Michael Harms wasn't involved in school plays as a student at North Syracuse High School in the Seventies. But something sparked his interest in drama at Yale University, and in his sophomore and junior years he landed roles in "Pirates of Penzance," "Pal Joey" and "Ah Wilderness." His final performance as a French soldier utilized his fluency in that language. By then totally bitten by the bug, the summer after his junior year he decided to study at the HB Studio in New York and took an apartment in The Village. After only one day of classes, however, he was killed in a work-related accident with a moving company.
In 1987 Michael's mother Beverly Harms began funding scholarships for the Cultural Resources Council's High School Theater Festival in his memory. Two years later the festival was named for him. Founded in 1976, the festival endeavors to identify, encourage, promote and extend the talents of young people. It provides a learning experience in a professional setting, and provides career direction for young people contemplating a life of professional theater activity. Established as a showcase for the theatrical performance and technical skills of students and teachers in secondary schools, in 1999 the festival was opened to community-based teen performance groups.
Over the years the festival has drawn entrants from a 23 county area, ranging from Greece-Athena in the west, north the Indian River, east to Saratoga Springs and south to Marathon. Longest tenured of the groups competing is Nottingham High School, with continuous participation since 1978. And while no winners are designated as such, for most groups the festival's ultimate Award of Excellence is the equivalent of a drama Super Bowl trophy.
For CRC founding director Joe Golden, the event was always the Michael Harms Theater Festival and Competition. "A festival," Golden reflected, "because the skills of students and teachers are things to celebrate; a competition because a little rivalry can stimulate keener work."