Crazy Creativity: A Mix of Experiences at New Village Arts in Carlsbadby Leorah Gavidor November 28, 2018
At New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad, the focus is on the artist. The intimate 100-seat space allows the audience to be close to the actors and musicians on stage while experiencing a full-scale stage performance.
Focus is on the visual artist as well. Patrons and the public alike can browse the Foundry—a studio/gallery space where 17 local artists make art come alive –– Just stroll into New Village Arts during business hours.
Kristianne Kurner, now executive artistic director, founded New Village Arts 18 years ago. Kurner was a member of the first graduating class at James Lipton’s Actor’s Studio in New York, where she earned an MFA in acting. She moved to LA and found the theater scene there was not thriving. Then the family moved to Carlsbad, where her parents and grandparents live.
“I wanted to start a theater company in Carlsbad, where there wasn’t one. I thought the community could sustain a theater,” said Kurner.
Turns out she was right. New Village Arts started life in a repurposed chicken coop that could accommodate an audience of 25. When shows started selling out consistently, they moved to a larger space in the Jazzercise warehouse. Now on State Street in Carlsbad Village, the theater is a staple of North County and has been a catalyst in the revitalization of the neighborhood.
Each year brings six shows to the New Village stage, with eclectic musical acts interspersed. Klezmer musicians Yale Strom and Hot Pstromi will entertain the crowd on Dec. 2 and a festive Christmas Cabaret whets the holiday appetite Dec. 9 and 10. Then for something completely different—four-part folk harmony Berkley Hart Selis Twang on Jan. 12.
“We work to provide a mix of experiences,” Kurner said of the theater’s programming. “Our patrons say it’s like going to a completely different theater every time they come to a show.”
This effort is definitely evident in the plays Kurner and her staff selected this season. From a romantic comedy set in 1815 to a big rock-n-roll revue to a tall tale of the Wild West, the next few months of shows boomerang backward and forward in time and cover a breadth of topics.
“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is a sequel (of sorts) set two years after the end of “Pride and Prejudice,” in 1815. A comedy by two contemporary female playwrights, the story follows the romantic aspirations of middle sister Mary, quiet and bookish in Jane Austen’s novel.
Kurner is the director of the holiday play, running Nov. 16-Dec. 23. She said it was especially fun to watch the costumes take shape in the iconic Regency style of the time—empire waistlines for the ladies, tailcoats for the gentlemen.
Playing Jan. 25-March 17, “Smokey Joe’s Café” is a toe-tapping, thigh-slapping tribute to two songwriters who “invented” rock-n-roll: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The two Jewish guys met and began writing together in LA in the 1950s, penning such hits as “Hound Dog,” “Stand by Me” and “Jailhouse Rock.” The show features 40 of their songs against a backdrop of the classic themes of love lost, won and imagined—in a rollicking yet compelling piece of musical theater.
Coming in April, Kurner is excited for the premiere of “The Servant of Two Masters,” a modern adaptation of an old Italian favorite by Carlo Goldoni.
Kurner calls it “A big, bold comedy.” Hilarity ensues when trickster Truffaldino signs on to work for two bosses, in hopes of double wages and double dinners. Look forward to laughter, music, wisecracking and “every trick in the theatrical rucksack.” Starring Samantha Ginn as Truffaldino.
Next in line and last in the season is “Bella: An American Tall Tale,” from May 24-June 30. Kurner herself is in awe of the “crazy creativity” that her staff is exhibiting in bringing the production to life. New Village Arts worked hard to get the rights to the West Coast premiere of the new musical, which debuted in Dallas in 2017 and was onstage off-Broadway in 2018. Set in the “wild” west of the 1870s, Bella follows an African-American heroine as she attempts to escape a scandalous past and find her buffalo soldier. Audiences can look forward to scenic set projections, fabulous, flouncy costumes and a robust score.
But it’s not just formal spectator experiences in the theater that Kurner strives to bring her audiences: off-stage, out-of-theater experiences of the art form are equally important. In January, the theater’s community outreach effort, Teatro Pueblo Nuevo, takes the show on the road to bring three Carlsbad middle schools “Cinderella Eats Rice and Beans,” a bilingual (English/Spanish) reimagining of the classic fairy tale. Kurner estimates that 2,500 children who don’t have theater programs at school will see the play.
Talk-backs and sneak peeks allow actors and audiences to interact and appreciate each other. Kurner hopes to foster a collaborative approach that honors the work of the actors and values input from all those who put on the show—lighting designers, set designers, costumers, crew.
Kurner is especially gratified by New Village Arts offerings of community outreach programs for seniors and special needs teens. Monday Night Live! pairs teens who have autism or Down syndrome with neurotypical peers to explore artistic themes through different forms of acting—like movement, show hosting, stand-up, music, scene work and more. Students acquire acting skills based on their individual interests. The program concludes with an on-stage performance, of course.
Mindful Theater is a new program for seniors designed to help mitigate the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia through performance and improvisation. Studies show that theater and improv improve cognition, memory and brain function for individuals with cognitive challenges. Kurner hopes the program will contribute to the well-being of community members. Now in its formative stages, the program is recruiting participants.
For Kurner, improving the quality of life in her community is what New Village Arts is all about. She sees theater as a shared experience: a collaboration between artists and audiences that allows us to engage with relevant and inspiring stories while going on an adventure together.