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Steppenwolf Artistic Director to Speak at Northwestern

By Jacob Nelson

During her tenure as Steppenwolf’s artistic director, Martha Lavey has overseen the production of hundreds of plays, many of which have transferred to Broadway. She’s also seen Chicago grow into a destination for aspiring theater professionals.

“There is nationwide regard for Chicago as a fertile ground for actors,” Lavey said during a phone interview on Tuesday. “Chicago has that reputation as being a sophisticated place with a down to earth, blue collar sensibility.”

Lavey will be speaking about her career and leadership experience at the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises’ upcoming speaker series event on Jan. 7. Under Lavey’s leadership, Steppenwolf has been awarded the National Medal of the Arts, the Illinois Arts Legend Award, and nine of the company’s 12 Tony Awards. During that time, Lavey says she hasn’t found that there is any one way to become a successful performer. Many performers who audition for Steppenwolf come from undergraduate training backgrounds or from graduate programs or classes.

“Classes are a good way to get plugged in and how to find an agent,” Lavey said. Getting plugged into the scene is important, according to Lavey, especially as Chicago’s theater scene continues to grow and more opportunities open up. “Here in Chicago the pool has grown,” Lavey said. “The theatre scene in Chicago has just flourished.”

Pointing to storefront theaters in addition to the larger ones like Steppenwolf, Lavey said there are many opportunities for aspiring theater professionals in Chicago. These opportunities include pathways toward non-acting positions as well. Though Lavey began as an actor for Steppenwolf before becoming its artistic director in ’95, she explained that Steppenwolf now offers apprenticeships in a variety of areas, including stage management, development, and marketing. These apprenticeships are not only ways to get exposure and an invaluable education – it could also lead to a job. “We hire internally, always apprentices first,” Lavey said.

“We always looks to that pool of people when we’re hiring first at the entry level.” When it comes to acting, however, training will only go so far. What Lavey says that what she looks for more than anything else is truthfulness and authenticity. “An actor’s job is to try to know him or herself and be truthful in that representation,” Lavey said. “It’s human behavior that’s captivating to us and that’s what we look for in actors.”

Lavey’s presentation will be held in Frances Searle Building Room 1-421, located at 2240 Campus Drive in Evanston, on at 5 p.m. on Jan. 7. RSVP here.