APATA MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: MEET KURT GEYER
Posted by J Hampstead | Sep 22, 2021
Performing Arts Teacher for St Mary’s Parish Primary School Greensborough.
What’s the buzz with Mr G?
Born in Sydney, Performing Arts teacher Kurt Geyer grew up in Papua New Guinea, but with his theatre family firmly rooted in Victoria, that is the place he calls home.
How did you get into performing arts Mr G? Did you start out with music lessons?
No, though I’m sure that members of my family will say I always had a performative streak.
I was working at UVSFM, a community radio associated with the University of Western Australia. I just thought radio was the bees’ knees. Partly because in Papua New Guinea we had no access to television, so everything was through radio and Radio Australia.
We used to listen to so many radio dramas and I was a member of The Argonauts Club, a special club for kids throughout Australia. We were given names like Archimedes5. My world was very much about reading and listening to the radio.
It was a natural progression that I ended up at UVSFM.
When did you move to acting?
A friend of mine said to me one day, you know you should try and audition for the University of Western Australia’s Dramatic Society. I didn’t think I could get on stage in front of people, I was used to being behind a microphone, but he twisted my arm. I finally auditioned and I got a role.
The production was Nevill Coghill’s rather tawdry version of the Canterbury Tales. I was part of a tableau on stage with maybe thirty other young actors. I was a monk and there was a nun who’s gone on to become Artistic Director of Fruit Fly Circus, Anni Davey.
It was opening night and when the lights went on, I just had this feeling. Yes, there were thirty other people on stage, yes, I was part of a tableau, but everyone was looking at me, it was a moment of epiphany.
I would have been in my early twenties at that stage, and I did quite a few plays in quick succession after that before I was encouraged to apply to Victoria College of the Arts Drama School.
That was in ’86 and then I was out in the wide world as a jobbing actor. I’ve had a lovely career in terms of the experiences various things I’ve been able to do.
I did a lot of Shakespeare which I love. In fact, the very first production we did at St Mary’s where I’ve been teaching for the past twelve years, was A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Shakespeare and primary school students? How did that go?
I was new to teaching and I just said, I think we should do Shakespeare. There were some raised eyebrows, but I believed we could do it. I think that was probably the pinnacle of all the things I’ve done over the years.
It was terrifying because we had hired out the Rupert Hamer Hall, which was the Melbourne Concert Hall. Opening night, I had spent the day being the stage manager, the director and just trying to pull it all together sitting alongside the professional tech team who really knew their stuff.
Well, when the show finally started and we got underway, the lighting guy who had been a bit dismissive he said, hey, this is good and somewhere in the heart of me I thought it was good, but by the end of it I knew that we’d created something special.
It was so ephemeral, but I’d say it’s the best piece of work I’ve ever done. It was just wonderful, the engagement with the kids, the story. We did it in ‘Bardish’, without translating to modern, and we pre-recorded it because we knew that it would be too much on the night, and the kids mimed along.
Every show we’ve produced since has been an original work. I’ve been fostering the young playwrights in my school for the last 10 years at least getting them to write and perform their own pieces. That’s my schtick. I just love it.
I love, love helping young writers. That’s more important to me than the end product. It’s about the process and getting these writers inspired and fired up to make work.
Who have been your mentors throughout your journey Mr G?
During my high school years at Narrabeen Boys High School it was my librarian Marie O’Grady, who was just the most wonderful woman.
In my acting days it was June Jago, who was our Shakespearean teacher at VCA.
In my teaching career it was director, writer, and educator Kirsten von Bibra. She’s the one who introduced me to educating young people. Around 1999 Kirsten asked if I’d like to work with her on the Melbourne Theatre Company summer schools. That’s when I had my “aha” moment.
In my career, I’ve done lots of productions. Lots for no money or very little money, a few for a bit more money but I was nearing fifty and it seemed like a natural progression to move into teaching.
Throughout the ages, actors pass on to the next generation what they’ve learnt and what they know. They say ok, here is what we know, now do with it what you will.
What does your role entail at St Mary’s Parish Primary School?
I teach a little bit of everything. I teach dance, music and singing with our choir, a lot of drama, writing and a bit of media arts thrown in for good measure.
Every two years we perform a school show based on our inquiry. Rather than having different inquiries at each level and then stitching them all together to make a show, I’m moving towards the writers writing the entire thing with one big theme. I’m already dreaming about what we’ll do next year, of course it depends on where we are at with this virus.
I’m grateful that the school has provided me with that structure these last twelve years to deepen my experience as a teacher. They’ve given me the support I’ve needed. We specialists are a bit out on our own at times, which can be a bit lonely. We have a great team of specialists in science, visual arts and PE, our own little gang and we help each other out which is great.
You seem to be right where you need to be Mr G.
We must adapt to change. It’s crucial if we are going to get these kids through this experience. I don’t mean being overly optimistic because this isn’t a great situation. It’s about giving them a sense of hope.
Covid has given the industry a chance to transform and morph into something new and different.
What our online performance did for school spirit last year was just amazing. Initially there was some push back to which I said look, just buy in as much as you can. I worked with the kids, and they came up with everything from the choreography to writing the pieces.
[Reading through the St Mary’s Council AGM we were chuffed to find the Principal’s comments on the St Mary’s online performance that Mr G orchestrated.]
“I was so excited to watch and listen to all the acts for our School Performance: Lights Camera Science! I would like to take this opportunity to thank Kurt Geyer for his vision and for all of his work and the work of the teachers and especially our parents and students. A streamed performance was organised remotely requiring everyone to pitch in and support in whatever way was possible. Kurt Geyer (Performing Arts) and Tian (Videographer) received over 10,000 clips which needed to be edited and stitched together to make our wonderful performance. It was a huge success and a much needed joy in the thick of lockdown.”
Classroom teachers have a challenging job which is very curriculum driven. It is highly organised and perfectly finished. To make our show we just had to go with the process and the creative process is messy.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we don’t understand what it all means. This is the domain of the kids; this is their world and I’m a bit of a bridge to that world.
My agent once said to me, you’re a late bloomer. I was thinking about that recently and she was right. I am a late bloomer. I’ve bloomed in an area that’s still associated with acting and drama just in another field. I feel like I’ve come into my own in that sense.
Thank you, Kurt Geyer, we are honoured to have you in the APATA community. We can’t wait to see what you and the students of St Mary’s dream up for next year’s performance. Keep us posted!