Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Interviews as Inspiration ~ Kristianne Kurner Executive Artistic Director of New Village Arts Theatre


My husband and I first attended New Village Arts Theatre (a small, talented, energetic live theatre company in Carlsbad, California) in 2007. We loved what they did, and went on to become subscribers, patrons, fans and friends of the company and of many of the actors. 
nva feb 2010
My husband, Don and I discuss brain injury with the actors of "The Man Who" in 2010 at New Village Arts Theatre

I've always loved live theatre and been fascinated about the behind the scenes. I admire Kristianne very much, and wanted to know more. 

Her professional bio is:
Kristianne Kurner is the Executive Artistic Director of New Village Arts Theatre
A graduate of the College of William and Mary, Ms. Kurner earned her Masters Degree in Acting from the Actors Studio Drama School in New York, as well as training privately for three years with David Gideon, former director of the Lee Strasburg Theatre Institute.  In 2007, she was honored for her Outstanding Direction of the Regional premiere of John Patrick Shanley’s Sailor’s Song by both the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and Patte Productions.  Ms. Kurner has directed, designed, produced and/or acted in every New Village Arts production to date.
Krisitanne Kurner
Executive Artistic Director of New Village Arts Theatre

Jane LaFazio: You are Executive Artistic Director of New Village Arts Theatre. What the job description for that title? 

Krisitanne Kurner: I'm in charge of all of the artistic elements of the theatre: the productions, casting, play selection, and much more. That's the "Artistic" part of the title. The "Executive" means that I also have an overview of the company as a whole, so I work with our Managing Director on all budgeting, planning, marketing and human resources.

JL: You co-founded New Village Arts (NVA) 13 years ago, after graduation from the Actors Studio/New School in New York City. Was it a Mickey Rooney to Judy Garland moment “let’s put on a show” or was it a conscious career decision?

KK: Since I was a little girl, I have always pictured myself running a small theatre - I've been putting on shows since I was about 8 years old and I've always known it's what I wanted to do. Founding NVA in Carlsbad Village came about from a series of wonderful small-world happenings. My family has lived in Carlsbad for over 60 years, and it was where we always came for holidays throughout my life. When my former husband and I were looking for a place to start a theatre based off the techniques we learned while attending the Actors Studio/New School, Carlsbad seemed a perfect place. And we were right! The community has really embraced the theatre and we are still going strong entering our 13th Season.

However, there's always a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland aspect to putting on shows, and certainly to running a theatre. There has to be that faith that people will want to come and see the work that you do - you have to believe that what you have to share with your art will interest an audience.

Kristianne, as a kid, entertaining.
JL: How does one ‘found’ a theatre company? Dictator or Benevolent Mother role? How did you make it happen?

KK: To found a theatre takes a lot of hard work. It's much more difficult than I imagined. It all starts with your passion for what you do. You have to believe that you have something important to say and that only your company could say it this particular way. Then it's a mix of Dictator and Benevolent Mother. You have to be willing to work harder than you think you can and deal with a good deal of rejection before you get a positive result. That's where the Dictator comes in. While doing this, you also have to create a place where people want to be - your patrons, donors, artists and staff. So Benevolent Mother is important there.

I truly believe that NVA was built on a lot of faith: that the funding would be found, that the audience would come and that the best artists in San Diego would make the drive to Carlsbad to work with us. If you don't have a great belief in who you are and what you are trying to do, the company won't work. Then you have to take that faith and back it with hard work. I've been fortunate that my family has been involved in this dream of mine, so we were able to share it and all work on it together. It's thanks to all of their love and support, mixed with incredible donors and patrons, that has allowed this company to thrive for 13 years.

JL:  Each season, New Village Arts Theatre produces 6-8 plays. How do you select the plays? Then, what’s the process. Do you have a wish list of plays you want to do in the future? What’s on that list?

KK: I read a lot of plays every year. A lot. Then I also read reviews from productions in New York, London, LA and Chicago. When I find a play that "turns me on" I put it on my "possible plays" list. I tend to get an immediate reaction to a play and follow my gut. Then, I have to look at how a season will come together. You want to find plays that your patrons will respond to - a good mix of classics, new plays and usually something silly and fun. I love how NVA produces the big American classics. There is something magical about taking a story that is beloved by so many and seeing it in our intimate space with fantastic actors. So I have a good list of those on my future list.

JL: As artistic director, sometimes your direct a play sometimes you act or star in one. How do you decide? Is it totally up to you?

KK: It is pretty much up to me. I tend to direct two shows per season and act in one. Acting is my passion and my training, and I think it's very important to continue to practice what I preach. I look for a role that will challenge me and also speak to our audience. When selecting which plays I will direct, it is a mix of which other directors I will be working with in a season and what plays are a good match for my strengths. It's also good to occasionally pick a play outside of the comfort zone - you can learn so much that way. 
Kristianne Kurner as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

JL: Acting or Directing? Do you have a favorite?

KK: It depends on the project. Playing Nurse Ratched was certainly a favorite for me. But I also love the process of putting a play together from out in the theatre and watching how all of the elements come together to create the final product. It's highly rewarding for me to see an actor doing their finest work in a show I have directed. 
Kristianne and her son Jonah, on stage together

JL:  Your young son is an actor, with ‘greasepaint in his veins.” Your mom works at New Village Arts Theatre, doesn't your sister too? What’s it like to have so much of your life and loved ones all involved in the same enterprise?

KK: I'm incredibly lucky to have an amazing family working with me at NVA. My dad was the original President of the Board and has fixed just about anything that broke in the theatre. He and I have also built most of the sets you see when you come see a show. My mom is the Foundry Artist Studio Manager. She runs the visual arts component at NVA and also runs the Music Series and organizes all our volunteers. My sister is a musician (, so she has appeared on our stage many times.

My son is amazing. He's a very gifted actor and director, and I've been fortunate to be on stage with him many times. His passions are leaning more towards filmmaking, which is very exciting to see.

We also have a core group of supporters who have been with NVA since the very beginning, and I consider them part of the family as well. It's one of the comments we get most often about NVA: people feel like they are coming into a family environment. We are very proud of that. 

Kristianne and her son Jonah

JL: What advice would you give an actor?

KK: Never stop learning. One of the great gifts we have as actors is that everything around us is an acting lesson. Our instruments are our bodies and our minds, so everything we experience can help feed our acting. Work hard. Don't be afraid to take smaller roles or work in other areas of the theatre. Many of our favorite actors came to NVA as volunteers and have worked their way up. Be fun to work with - come into any space with a good attitude and great work ethic. You'll be asked back. 
Kristianne Kurner as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

JL:  What advice would you give someone with dreams of starting a theatre company?

KK: Be sure it's what you really want to do. Keep returning to your mission and vision of what you have to offer. Stay vigilant with everything going on around you - don't assume to much. Surround yourself with wonderful people. Be ready to work hard. 

JL: What’s the best part of your day?

KK: I have two best parts: driving my son to school every morning and getting to talk with him, and walking into rehearsal each night. There is so much possibility at the start of every rehearsal.

JL: Favorite Books ~ fiction or non-fiction?

KK: I read mostly fiction. I love Toni Morrison's SULA and I'm a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver. John Steinbeck. Edith Wharton. 

JL: Future hopes, dreams, plans for Kristianne?

KK: Continuing to build NVA, traveling as much as possible (I love to visit new places) and having grand adventures.

JL: Future hopes, dreams, plans for New Village Arts?

KK: I want every person in Carlsbad and San Diego to know who we are and what we do. I'd like to continue to grow the staff, patron base and donors. I'd like to create new works and I always want to leave our audience feeling slightly more alive than when they entered the theatre.  

If you are in San Diego County, New Village Arts Theatre Season 13 tickets go on sale July 6

Tickets on sale now

Want to help Kristianne and New Village Arts Theatre to continue and flourish? Donate here.

fabulous fundrasier:

New Village Arts Gala: 60s by the Sea
Saturday, June 22nd | 6pm – 10pm

Join New Village Arts Board of Directors, Staff and beloved Ensemble members as we ring in the upcoming Season 13 and raise funds for our award-winning programs and programming. This year’s Gala is a celebration of Carlsbad culture in the 1960s, set against the backdrop of sunset over the gorgeous Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Sponsorship opportunities are available.
For more information, please contact Tammy Nipper:
Ticket Prices:
$150.00 per person
Check out my other Interviews as Inspiration:

Michael deMeng, Assemblage artist
Rachelle Archer, Expressive Arts Therapist at a school for homeless
Cas Holmes, textile artist
Mary Beth Shaw, artist and Stencil Girl Products founder
Marcia Derse, textile designer
Lesley Riley, artist and author
Danny Gregory, artist and author
Judy Reeves, writer
Carlo Roberts, The Blue Walk travel company founder
Jane Powell, Random Arts owner 

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