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Meet Marti Maraden: Director of Pride and Prejudice

February 20, 2013

In the early stages of what has turned out to be a long and distinguished career, Marti Maraden came to rely on something besides her own considerable talent and formal training. She would not have become a shining light in Canadian theatre without assistance from her mentors, fellow artists who illuminated the path by caring enough to teach what they themselves had learned.

“I really did appreciate it at the time,” she says. “I like to think I paid my dues. But I couldn’t have done it without the generosity of others.”Marti Maraden

Now that she herself is in a position to share, Maraden has embraced the role of mentor and is performing it not so much as an obligation but as a labor of love. Nowhere is that more evident, perhaps, than in the staging of Globe Theatre’s Pride And Prejudice, a production whose cast of 16 men and women runs the gamut from newcomers to veterans.

“One generation to another,” she ways. “We learn from each other.”

Mentorship is not the central theme in the rehearsal hall these days, but, undeniably, it is a strong subtext, one which Maraden not only welcomes but encourages. “As a director, if you think you can do it by yourself, you’re very wrong,” she says.

Maraden has invited the experienced actors and designers in the group to be proactive. “I’ve told them, ‘Please, do not hesitate to lend a hand.’ I’m not asking them to do my job for me. I’m asking them to share their knowledge.”

Whereas some directors choose a “high-concept, director-centered” approach, Maraden long ago decided she would be “an actor’s director, a playwright’s director,” and has remained loyal to her principles.

The fact that Maraden is a director at all, she “blames” on one Nicholas Pennell, a close friend and colleague (now deceased) from her years at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, for it was Pennell who invited her to spend the off-season (winter) months with a small group of like-minded individuals who travelled in Canada and the United States conducting seminars on the history of acting and acting technique.

“The purpose,” she says, “was to share the knowledge we gained at Stratford with other actors.”

At that point in her career, Maraden was self-conscious about instructing others. With Pennell’s guidance, however, she gained confidence.

“At first, I thought ‘Who am I to teach?’ Nicholas would reassure me. ‘Marti, you know more than they do.’ If that was the case, if it was true, I wanted to share,” she says.

In those days, the late 1970s, young actors were continuously being integrated into the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, as they are today. There was no shortage of mentors, and the roster read like an encyclopedia, a veritable Who’s Who.

Pennell was there, of course, but also Martha Henry, William Hutt, Pat Galloway, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Brian Bedford, Douglas Rain, Mervyn (Butch) Blake, Barry McGregor, Andrea Martin, fencing master Paddy Crean, and directors such as John Hirsch and Robin Phillips …

“Wonderful,” Maraden says. “I was the luckiest actress in the world. To be invited to Stratford, and to work with people of that caliber, even at the time, I was aware it was a gift, but I’m even more grateful for it now, if that’s possible.”

Maraden had leading roles in Twelfth Night, Measure For Measure, The Tempest, Hamlet, and King Lear (with Peter Ustinov) among many other Shakespeare plays. She also performed in works by Arthur Miller (The Crucible), Oscar Wilde (The Importance Of Being Earnest), and Anton Chekhov (The Three Sisters). Indeed, her co-stars in the latter were the aforementioned Martha Henry and Maggie Smith, who is currently enjoying a renewal in popularity with the Jane Austen-inspired television series Downton Abbey.

As well, Maraden has appeared at the Shaw Festival, in Niagara-On-The-Lake, and worked at regional theatres across Canada from the Prairies to the Maritimes. Following some independent stage work in New York and Los Angeles, in the 1980s, she returned to Stratford to direct productions that included Love’s Labors Lost, The Two Gentlemen Of Verona, Macbeth, The Merchant Of Venice, and also A Man For All Seasons and Alice Through The Looking Glass.

From 1997 through 2006, Maraden was artistic director of English theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and in 2007 she returned to Stratford to join Des McAnuff and Don Shipley on the artistic team that was appointed to succeed artistic director Richard Monette, her erstwhile acting colleague.

“In rare circumstances, shared leadership might work out, but sadly, it didn’t in this case,” says Maraden, who invested two years of her time and then withdrew from the artistic team.

Maraden continues to make her home in Stratford, and spends her summers “in the wilds of North Dakota,” on a farm that she and her brother and sister inherited from Norwegian great-grandparents. “I’m a prairie girl at heart,” she says with a smile.

Maraden was born in El Centro, California, where her father was stationed with the U.S. Marines, and grew up in Minneapolis. In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, she moved with her husband, Frank, to Vancouver.

Pride And Prejudice marks her second initiative on behalf of Globe Theatre. Maraden was in Regina last winter to direct The 39 Steps, a suspense thriller that was adapted for the stage from a movie that was made from a novel.

In this case, however, she is working with 16 actors, not four, and with only three weeks to prepare for opening night, “There’s very little time to just sit and talk a lot,” she says.

Taking what she calls a “piecemeal” approach, Maraden has divided the process into three parts. “We read and talk, then we stage it,” she says, “and after that we might revisit and talk a little more.”

Presumably, the actors will have read the Jane Austen novel, as part of their preparations, and of course Maraden herself is well versed in it, not to mention immersed in it. “I still get worked up about Pride And Prejudice and what’s going to happen,” she says, and she is certainly not alone in that respect.

“The great artists, the literary geniuses, they lived at different times,” she says, “but what they do share in common is, they have the ability to make us recognize ourselves.”

The operative word is: humanity.

Pride And Prejudice contains all the things that humans do, and have always done, and will always do,” Maraden says. “It’s also very funny. The follies of human behavior.”

Pride and Prejudice runs from March 6 – 24, 2013. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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