UMD is her day job, but Martin loves directing plays
Kathryn A. Martin appeared to be in her element during a recent rehearsal for "A Year with Frog and Toad." Moving slightly to the music, a content but focused look on her face, Martin watched closely as five students sang and did a soft-shoe danc...
Kathryn A. Martin appeared to be in her element during a recent rehearsal for "A Year with Frog and Toad."
Moving slightly to the music, a content but focused look on her face, Martin watched closely as five students sang and did a soft-shoe dance with belly cushions strapped around their middles.
The University of Minnesota Duluth chancellor is directing the children's musical that kicks off the second annual Sieur Du Luth Summer Arts Festival. The play opens Wednesday in the Marshall Performing Arts Center.
Directing children's theater is on a different plane than leading a large, growing university, but it's a task she relishes equally.
"I love the creative process," said Martin, who has a master's degree in theater and a doctoral degree in education. "It's a fun experience to start on a taped-off floor in the makeup room and then move to the stage and put the pieces together."
Martin, known for a fundraising talent that has allowed UMD to expand greatly in recent years, has a lifelong love of theater. It has led her to direct as many shows as her busy job as chancellor will allow. She last directed UMD theater professor Tom Isbell's "Secret of the Talking Bird" in 2004, and in the past has designed study guides for theater and written reviews of children's theater work.
It's hard to get her schedule organized, "and the people that suffer are the play cast," she said. "There are things I have to do here."
But the month of June has allowed Martin to delve into her passion. She directs 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. rehearsals, fitting in her "day job" when she can.
"The hardest thing for me today with directing is having to shift gears from being in the chancellor's office and ... putting out brush fires, then going over there and having to shift mentally to a frog being on an island with a toad coming in on a log and falling off," she said.
Working with Martin has been fun, said sophomore Andy Rakerd, who plays Toad.
"It's been really exciting and different just because she's not actually with the theater department," he said.
And the intimidation factor of working with someone who holds a position such as Martin's doesn't appear to be present.
"Just because she's the chancellor doesn't mean she's not a person," said senior Tom Benson, who plays Frog. "We look for someone who is respectful and knows what they're doing. She does."
"The kids just want a good show," Martin said. "Theater is an equalizer. You're there to do your part. Itdoesn't matter who I am. If I'm not doing it right they're going to tell me."
Rebecca Katz Harwood, an assistant professor of dance and musical theater at UMD, is the production's choreographer. Her vision and Martin's have been on the same wavelength, making the process easier, she said.
"She's very open and very approachable," Katz Harwood said. "Sometimes it's those of us on the other side with difficulty getting beyond, 'she's the chancellor.' She has no sense of pretense about it."
Martin is pleased to be spending time with students.
"They think of me in the context of whatever they've most recently heard," she said, adding that this allows some students to get to know her.
Directing also allows her to "get a sense of how good they are," she said.
With alumni working in the show business industry in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, along with the department's numerous prestigious awards, it's easy to stack UMD theater among the best, Martin said.
"I'll bet you we are in the top 10 programs in the country," she said.
Martin's biggest concern about the show is pleasing its pint-sized audience. The much-loved Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel has some serious fans, who likely have memorized entire books.
"Some of the lines aren't going to be the same," she said. "Are we doing what we're doing well enough that it's not going to disrupt them or upset them?"
Rakerd and Benson think their antics and the beautiful themes of friendship woven throughout the show will be more than enough to satisfy audiences.
Acting for children "really allows you to be crazy and just act like a cartoon," Rakerd said. "You're playing animals. The sky is the limit."
Usually a nervous opening night kind of person, Martin said she's less so for this production because of the abilities of her cast and crew.
"We're just plowing through it," she said.
JANA HOLLINGSWORTH covers higher education. She can be reached at (218) 279-5501 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .