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LisaCleffKurtzWe’re actually in a really great place though when you consider twelve months ago I didn’t know who she was. And ten months ago I knew everything about her, but she still didn’t know I existed. I should explain. Last winter I was tapped by A.R.T. / New York to write a musical tribute (in total secrecy) to the honoree of their Spring Gala, their star Board Member, Lisa Cleff Kurtz. And unbeknownst to her, I did just that. (With a great deal of help from director Frank Ventura, Music Director Debra Barsha and of course, all of Lisa’s friends and family…) And the rest, as they say, is sophistry.

I took the job because any time someone is being celebrated in the arts, I like to know why. Also, I love A.R.T. / New York. And if you’re a musical theater writer in the city you probably do too, though you may not know it. Prospect Theater Company, the New York Theater Barn and CAP21? All members. All of the work you do with those companies, you also do with the Alliance of Resident Theaters / New York. But that’s not why you’re here. You’re here because I want to introduce you to my friend, the former actress cum personal trainer cum recruiter who became a casting director cum director’s rep cum SVP executive producer of multi million dollar commercials while being a single mom who became a Broadway investor cum Bulldog Board Member cum taste maker. Because who doesn’t have a thing or two to learn from her?

TH: So how did you get involved with A.R.T. / New York to begin with?

LCK: When I was a young actor I had many jobs. One of them was as a legal recruiter. I used to call lawyers and offer them jobs different from the jobs they were already in. So one day I called this guy [Andrew Lance] and he’s like “F*ck off lady, I’m not interested in leaving my fabulous job for your sh!tty job. I’m so fabulous.”

TH: Ha! And this is your now-best-friend?

LCK: Yeah it’s true, he became my best friend. So he’s about to hang up on me and I and I saw on his info card that he went to Princeton University. And I grew up in Princeton. So I said, “Oh I see you went to Princeton? I grew up there.” And he goes, “Oh where’d you grow up?” And ten minutes later he asks me out on a date.

TH: That’s sweet

LCK: So long story short, we became best friends. And that was thirty five years ago. So Andy loved theater. He used to take me to see everything when I was a broke-ass actor, because he loved it, and many years later he was on the board of A.R.T. / New York and they were actually honoring him at the gala because as a real estate lawyer, he did the deal that enabled them to buy that new space. So he invited me to the gala, where I met Ginny [Louloudes, Executive Director], and she said, “Would you like to be on the board?” and I said, “I have no idea what that means, but sure.” And that’s how that happened.

TH: The story I heard started with you volunteering for them over concentrated periods of time.

LCK: I definitely volunteered. On the marketing committee and the gala committee…

TH: Do you remember how long it took for you to go from being a volunteer to a member of the board?

LCK: Very quickly. It was few months. But I think it was a special circumstance. I mean I was looking. I wanted to do something. I wanted to get involved, in New York Theater… by not licking envelopes. I had this whole advertising thing.

TH: By using your skillset.

LCK: Exactly. And I wanted to give that to someone. And it was perfect timing. And it’s the perfect place for me because you know, I’m super ADD. And it allows me…

TH: To go after all of the things, all of the time.

LCK: Yeah. I mean I’ve gotten to know people like you, New York Theater Workshop, Second Stage and The Public and it’s been amazing. Really fantastic.

TH: I’ve noticed sometimes in my community of writers, this includes me, we fall prey to this very old-school mentality of “I wrote the damn thing. It’s someone else’s job to produce it.” And we’ll go on social media and kvetch about how few opportunities are afforded to us…

LCK: That world went out with the baby boomers. That was my father’s world but that is not our world. That doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t think it’s unique to entertainment, or theater. It’s the whole economy. Every ten years there’s a crash. Some bigger than others but… when I was in advertising, every time there was a crash half my clients would go away. And then half my staff would go away. It’s economics. We all have to be entrepreneurs. Everybody has to be entrepreneurs. As a former actor, I spent many years finding jobs every day of my life. And you have to be creative about it. Unless you’re Meryl Streep nobody’s out there doing it for you.

TH: And I feel like to a degree even Meryl Streep is doing it for herself.

LCK: Once she passed forty, yes.

TH: Right?

LCK: You have to be your own advocate! Nobody’s going to take care of you like you. That is my answer to the kvetcher who says they can’t sell themselves. You have to.

TH: You were in advertising, and you’ve also mentioned recruiting.

LCK: I had a kid too.

TH: You also had a kid. Tell me about that life.

LCK: Not only did I have a kid but I was a single mom. And I was not about to feed my kid ramen. I had many jobs. I sold cookies on the street. I did recruiting. I was a personal trainer. The personal training thing actually was one of the best things I did because as an actor you had to answer the phone. If you didn’t answer the phone you missed the job. If you missed the job you were done. So I applied that theory to my personal training business. I never let a phone call not turn into a client.

TH: And that’s where you learned your business acumen?

LCK: I moved to California and they weren’t into the personal training thing. But if you show up in San Francisco with a New York attitude, you go very far. I hung up a shingle as a casting director and I cast films, and commercials. San Francisco has is a very vibrant advertising community. And when you have that you also have film production. So I’m now a casting director hired for a week in a production company and, you know me: the guy who ran the production company thought I’d make a great Director’s rep. And I said, “what’s that?” And he said “it’s kind of like being an agent for commercial directors.” And I was used to doing that because I was already working with the client and the talent. I was always very nurturing towards the talent.

TH: Because you’d been on the other side of the table.

LCK: Because of that and I was a new mother. And in the early to mid-90s when motion graphics became digital, and film became digital and the web was born, the clients’ ad agencies needed talent who could do all three. So suddenly I went from repping directors to director-designers, techies. I repped a stable of very progressive, state of the art directors who could do all these things. And they were five. They were five years old. Right out of film school.

TH: So the field you were in changed, so you had to adapt.

LCK: Exactly. You always have to be entrepreneurial. Even if you are working for someone who gives you a check every week, which is becoming less and less common. You have to treat every situation as if you’re an entrepreneur.

TH: So tell me a little bit about what you do for A.R.T. / New York.

LCK: I’m a board member. I’m an unusually active board member. I consider it my job, like I am a consultant with a responsibility that I need to deliver as much as if I were being payed. I’m on the Gala Committee, I’m on the Development Committee, I volunteer with marketing, I’m on the New Member Committee… I pick new board members from the theater.

TH: So you’re out scouting and meeting people. What do you look for in a Board member?

LCK: There’s the “Public” side, which is me, and then there’s the “Theatre” side, which is you. We look for different things.

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Source: contemporarymusicaltheatre.wordpress.com
Mika - Popular Song - live Fonda Theatre, October 21, 2012
Mika - Popular Song - live Fonda Theatre, October 21, 2012
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