Location: New York City
Kurt Davies first discovered theatre when he was in middle school. His family had moved from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Alexandra, Virginia and Kurt was “intrigued” with the theatre department at his new school. He dabbled in both acting and tech work and, as he puts it, “generally fell in love with it.” He didn’t yet know if he wanted to be on stage but he knew that theatre was a great antidote to being the new kid at a new school. When his family moved to Turkey when Kurt was in the 10thgrade, he cemented his relationship with theatre and experienced it on a deeper level. He attended a tiny international school with “barely any theatre department.” Anyone who was involved in theatre had to do it all. It was all hands on deck; there could be no hesitancy to get on stage or refusal to do tech. The theatre teacher, Mr. Huber, was “a light at the school,” Kurt says. He also has the distinction of being the first person to introduce Kurt to the musical Rent. He played a cast recording of the musical that was just then hitting the theatre landscape back in New York, and Kurt experienced theatre on a whole new level.
“As a young, queer kid who had come out here and there to some friends, but not to the world,” Kurt says, Rentwas transformative. It was the first time Kurt heard “queer characters engaging with real issues in ways that were interesting and captivating.” Kurt threw himself into theatre, entering theatre competitions and deciding to major in theatre at college. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he quickly discovered that, as he puts it, “I actually didn’t have all that much on stage talent.” His sense of his own theatre abilities had been skewed by being a big fish in a very small pond. “Once I was surrounded by people who had actual talent in singing and acting,” he says, “I realized this is not for me.” He remembers the realization being painful in the moment but he did not linger on it for long. He got involved in other things and continued to enjoy theatre in different ways, like working on house management and attending shows. A friend of his told him that it was always great to have him in the audience because he brought such great energy. And it was then that Kurt had an epiphany: he didn’t have to be on stage to be a great member of the theatre community.
The summer following his freshman year of college, Kurt took his first of many trips to New York City to see shows. He had never seen professional theatre before. “It blew my world open,” he says. He saw Renttwice. “I knew the show inside and out at the point,” he says, but seeing it on stage was an entirely different experience. “There is only so much you can get from listening to a show.” He also saw Cabaret, starring Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson, and that night he watched the Tony’s in a friend’s apartment and the very production and performers he had seen just a few hours earlier took home a bunch of awards. Kurt was hooked.
On subsequent trips Kurt saw more transformative theatre, including Hedwig and the Angry Inch. “Rentwas about an amazing collection of queer and diverse characters,” he says, “while Hedwig was a deep dive into one amazing queer character.” He says both shows pushed the paradigm for him of what theatre could be. “The way that theatre can shine a light on difference, especially sexual orientation and gender identity,” Kurs says, “was not happening in the mainstream at the time.”
Kurt ended up dropping out of college to sort through some personal issues, including figuring out what it was he wanted to get out of college. He got a job with a travel company in North Carolina and transferred to New York City the following year. He moved to NYC on September 8, 2001, just a few days before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. He saw Batboy, the Musicalthe weekend he moved to the city (having seen the quirky off-Broadway show the previous summer on a trip to New York) and became a groupie. “After 9/11, it became both an escape and a community,” Kurt says. It was his first time seeing a show multiple times and finding a friend group within the cluster of fans who shared his passion for it.
He ended up leaving New York and ultimately returned to finish his degree (in linguistics and anthropology) at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008, graduating in 2010. Kurt went abroad for a year of research and then moved to Philadelphia for graduate school in Higher Education. Once he began working in Philadelphia and had job stability and a regular income, he started popping up to New York City regularly to see shows. “That is when it got a little nuts,” Kurt says. His long-term goal was to return to New York but he got some sound advice on that front. When he was interviewing for jobs after graduate school, he was told to pursue positions outside of the city early in his career. “The advice was that I should come back when I could comfortably live here and enjoy it,” Kurt says. “I took that to heart.”
In February, 2019, Kurt did just that. He moved back to New York City and serves as the Director of Global Awards (Fellowships Advising) at New York University. Since moving back to the city in mid-February, he has seen 118 shows. He has discovered several different ways to see reasonably priced shows, including entering lotteries for deeply discounted tickets (he has won over a dozen lotteries since moving to the city), catching shows during previews, and purchasing reduced-priced tickets through TDF, the Theatre Development Fund. “It is rare for me to pay more than $40 to see a show,” Kurt says.
Not everything is amazing theatre. “I have seen some really random stuff,” Kurt says. “Some of it is amazing and some of it is absolutely wretched.” But he says there is nothing he loves more than “being able to support artists who are making art.” Theatre is always a nice escape for him, and there have been times in his life when it was much more than that. “Even if it is a shitty show,” Kurt says. “I would always rather there be art being made than not. Going to theatre is my way of supporting that.” He also tries to do his part by helping build an audience, writing mini reviews and posting them on the Showscore website (that he describes as Yelp for theatre).
The paradox of being such an avid audience member is that it is often a solitary experience. “It is fun and rewarding to see so many shows,” Kurt says, “but at the same time, I also want to be a more active member of the community.” He says that he is still trying to figure out exactly what his long-term relationship with theatre will be. He is toying with volunteering with an upstart theatre company or nonprofits like Equity Fights Aids or Broadway Cares. He no longer has any interest in being onstage but he is eager to give back to the theatre community – that has given him so much over the years – in other ways. And he will keep being the enthusiastic audience member that he has always been.
I applaud Kurt’s approach to making sure what brings him so much joy and meaning remains a part of his life. Whether it is theatre or another passion, it is great to be able to carve out the time and space for the things that matter so much to us and are often the threads connecting disparate times and life experiences. I also think it is such a good life skill to be able to accept the different form things we enjoy can take. Kurt realized he wasn’t cut out for a career on the stage, but that didn’t mean that the stage could no longer be a part of his life. Here’s to many more playbills in your future, Kurt… and if my daughters’ names are listed in them, all the better!