RICKY J. MARTINEZ HONORED AT CEREMONY
By Cecelia Bellomy
Ricky J. Martinez, Cuban-American playwright, director, and choreographer from Miami, Florida, was awarded this year’s Margo Jones Award during the 30th Anniversary Season at the New Theatre where he serves as Artistic Director. In the program for the Theatre’s most recent production, his original play Roof!, Martinez’s Artistic Director’s note describes this momentous anniversary season as having the theme of “survival of the determined,” featuring five playwrights, including himself, who have “persisted writing—artists believing their work on stage is integral to their growth and the growth of our young city.”
The persistence of Ricky J. Martinez is finally being recognized. He was awarded this year’s Margo Jones Award, presented by The Ohio State University Libraries’ Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute. This award honors those who have demonstrated a significant impact, understanding, and affirmation of the craft of playwriting, and who have encouraged the living theatre everywhere. Martinez was presented with the award at a ceremony which took place at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, the regular performance space for the New Theatre, on April 30th.
The ceremony saw a large turnout of Ricky’s teachers, students, and Miami theatre folk, including many of Ricky’s collaborators from the New Theatre and elsewhere. Speakers included Carol Cadby, a 30-year theatre educator who teaches at George Mason University, Signature Theatre, Synetic Theatre, The D.C. Theatre Lab Conservatory, Arlington Public Schools, and was Martinez’s former teacher; and William “Bill” Schwartz, professional actor and New Theatre favorite. The award was presented by Damon Jaggars, Vice Provost and Director of The Ohio State University Libraries, and members of the Margo Jones Medal committee—Nena Couch, Beth Kattelman, Mary Tarantino, Deborah Robison representing the Jerome Lawrence family, and Jonathan Barlow Lee representing the Robert E. Lee family. Also in attendance were Neila Lee and Jenny Lee.
An award-winning director, Martinez has been invited to direct for the MFA Playwrights’ Workshop at the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival, and Stanford University’s National Center for New Plays; James Madison University and the Forbes Center; Words A-Fire Festival in New Mexico; Ignition Fest at Victory Gardens, and others, in addition to his direction for New Theatre. Martinez’s risk-taking and collaboration with playwrights on more than 50 world premiere plays has proved more than successful. Many of the works have gone on to become Pulitzer Prize finalists and winners and ATCA’s Steinberg finalists and winners, among other prestigious awards, and many of the works have been preserved for the American theatre through publication. Nationally, Martinez has stayed an active champion for new works, participating on the Executive Committee for the National New Play Network (NNPN); the Advisory Board of the Latino Theatre Commons; the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) panelist (seven years); Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation; National Fund for New Musicals; PlayPenn; and San Antonio’s Luminaria Festival.
As a playwright, Martinez has been mentored by Arthur Kopit and Tina Howe; is an NNPN playwright alumni, and has works being read and produced nationally and internationally. Martinez is an accomplished actor, dancer, choreographer, singer, song writer, musician, community leader and theatre activist. Recently, he has been empowering hometown artists, as well as audiences, with the celebrated Miami 1-Acts Festival that provides a platform for Miami-centric voices of the next generation of theatre makers to be heard. Martinez has worked tirelessly to encourage new and varied voices in the theatre internationally, nationally, and right in his hometown, but has garnered less personal acknowledgement than his work deserves. Perhaps it was New Theatre Board Chair Steve Eisenberg who best stated the significance of the ceremony: “I feel like tonight the universe is more balanced.”
The importance of the Margo Jones award was recognized by the Miami Dade County office of the Mayor and the Board of County Commissioners proclaiming April 30th, the day of the ceremony, “Ricky J. Martinez Day” in honor of his award and of his work in expanding Miami’s art landscape. This is the first time the Margo Jones Award has been the catalyst for a proclamation, and The Lawrence and Lee Institute is named multiple times in the document: “Whereas: Miami-Dade County is proud to echo the sentiments of the Ohio State University’s Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute as they honor this fine gentleman with this prestigious award.”
Ricky Martinez was “dynamic and gracious and tearful” during the ceremony, and his acceptance speech was exceptionally “moving,” said Beth Kattelman, member of the Medal committee and Curator of Theatre for the Theatre Research Institute. In his speech, Martinez addressed that question that many lovers and makers of theatre are asking today, Is theatre dying?
[making theatre is] very, very dangerous…but so are we…because we are alive…and theatre is made by living people. So the unwritten fact is theatre has never-was never dying! It’s in the moment, as we are; living!
In a world where new theatre faces the constant threat of being swallowed up by newer and more convenient medias, theatre makers with a clarity of vision and persistence like Martinez’ are an invaluable necessity.