by Satsu Holmes
I sat down to chat with actor David Kortemeier on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, just prior to his final rehearsal for The Gentleman from Indiana. Kortemeier is humorous and thoughtful, and he shared generously of his insights and experiences over the course of half an hour.
A seasoned actor, Kortemeier began working as a freelance professional fifteen years ago. Like most performing artists, his path to success—defined by this writer as steady work on good contracts—was unique. Kortemeier has an undergraduate degree in Speech from IU South Bend, and an MFA in Acting from the University of Louisville.
“I graduated in ’89 with my graduate degree, and I’ve not done anything but theatre since, either teaching or acting. So that’s a wonderful, I did the right thing kind of achievement.”
Indeed, it was the opportunity for an MFA in Acting that spurred Kortemeier to finish his undergraduate degree.
“I was a voice performance major to start out, and realized that that wasn’t quite it. So, my senior year I left the college I was at, got married, and basically had several different bread-and-butter jobs while I was doing musical theatre; I started in musical theatre. And then I realized that, as I was getting better contracts, the musical theatre folks kind of knew what they were doing in terms of acting. I thought, I need to get more training if I’m going to continue. Then I discovered that with the MFA I could teach college if I wished; and by that time we had a small family. So, that’s when I went back. I went back to IU South Bend, and I was working in the radio at the time, so I’d do two classes a semester for about three years, and I finally finished. The reason I did Speech was, I was intending to finish in Theatre, but like most places, if you take one theatre class, you’ve gotta put hours in backstage. I couldn’t do that; I had a family and I was working, so I thought, ‘Um, okay, Speech’ – and that’s exactly how I decided! And I’m glad I did, because when I started teaching in college, there was a need to teach some speech, too.”
Kortemeier worked in academia for a while, but something was missing. “My financial situation was set, and I thought, ‘You know what? I never had a shot at acting alone. I want to take a shot at it just to see.’ And bless my wife for supporting this. I remember those first auditions, riding the train into Chicago, going to these big auditions and just saying to myself, ‘Who do you think you are? You irresponsible, leaving this tenure track’ – all these voices, right? And I heard it, and I felt it, and it was not a happy experience, but I persevered anyway because it was my shot. I just wanted a shot at it.“
Fifteen years later, Kortemeier is a full-time actor. This season marks his third consecutive year at Indiana Festival Theatre. He appears as Duke Frederick in As You Like It, and Judge Briscoe in The Gentleman from Indiana. When asked what keeps bringing him back to IFT, Kortemeier is effusive: “Literally everything. Whenever I walk on this campus, I smile; it just lifts my spirits. The landscaping, the architecture is gorgeous. The living situation that they give us outside, Equity folks is terrific. The apartments are great. Everything is within walking distance; so the lifestyle here outside of the work is perfect, I’ve found.”
“And then the two directors, Jonathan [Michaelsen] and Dale [McFadden]. It’s wonderful because they’re very different in their approach, but they’re very good. I think that’s a wonderful thing about rep: you’re working in very different projects, very different [directing] styles probably. Both of these men are excellent [directors], but they’re also excellent people. The longer I’ve worked in my career, those are the things that draw me to a project: relationships. I’ve cultivated wonderful relationships here in the last three seasons, and I just look forward [to it] – I would be disappointed if I wasn’t asked back!” he laughs. “So I’ll have to deal with that when that happens.”
Working with students is a definite attraction for Kortemeier: “I taught acting for thirteen or fourteen years and I’ve always enjoyed teaching. I’ve discovered that this is another opportunity to teach. It’s not about hey, look, students, this is the way to do it; no. It’s an opportunity to be in the trenches with the students, working out the story, seeing each other’s process. Probably, to tell you the truth, it’s the best way to teach. I think the way to learn theatre is to do theatre. So to be able to work with students in this setting is very special to me. The students here have always been so lovely and so open and eager to learn. These are the things that draw me to this place; it’s become a very special gig for me.”
He concludes, “Actually, because of my yearly schedule, the amount of weeks that this project [lasts] is actually perfect; that’s kind of the icing on the cake. If it were any longer, it would be difficult for me to do it; it’s kind of a perfect summer stint for me.”
See David in William Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT and James Still’s adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s THE GENTLEMAN FROM INDIANA through July 25th!
Satsu Holmes is a graduate of IU’s Department of Theatre, Drama, & Contemporary Dance. Following the summer season, she will be headed to France for more exciting adventures!