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The Kurners: Carlsbad’s royal family of acting

CARLSBAD — The Kurners are rapidly distinguishing themselves as a royal family of acting, much like the Barrymores before them.
Kristianne Kurner is executive artistic director of the award-winning New Village Arts Theatre. She founded the theater in 2001 with former husband Francis Gercke who is currently associate artistic director of the Cygnet Theatre in San Diego. Kristianne also teaches the “Study of Filmed Plays” and runs the Actors Academy at MiraCosta College.
Kristianne’s mother, Laura Kurner, also an actor, manages the new Art Foundry. It is a complex of artist studios with public access in the New Village Arts Theater building, which is owned by the city of Carlsbad.
“My mom is one of the most important advocates for artists in Carlsbad,” Kristianne says. “New Village Arts Theater is a catalyst for artists in the village. We’re also producing the best theater in San Diego.”
Kristianne’s son Jonah Gercke, 11, has already made a name for himself, garnering rave reviews for his performance in “Distracted” at MiraCosta College, a role Kristianne explains he was cast in on his own merit.
The matriarch of the family is Louise Crane, who turned 100 on July 10. After graduating from the drama department at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon), Crane worked for Universal Producing Co. where she traveled from town to town via train, producing plays for small community theaters during the Great Depression.
“I’d arrive with a trunk of costumes and props and spend two weeks teaching locals how to memorize their lines,” she said. “I also sold tickets.” Afterward, Crane packed up, boarded a train and moved on to the next town. She also worked in community theater in Wilmington, N. C. and Chattanooga, Tenn., and hosted a popular radio show in Miami.
Crane began fostering an appreciation for the theater in young Laura when she took her to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. Later Laura and her husband, Dave, served on the board of nearby Orange Park Community Theater and acted as well. Laura also served as director.
Kristianne is carrying on what has become a family tradition of community theater, even though she could have achieved success on a larger stage.
After graduating from William and Mary College, Kristianne was in the first graduating class of the prestigious masters program at the Actor’s Studio, The New School University in New York.
“Norman Mailer said, “She’s the best thing I’ve seen in New York — and I was sober,” beams Laura.
Actor’s Studio host James Lipton predicted that Kristianne’s career would “skyrocket.”

“And ‘she’ skyrocketed here to Carlsbad where she wanted to be,” Kristianne says laughing. “I always wanted to run a community theater. I lived in Hollywood but it didn’t agree with my soul.”
This month Kristianne’s sister, Susanna, who is an actor and classically-trained opera singer, is relocating to Carlsbad from the East Coast so she can join her family on stage.
“Next year will be our 10th season,” Kristianne said. “It will be a celebratory year.”
Currently, the comedy “The SantaLand Diaries” is playing through Dec. 23. Written by the great American humorist David Sedaris, the play follows one out of work actor who decides to become a Macy’s elf to pay the holiday bills.
The New Village Arts Theater is located at 2787 State Street. Call (760) 433-3245 or visit for more information.