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TBA Online: News & Features: January 2014

Encore: Leslie Martinson

Wednesday, February 19, 2014  
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By Laura Brueckner



Being a successful theatre-maker is, in many ways, about 

stamina. Even so, Leslie Martinson's career is remarkable. Landing at TheatreWorks more than 25 years ago as a freelance assistant director, she’s now the company's associate artistic director. Meanwhile, she continues to direct shows...and did we mention she was one of the founders of Theatre Bay Area's ATLAS program?



Leslie Martinson. Photo: Mark Kitaoka

So, how did you get involved in theatre?

I've been in theatre my whole life—like, since third grade. I was Babe the Blue Ox in The Tale of Paul Bunyan. I wish I had a picture. I performed in shows that I wrote when I was in high school with my friends; I also started directing a little bit. I went to college in Southern California—Occidental College, like Barack Obama. By the time I got out of college, I was primarily a director.

When I graduated, I got a fellowship for a year of travel and study; I went to England and interviewed people doing group-devised work and politically oriented work. Then I came back to the Bay Area to do another nonprofit political education job for a year, and then came to work for TheatreWorks. I was the assistant director on a show when the office job became available [in 1984]. And I've been here ever since!

Things must have changed quite a bit since then!
I've grown up as TheatreWorks has grown up. When I started working here, there were about six of us in the Girl Scout house in Palo Alto. [Laughs.] Bit by bit, I've been able to focus solely on artistic  projects. In the beginning, I did the bulk mail and picked up the wine for opening night, and wrote the checks and all that. Now I’m associate artistic director, as of just a few months ago. I'm also the casting director. I'm involved with season selection...and I do a lot of producing work. Getting everybody on the same page so we all do our best work together.

How do you try to keep your own directing work moving forward?

By staying open to other forms. I try to be very eclectic in music that I listen to. I wish I went to museums more often than I manage, but I'm very interested in that. And travel, to be in other countries and look at things from other points of view. It just smacks you upside the head like nothing else—especially for Americans, I think.

What drew you to casting?
I think it's a good skill set for every director to have. It's a combination of some of the logistical skills that a stage manager has—scheduling, people handling, locations and materials—and a director's eye to the particular slant we're taking on a given piece, or what it's going to take to get an actor aimed in the right direction. I have a pretty good memory for people, too, so that helps. I come by it genetically; my mother remembers names of actors she worked with 40 years ago. And I like actors! I love seeing the variety of human behavior that they can bring to a role.

I hear you also helped invent the ATLAS program.

I've been involved with the TBA ATLAS program all along. I've been on various panels, and I do the selection, and...I came up with it, basically. [Laughs.] In the TSC [Theatre Services Committee], we were concerned that actors in the Bay Area were having trouble staying either in the field of acting or in the Bay Area, if they had an acting career. We thought, "Let's come up with a way to keep people in the field and in the Bay Area." And we were able to give people training on everything outside the art form: time management, stress management, long-range planning, networking and all the things it takes to cobble together a life in theatre.

With all of your responsibilities, how do you balance work with your needs as a human being?

Good friends are key. Good friends that’ll let you call them late at night. They know who they are. [Laughs.] I have a number of interests that don’t involve theatre and, in fact, don't involve other people. I do needlework, knitting, and a little bit of painting. I spend so much of my time building consensus, and working to get groups of people headed in the same direction. It gives me great joy to go home and put blue next to red and not have to consult with a soul.

What’s the best piece of advice you've ever gotten?
I took a directing workshop at Lincoln Center. Mark Brokaw was one of the guest speakers, and he was very clear about not being afraid to say you don't know, or to ask for more information or more conversation. I think that was something I knew, but that crystallized it for me. But in terms of advice that I'd give other people? Return every phone call and email you get asking you about work. Even if it’s just saying, "Thank you so much, I'm terribly busy.” Write good thank-you notes.

Photo: Leslie Martinson. Photographer: Mark Kitaoka