Courtney Surmanek


I’m invested in the use of the arts for healing, reflection, and connection. Storytelling connects us beyond perceived boundaries, and is a centuries-old method for sharing our concerns, and for belonging in community. With everything I do (theater-making, facilitating, and teaching), I want to leave people feeling more whole, inspired, and connected than when they arrived.

In this moment, I’m committed to exploring how theater and creative connection can help our communities heal from the pandemic and the injustices and challenges it magnified. How is it that we can come together as a group, to find and remember our human (& non-human) connections? What is the possibility for larger, transformative change, based on our most fundamental connections? 

With reflective acuity and zany passion, my work spans theater-making (directing, devising, and performing), cultural organizing, and oral history. Whether I’m making theater, writing, teaching, or consulting, I’m invested in the use of the arts and creative play to support people in knowing themselves better and living in the world more fully. I explore these questions through everything I do: Who are we as people? What do we stand for? How do we want to be remembered? 

As a facilitator, I collaborate and co-design with community partners and people around collectively-defined aspirations, challenges or visions. I value intergenerational collaborations, and fiercely believe in the power of art making and creative play as tools for making policy, planning efforts, and other fuzzy topics more accessible. My favorite rooms are the ones full of people who love to hijack process and don’t get along. I relish the challenge of creating democratic space to host complex conversations and move groups towards consensus, evaluation, or reflection.

I'm currently an Instructor with the Center for Communicating Science and School of Performing Arts at Virginia Tech, where I introduce students of all majors to creative techniques of deep listening, interpersonal dialogue, devised performance,  call-and-response, and oral history to engage the perspectives of their peers. The course incites rich reflection on the power of narrative and the ethics of storytelling. As a collaborating artist with The Clinic Performance, I develop one-on-one creative experiences designed to support health care professionals in feeling seen, heard, and cared for amidst the increased impacts of compassion fatigue and moral injury during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a collaborating artist with Ping Chong + Company, I develop documentary theater projects, adapting memoir (real people’s stories) into collectively weaved performances rooted in cross-cultural connection.

Photo Credits (1) Whitney Brown Photography, (2) Lee Wexler