Theatre Professor Directs First Play Since Undergoing Liver Transplants

Joan Korte’s eyes light up with excitement when she describes the costuming for the upcoming production, Learned Ladies.

“Think cupcakes,” she says, describing the fluffy, colorful, period costumes for the Molière comedy set to open on Thursday, April 12.

Her colleagues in the Department of Theatre share her excitement, especially for this play. Learned Ladies is the first production Korte is directing since undergoing two liver transplants.

“I had mystery symptom after mystery symptom,” she said of her health during the two years prior to the transplants. “I was functionally sick meaning I was able to make it through work but that was about it.”

Doctors eventually determined that she needed a liver transplant. The diagnosis was hard for Korte to take given her workload: teaching, directing, recruiting, other campus commitments not to mention parenting a 15-year-old.

“I told myself I was going to have the transplant and be back to work in time for finals,” she said.

But complications delayed her plans.

A cousin proved to be a match and in March 2011 Korte receive a partial liver transplant. But her body rejected the liver and Korte was back on the waiting list.

“It was a major ordeal,” said theatre professor Jack Parkhurst. “She nearly died.”

Meanwhile, theatre colleagues and students pitched in. The Theatre Department hired Eric Little to guest direct and teach Korte’s classes. Theatre students took care of the department’s daily chores and even took turns caring for Korte’s dog, Henry.

“The students were absolutely amazing,” she said. “They not only helped me out here but they helped me with life in general.”

Korte’s second liver transplant came in April 2011. After a month in the hospital and another at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital where she regained mobility, Korte returned home for additional rest. School would resume just a few weeks later.

“There’s only so much TV you can watch,” she said. “I was ready to come back to work.”

On August 15, she was welcomed back with a loud applause from faculty and staff attending the academic year’s opening meeting.

And it was back to business as usual for Korte who served as production manager and acting coach for many of the year’s earlier theatre productions while teaching a full class load and traveling to five states to recruit potential theatre students.

She’s quick to admit that she needs to listen to her body.

“I need more sleep,” said Korte who now holds theatre rehearsals from 5 to 8 p.m. in order to keep late-night rehearsals to a minimum.

She’s enjoying life. Last month, for example, she traveled to England where she visited Stratford-upon-Avon and attended six plays. It was a spring break trip she intended to take with her theatre students two years ago in an effort to immerse them in Shakespeare’s birthplace.

“The bags were packed, I got to 84th and Havelock heading to the airport and said, ‘I can’t go,’” Korte recalled. “I was so sick.”

Her theatre students and colleagues flew to London. Korte waited for a liver transplant.

“The trip was fun,” Korte said of her recent trip to London. “We got to be theatre junkies.”

Now her focus is on Learned Ladies, a production that is also part of a theatre class. In addition to their lines, students learned about the play’s time period and wrote research papers.

“I’m excited,” said Korte. “My greatest joy is keeping up with our students.”

Learned Ladies will be performed April 12-14 and April 19-21 at 7:30 p.m. with matinee performances on April 15 and April 22 at 2 p.m. All shows will be held in Miller Theatre, 51st Street and Huntington Ave. Tickets can be reserved by calling 402.465.2384 or purchase them online.

Joan, you are amazing!

and the production was great fun and a wonderful production! Congrats! and Welcome Back!

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Theatre professor Joan Korte provides feedback to the cast of "Learned Ladies."
Joan Korte watches a rehearsal for "Learned Ladies," which is the first show she has directed since her liver transplants.