Lizzie Kurtz teaches drama, voice and dance at a Toronto high school, but as soon as school’s out for summer, she’s auditioning for roles and attending classes.
The time Kurtz devotes to professional development is reflected in her teaching style at West Hill Collegiate, a diverse public high school, where she’s head of arts.
By taking classes, she puts herself in her students’ shoes. “That allows me to be a more compassionate and empathetic teacher; more sensitive to what they’re experiencing, when they’re given a change in direction or specific instruction, because it can be scary. Even a correction in dance can throw someone off, so it’s how you deliver it,” she said.
“It’s very easy for me just to go into automatic pilot of how I would receive direction in a class, which would be very pointed and sometimes harsh. I can’t talk to my students in the way a dance teacher might talk to me.”
Kurtz is one of the performers in a concert version of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical comedy Company, which is playing at the Eastminster United Church in Toronto on March 16 and 17.
Some of Kurtz’s students will be in the audience. “Why it’s important for me to still be doing the work is because I do want to give my students an opportunity to see their teacher going through the process – because it’s one thing to be taught by someone who has a lot of experience, but it’s another thing to see your teacher be in that position of vulnerability. It levels the playing field and, in doing so, it makes them feel safe. It’s about students feeling engaged and seeing it’s possible to take their work to the next level,” she said.
“I wish to be a role model for them and my biggest hope is to go and see them shine. There’s nothing that makes me happier.”
The play is centred around a character named Bobby, a bachelor who has trouble with commitment. Kurtz plays Amy, a friend of Bobby’s who, along with others, throw him a surprise party for his 35th birthday.
Bobby’s “been dating a few different women and he’s loved by everyone and everyone wants him to settle down, but he himself is very much afraid of it. Through Bobby’s eyes, you get a glimpse of what the different married couples lives are like,” Kurtz said.
Kurtz’s character has had a good relationship with a man she’s been living with for nine years. “In the musical, it’s the day of her wedding and she’s petrified. So she sings this song, I’m Not Getting Married Today. She’s holding onto a fear she has of losing herself in the marriage and maybe even losing the love she has because of marriage. Bobby is able to see himself in all of his friends and in their marriages. Each of them hold up a mirror to himself and they represent all of his fears about himself,” Kurtz said.
Company in Concert, presented by Toronto Musical Concerts (TMC), is a staged reading, with the actors performing behind music stands, accompanied by the show’s music director, pianist Scott Christian. “We tell the story and the audience goes on a ride with us for two hours. This framework, being as simple as it is, it allows us just to tell the story and serve the story in its purest form,” Kurtz said.
The 14-member cast includes professional musical theatre artists who have appeared in shows presented by Mirvish Productions and at theatres and festivals such as the Stratford and Shaw festivals,Theatre Aquarius and Canadian Stage. Kurtz’s resume includes roles in a German production of Cats and in Living with Henry, which was staged at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
TMC is a registered Canadian charitable organization with a mandate to partner with community organizations to support local charitable organizations. Company in Concert will benefit the Canadian Safe School Network. Through community service organizations, TMC has offered musical theatre workshops to children and youth, as well as provided them with free tickets to TMC performances.
For tickets to Company in Concert, on March 16 and 17 at Eastminster United Church, 310 Danforth Ave., visit companyinconcert.brownpapertickets.com. For more information, email [email protected]