By Deb Silverthorn
Aside from family, Howard and Joyce Korn have kept theater center stage in their lives. For the last 15 years, Theatre Frisco with “Over the River and Through the Woods” running now through April 24, has been the beneficiary of their devotion.
“There’s nothing like the theatre and at Theatre Frisco we bring out the best,” said Howard, who is Theatre Frisco’s chairman and CEO, noting many of the shows, without intent, have Jewish themes and many of them were written, produced and directed by Jews. “We do four shows a year – two musicals and two plays, usually comedies – and every one of them is first-rate.”
“It’s always a joy,” said Joyce her husband’s right-hand everything. “We’ll do anything to make the experience for our actors be something special.”
Howard, a 90-year-old native of Jersey City, New Jersey, is the son of Ethel and Lou, they of blessed memory, the brother of Arthur and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rutgers University where he was a member of the school’s dramatic society. Joyce, from Newark, New Jersey and two years her husband’s junior, is the daughter of Rose and Harry “Pal” Blumenkranz, an amateur vaudevillian, and the sister of Ira, they all of blessed memory.
The couple, now Frisco Lakes residents, met when a friend of hers brought him to a bridge game at her parents’ home. “He was good looking when he walked in and then I saw him play,” said Joyce. “I quickly realized he was also very smart.” The two were married at Avon Caterers Aug. 23, 1953.
Howard’s career began with New York Life Insurance and U.S. Life in New York, Bank of Security Life in Washington, D.C. and then Gulf Life Insurance in Jacksonville, Florida. There, he sat on the board of the Jacksonville Jewish Center and Jewish Family Service. In Florida, Joyce was a “Feedback” television show commentator and volunteered with young members of the Jewish community. Recruited to be president of Republic National Life, the couple moved to Dallas in 1981, where they have belonged to Temple Emanu-El and Temple Shalom.
The Korn’s family cast includes their children Michael (Pam) Korn and Cathy (Howard) Feldman, their grandchildren David (Rachel) Korn, Suzanne (Dory Kagan) Korn, Melissa and Eric Feldman and their great-grandchildren William and Benjamin Korn.
Howard returned to the stage after ferrying his grandchildren to theater activities. While Melissa was appearing in “The King and I,” at the Plano Children’s Theatre, an actor dropped out. “Pop” Howard, who’d sat at the back of the theatre during months of rehearsals, was asked to step in.
“It was a ball, and I was so happy to be there,” said Howard. Many other roles followed there, at Frisco Community Theatre, the J Players at the Jewish Community Center, the Labyrinth Theatre, Plano Rep, Rover Dramawerks and more, almost always with Joyce close by. He’s since appeared in television commercials, industrial films and printed ads.
“They took us to shows, they were in shows with us and they’ve shared all their love for the arts with us,” said Melissa, who works in customer service in the insurance industry and sings professionally with Lake Highlands Methodist Church choir. “My grandparents introduced me to theatre and absolutely influenced my life. I’m proud of all they’ve done and I look forward to more.”
Melissa’s brother Eric, a senior at Texas Tech University double-majoring in music education and vocal performance, echoes the sentiments.
“My grandparents are the most warm and genuine people and the most incredible examples. They couldn’t be more supportive of my choosing the arts as a career,” said Eric, who will student teach at Puster Elementary and McKinney Boyd High School in the fall. “I want to teach and share the arts with the next generation, and I also hope to never stop performing myself.”
“They’re incredible people in every way,” said Cathy, whose family lives in Plano, her children graduates of Plano West. “I’m so glad the theater is back, that they can be doing what they love. Being around the young people of the theatre has kept them young.”
In 2007, Howard was invited to serve on the board of Theatre Frisco, then called Frisco Community Theatre. “Five minutes later,” he said, he was named president and leader of the pack he has remained ever since. Not long after the theatre building was condemned, and the theatre did “road shows” around the area. In 2010, the city opened the Frisco Discovery Center with a Black Box Theatre.
“Our first show back was ‘Forever Plaid’ and ever since we produce four shows a year with 10 performances per show,” Joyce said. We’re almost always sold out.”
In 2017, the theater changed its name and Neale Whitmore became its artistic director.
“It’s really snowballed and to think, it’s two grandparents running the place,” said Howard. “We post the show’s auditions and now 60 or 70 people will show up. We used to get $5 donations, now we get hundreds and thousands of dollars to keep us going.”
Taking the stage with the Korns at the helm means being loved, adored and cared for like family. When Mikey Abrams, raised at Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth, arrived at the audition for “Scrooge,” he announced he had to have the role because it was something his teacher from religious school would never allow.
“In the first minute, we knew he had to have the role — we were done auditioning,” said Howard.
“Joyce and Howard are the ‘Bubbe’ and ‘Zayde’ of the theatre community,” said Abrams, a longtime area actor who is also a real estate agent. “Everything that comes from them is a treasure. I’m so glad they are part of our community.”
During the pandemic, the couple spent a lot of time singing show tunes to and with one another.
“…and these few precious days I’ll spend with you — these precious days I’ll spend with you,” the couple sang the lyrics from the standard “September Song,” originally from the musical “Knickerbocker Holiday” by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson.
“We’d sit on our bench and sing it several times a week,” said Howard, “always so grateful for one another.”
Grateful we all are, for both of you. May the curtain continue to rise for many seasons.