The Harvey Cocks
Volunteer of the Year Award
Each year, Youtheatre proudly honors the memory of our late Executive Director and those who live up to his example by giving their time and talent to Youtheatre with our “Harvey Cocks Volunteer of the Year” Awards.
In 1977, Harvey Cocks Jr. received the phone call that would change his life and the lives of thousands of young artists. The call was from Fort Wayne Youtheatre looking for a new Director. Having worked primarily on Broadway, television and in stock, Harvey accepted the job, but figured he’d only stay a few years. In the end, Harvey led as Youtheatre’s Executive/Artistic Director until 2010, when he became Artist-in-Residence, for a total of 45 years.
At Youtheatre, he found his true calling, making better actors and better people of all who entered its halls. During his tenure, he taught thousands of students in over 800 Saturdays of acting classes and directed hundreds of plays and musicals, many of which he wrote himself. Among his most popular plays was The Boy from Fairmount, in which he chronicled the life of another Hoosier actor he knew from their New York days, James Dean. In 2014, Harvey celebrated his beloved Youtheatre’s 80th anniversary by writing and directing his final play, an adaptation of The Steadfast Tin Soldier. He taught his final class in 2019 at age 94. Even after that, he remained a constant and vital presence at the theatre, which most recently revived his adaptation of A Christmas Carol in 2020. Even in his mid-90s, it took a global pandemic to stop him from coming into the theatre three days a week.
In 2019, Youtheatre’s annual “Volunteer of the Year” Award was named in his honor at a ceremony in which Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry declared it “Harvey Cocks Day” and Youtheatre awarded him its first ever “Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Harvey’s most lasting professional achievement is his profound effect on the generations of young performers who owe their confidence, poise, love of the arts and, in many cases, their careers to his direction, care and encouragement. It is with his commitment, work ethic, compassion and love of theatre in mind that we annually honor the “Harvey Cocks Volunteers of the Year.”
Heather Closson first graced the Youtheatre stage as a Baby Angel in THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER. Since then, her commitment and dedication to Youtheatre has been unwavering. She continued to act as a student, returning as an adult to teach, choreograph, direct and more. During the 20-21 season, Heather took on the monumental task of chairing our BESTIES BRUNCH committee, successfully launching this popular new fundraising event.
Marissa Drew came to Youtheatre late in her academic career, first appearing in 2021’s THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE. During the 21-22 season, Marissa, a senior at Snider High School, quickly became an integral part of the Youtheatre family. As a Youtheatre intern, she put her keen fashion sense to use with a focus on costuming the season’s productions.
Luke Holliger is the Technical Director of the Arts United Center. During the 20-21 season, Luke again proved himself one of Youtheatre’s biggest champions, helping produce and record a radio play of A CHRISTMAS CAROL on the AUC stage when our regular holiday production had to cease rehearsals due to the pandemic. His generosity was a true Christmas gift to our students when they needed it most.
Emersen Conner first appeared as a fairy in Youtheatre’s SLEEPING BEAUTY. During the 20-21 season, this Carroll High School senior served her internship at a time when few staff or volunteers were permitted in the theatre. Emmie was vital to keeping Youtheatre going during the pandemic, wearing a variety of hats- costumer, prop mistress, set decorator, administrative assistant and de facto therapist.
Kimee Gearhart made her Youtheatre debut as a 7th grader in SANTA CLAUS IN OZ. During the 2018-2019 season, her senior year at Homestead High School, Kimee served as a Youtheatre intern, giving countless hours in the office, costume shop, scene shop, rehearsal hall, office and classroom.
Melody Browning first appeared in Youtheatre’s THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE. During the 2018-19 season, this homeschool senior worked as a Youtheatre intern, constantly proving herself a vital part of Youtheatre, especially as a teaching assistant with our youngest Academy students.
Linnea Bartling is an artist and longtime Youtheatre board member. Along with her late husband George, she has always been a staunch supporter of the arts and education in northeast Indiana. Youtheatre staff and students have no better friend and champion; and we are grateful for her many years of service.
Ryan Peroza first appeared on the Youtheatre stage in THE COMMEDIA RAPUNZEL. During the 21-22 season, this Blackhawk Christian High School senior served as a Youtheatre intern with an emphasis on directing. In addition to his regular intern duties, Ryan focused on stage-managing ELF Jr. and assistant directing A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.
Cassandra Smith made her Youtheatre debut in WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. During the 20-21 season, this sophomore at Bishop Dwenger High School gave countless hours to Youtheatre during the a difficult season due to the COVID pandemic. While Cassie has always been a devoted member of the Youtheatre family, she was instrumental this year in keeping classes, camps and productions afloat.
At the end of a most unusual season dominated by COVID-19 cancellations and delays, Youtheatre chose to honor ALL our volunteers. From front-of-house to backstage and everywhere in between, these people who give so unselfishly of their time and talent are the lifeblood of our organization. There would be no Youtheatre without them in good times or bad; and for that, we gratefully honor them all.
Sloan Amburgey began her involvement with Youtheatre as an Oompa-Loompa in WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. During the 2018-19 season, she continued working as a Youtheatre intern while finishing her senior year as a homeschool student. Sloan could be found at Youtheatre just about anywhere, at any time, doing anything- acting, stage-managing, teaching, costuming, and much, much more.