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Photo of Howard Kurtz and his Colleagues

Howard Kurtz, professor of theater and head of the Theater Design Program, center, is retiring at the end of the year, but he remains busy mentoring students such as Alex Wade, left, and Amanda Jarvis.

Theater Professor Immerses Students in Real-World Work

Howard Kurtz, professor of design in Mason’s School of Theater, refuses to use the word “retirement” as he anticipates the end of his teaching career here in June 2018.

For a while, he wasn’t sure what term to use to describe leaving Mason, until a former theater student, Maggie Rodgers, put the whole thing into perspective for him, Kurtz says.

“She said, ‘Do you feel like a senior?’ I said, ‘I do.’ The idea of me being a college senior means I’m not done.”

So he now says he is “graduating” from Mason after 25 years. It’s a beginning, not an ending, says Kurtz, who in December will also leave the Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C., after 20 years. He and his husband, Howard Jaffe, both say they’re looking forward to returning to Kurtz’s native Pennsylvania.

Kurtz will continue to teach and mentor students, just as he helped Mason seniors Alex Wade and Amanda Jarvis gain real-world set design and costume design experience.

“I’ll always have a connection with this university, with the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the theater. There’s more out there, and I have to find it.”

Howard Kurtz

Both worked with him on the production of the comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at The Little Theatre of Alexandria.

“We had to basically figure out how to put a farmhouse together on a stage, on a community [theater] budget,” says Wade, a theater major with a technical and design concentration, who worked with Kurtz as an assistant set designer.

“Howard has a very artistic eye, but he wants other people’s opinions first. He gave me artistic freedom, which I really like because I’m just learning how to do this.”

“Mentoring is not someone telling you what to do — it’s communication,” Kurtz says.

Kurtz wants to take students beyond the university, so whenever he’s involved in a project, his students are there right along with him.

“I really want to immerse them,” he says. “If I have these connections, then why am I not sharing them with the students? You can’t keep telling a student to get a job—take them with you.”

His students’ success makes him proud. Kurtz says he recently got an email from a student saying, “Thank you for reminding me that I shouldn’t try to have a fishbowl when I can have an ocean.”