A LIFE IN THE THEATRE: Nicholas Martin, Pulled Off the Stage and into the Director's Chair

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17 Jun 2013

Nicholas Martin
Nicholas Martin
Photo by Walter McBride

"I like everything that happens in theatre," said director Nicholas Martin, "from the time you meet with your designers through opening night."

Martin, 74, was first an actor and later a director — Off-Broadway and on, as well as around the country — for more than half a century. He was artistic director of the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston and of the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Martin's Broadway credits as a director include Butley with Nathan Lane and Hedda Gabler with Kate Burton, a frequent collaborator. This season he directs Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike — which earned six Tony nominations, including for Best Play and Best Direction of a Play — now at Broadway's Golden Theatre.

Born in Brooklyn, Martin grew up in New Jersey. "I was one of those Jewish kids who was taken to plays from the time I could walk, probably. The first time I remember being electrified in the theatre was seeing Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam. From that moment on all I wanted to do was get out there and act."

He studied at Carnegie Mellon, where top students spent summers at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre performing Shakespeare — his first role, in 1957, was the Fool in King Lear. Later he met Ellis Rabb, a fellow Carnegie Mellon alumnus, who took him into the legendary APA-Phoenix Repertory Company. Martin made his Broadway debut, in 1966, in The School for Scandal.

"That was the most thrilling way to enter show business — the whole repertory thing, the extraordinary people involved. The company was founded by Rabb, Rosemary Harris and Richard Easton. We worked with Eva Le Gallienne, Helen Hayes [and] Uta Hagen."

After the company disbanded, "I did some work on Broadway, then spent the next ten years devoting myself to serious alcoholism." But "I got some help and sobered up."