Commentary: What We Do Is What We Are

Photo by Larry Farr on Unsplash

By Ron Kurtz

In life, it isn’t simply where we find ourselves or the consequences of our actions; it is what we decide to do in relation to where we are. More than anything else, what we do is what we are. As for me, I always lead with the heart. So much of life is about passion and being open to opportunities. These days I only do what I am passionate about.

I am an Army brat, born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in which city I spent less than a year. I started school in Würzburg, Germany (I spoke German better than English) then moved on to Washington, D.C.; New Orleans; Bloomington, Indiana; New York; Lancaster, Pennsylvania … and have landed in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida, which I consider my spiritual home.

I attended Hiram College in Ohio and fled back to New York and NYU where I earned a degree in educational theater (children’s theater). My first “real” job, which I loved, was teaching fourth grade. Later I became the managing director of the Actors’ Company of Pennsylvania, where I performed in the historic Fulton Opera House. I also produced Mt. Gretna Summer Theatre, and performed in multiple dinner theaters across the Midwest. I have acted, directed, and designed sets for an ungodly number of plays and musicals. I also was hired as director of the Amelia Island Museum of History, and currently have two directorial projects that should take me through the summer of 2022.

My partner and I had put our house in Lancaster up for sale after having invested heavily in 18th-century detailing for my interior design business. I was told the price was high and it would never sell. Three weeks later a curator from Winterthur Museum saw it, loved it, and bought it. The house sold and we were given a month to vacate.

A year prior, my father and his wife at the time had built a retirement home on Amelia Island. He suggested that we (me, my partner, and my mother who was living with us) spend a month there. That was nearly 30 years ago and I am still here, though the others have long departed.

There is nothing more tragic than an actor without an audience. I was about to implode with the arrival of the pandemic. Some friends had a bookstore and I offered to read selections of poetry and prose from their inventory. Previously I had done a series of readings of novels that garnered a live audience in the bookstore. Conner Fasel, the technological wizard of this project, knows Leah Ward-Lee of LWL Publishing and encouraged her to come by and listen.

She told me of a book she had published by an inmate with an interesting character named Frankie, which led to my narrating the book on YouTube. Character is a curious thing, and Frankie makes choices that illuminates his character. Given the circumstances he finds himself in, he made decisions that I would have instinctively made. He also has a sense of humor and a willingness to forge headlong into adverse situations. He is someone whose friendship I would have sought. He also knows how to be a friend. The decision to narrate Last Lockdown (LWL Publishing, 2015) was entirely emotional on my part. I feel “safe” with Frankie. I feel joy in giving him a voice. I would never devote time and energy required to someone I did not like and respect.

This led to reading the prison newspaper, the Mule Creek Post. Therein, a column caught my attention, “The View from a Cushion” by Mark Daigre. This particular column, in April of 2021, was entitled “Broken,” and I found it compelling. So much so, that I read it aloud on YouTube. I intend to read other selections from “The View from a Cushion” as well.

Given a choice, I opt for relevancy in narrative selections as well as other projects. The historic courthouse on Amelia Island was in jeopardy. I was part of an activist group that saved it. The same with our local library, and a stand of majestic oaks slated for firewood, in the name of “progress.”

I have done a number of shows which our conservative community might not like. Years ago, I was volunteering for a youth project related to developing reading skills in third graders. There was a show I wanted to do that was about the genocide in Rwanda. There were no local African-American women who were even vaguely willing to participate. I was working with the youth project I mentioned, developing a puppet show, when in walked an arrestingly beautiful Black woman who turned to say something to her son, whom she was bringing to volunteer as well. Her French accent was a clarion call. I was able to convince her to read for the part even though she had never been on the stage — I can be insistent when the situation calls for it. She was incandescent in the role, time and time again. When you have a passion for a project, you will make it happen in spite of people who tell you it is impossible.

A year later, I did “I Am My Own Wife” which opened with only a handful in the house. The run had to be extended. It was about a cross-dressing soul from behind the Berlin wall; hardly fodder for a polite Southern community, but it had a sold-out run. This project and those previously mentioned all have relevancy. I am humbled to have played a small part.

A June project is “Tru,” a one-person Broadway show produced many years ago about Truman Capote. I have always wanted to direct it, but there was never the perfect actor. A month ago, I went to see “Kiss Me Kate.” In the chorus, I saw my Truman and now I’ll get to do it! It is all about being in the right place at the right time. If you don’t extend yourself, nothing will happen.

In 2005, I was facing a life-threatening illness and was told that I had three months; another prognosis suggested three weeks. That was 16 years ago. It did inspire me to quit smoking.

I am reminded of Emily Dickinson’s retort, “I’m nobody, who are you? Are you nobody too?” I am still, at 74, looking for an answer to that question. More than anything, I am an attitudinal seeker. If I don’t like what I find, I intend to keep looking and changing.

Originally Published in the Mule Creek Post.  Ron Kurtz is an outside contributor.


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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