Culture Spotlight: New Village Arts
Posted on January 10, 2018
It all started in a converted chicken coop. Kristianne Kurner and Francis Gerke, two graduates of the New York Actors Studio, came to Carlsbad 17 years ago looking for a community to produce theater. Their first productions were as humble and grassroots as they come. “It was a tiny room,” says Kurner, executive artistic director of what is now New Village Arts, referring to the converted coop. “We had 25 people in the audience and had to give everyone blankets because it was chilly in there.”
Later, the theater company spent five years in the Jazzercize corporate headquarters before moving into a permanent home in the former Bauer Company Lumber building in the heart of Carlsbad Village. Throughout the years, productions have included family fare, musicals, and more edgy pieces — “We did the entire Sam Shepherd family cycle,” says Kurner.
Now established in the community, Kurner has set her sights on community outreach programs, like Artist Market, Monday Night Live!, and Mindful Theatre. Many encourage local artists and people with special needs to participate in the theater and visual arts.
“We have studio space for visual artists who are connected to the theater,” Kurner explains of the Artist Market. “They each have their own studio space and patrons can come in during the day or when shows are running and watch the artist creating their work.” The works are available for purchase, and the studio holds a once-monthly free gallery show and art event with live music and food.
Monday Night Live! is an improvision class for teenagers on the autism spectrum or who have Down syndrome. Students are matched up with neurotypical peers and work together to create improvisational pieces. The program has become so popular that Kurner says this summer the company will produce an original musical created by the students.
Mindful Theatre, an improvisation program borne out of Monday Night Live!, caters to seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia. “People with Alzheimer’s typically have about 30 seconds of memory,” Kurner says, “which makes improv a great way to engage the brain.”
Of course, New Village Arts maintains a steady roster of productions. This season’s theme is “unity.” “I was selecting the season after the last election, and I saw how divisive the country was becoming,” Kurner says. “I wanted to look at those things that, as a community, bring us together.” “Those things” include California culture, gender bending, and even puppets. On tap are Jose Rivera’s Cloud Tectonics; Men On Boats, the true tale of an 1869 men’s expedition down the Colorado River, performed by an all female cast; and Avenue Q, a raunchy puppet musical. For more information, a calendar of shows, or to learn about the annual gala on March 3, visit the organization’s website. 760.433.3245, newvillagearts.org Ryan Thomas