul Todaro, the way people put their careers together—there was a drive to make the art. Not everybody was rolling in dough, but people were making a choice about how they wanted to live their lives. It was a model for me; I wanted to do that, and I learned how to do that in Buffalo. I wasn’t born into an artists’ family; it was a Rust Belt family, and you had a job to survive, but you don’t necessarily get to choose. Right before I got Chautauqua, I was working on making my own business, Making Spaces, and had just printed business cards; I was ready to make a life like that.
Chris: I just remember one moment in 2009 when theaters across the country weren’t doing so well, and I was at this party with at least fifty people and standing next to Gerry Maher, and looking around and realizing, “Everybody in this room is working right now. It was just really wonderful.”
Sarah Clare: The community was a game changer for us. We felt welcomed instantly and the networks and the amount of people who were working consistently, even though they had other jobs, I was like, “Wow, these people are doing three or four shows a year along with another job. That doesn’t happen in a lot of cities on such a constant basis, and they seem happy.” The first show Chris did was a Curtain Up! show, and what a wonderful way to be introduced to a theater community! It was really special.
Chris: Even after Studio Arena, it felt to us like it was still a thriving area for working, the idea of lifting up and creating. What Sarah Clare is trying to do is create a little bit more of that feel here.
Playwright Donna Hoke had the privilege of having Chris Corporandy play Vance in the first reading of The Couple Next Door, and has never forgiven him for moving before the play went to production.