An Appreciation of Marti Maraden

by Lynn on September 9, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Marti Maraden: Photo by Ann Baggley

Marti Maraden was an oasis of calm. Soft-spoken, impish-grinning, gentle-hugging. No matter the aggravations you had in your day—difficult people, disappointments, challenges—Marti would meet you at her front door with a smile and a hug and the aggravation would slip away.

Her house was not only pristine and neat, it exuded warmth and calm, like its owner. Light poured in through the curtains.  The house was filled with mementos, pictures of family and friends, books (lots of Shakespeare), a piano, all perfectly placed. (It made me want to tidy when I got home, such was Marti’s effect). There were pots of flowers and herbs on the back deck. There was always tea, cookies and conversation. Marti listened intently, offering carefully thought-out comments and advice. I never heard her raise her voice on stage or in person. And it speaks to her effect on people, that I doubt anyone would be loud in her presence.

She was an extraordinary actress, director, artistic director, mentor and cherished friend. She could charm the most obstreperous and prickly people and win them over. They would be friends for life.  

In one of the many, many tributes about Marti, Ric Waugh said, “She was softness and light with a spine of steel.” All three descriptors were present in her wonderful work as an actress and director. I was fortunate over the years to see so much of her work in both capacities: an ethereal Juliet, a luminous Ophelia and Irina, this last in the legendary production of Three Sisters with Maggie Smith and Martha Henry. Marti did stunning work at the Shaw Festival. And on and on.

Marti’s was a career of ‘firsts’. Marti became one of a very few women (Diana Leblanc, Martha Henry) making a living as a director. She was the first ever, and still only, woman Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival.  

When Marti began directing she found a new way to blossom. This is when her ‘spine of steel’ came in. She dug deep into every production to realize the playwright’s intention. She faced the challenges of each production head on. She directed probably the best production of The Merchant of Venice I have ever seen, with Douglas Rain as Shylock and Susan Coyne as Portia. It shimmered with dignity, heartache and when you least expected it, compassion.

I gladly drove to Ottawa to see her productions when she became Artistic Director of English Theatre of the National Arts Centre (1997-2006). I was particularly impressed with her production of After the Orchard by Jason Sherman—a reworking of The Cherry Orchard transplanted to Ontario, where a Jewish family debates what to do with a cherished family cottage. If ever there was a play I want to see again, it’s this one, all because of Marti’s sensitive direction.

I gladly went to Chicago when she directed for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Marti directed several productions for Drayton Entertainment. Sweet and challenging productions such as On Golden Pond, Driving Miss Daisy and The Odd Couple. Then she blew us away with the angry muscularity of A Few Good Men and Twelve Angry Men.

It’s important that actors and theatre creators respect the director. In Marti’s case, they also adored her. From all the tributes that have poured in from actors and colleagues. it’s clear they would all swim through oceans of gore rather than disappoint her if they didn’t give 110% to the work.

Marti and I had a ‘short-hand’ routine. As many of you may know, I give out Tootsie Pops to theatre creators to say ‘thank you for making the theatre so special for me.’ After one of her openings, I would approach Marti, ‘Tootsie’ firmly in hand. She would approach me, smiling, eying the Tootsie, her eyes gleaming and say, “Do I deserve one of these?” and then just as firmly pull it out of my hand, laughing.

Marti took ill while visiting family in Sweden. She was taken to hospital where she had surgery. Marti was intensely private. The small group of friends responsible for providing information about her situation was aware and respectful of that. A site was established to provide information. The last notice, announced the unthinkable:

“Our beloved Marti died early this morning (August 31). After her surgery, she developed organ failure and intensive care efforts were not successful. She didn’t regain consciousness. Her cousin has said: ‘She had a calm last night and slept until the end. We will always remember Marti with joy and lots of good times together.’

With her bright smile and twinkling eyes, Marti has made each of us feel special and treasured. Please reach out to each other to share support and love as we all face this profound loss of Marti.” That last line says everything about her effect on us all. We carry it forward.

But I’m still heartbroken at the loss of this glorious friend.

All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust. – J.M.Barrie, Peter Pan


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Scott McKowen September 9, 2023 at 2:41 pm

Thank you for the beautiful tribute.

Not only was Marti the first ever female Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival but to this day remains the ONLY one…!

We are still in shock here in Stratford.


2 Lynn September 9, 2023 at 2:57 pm

Thank you, Scott. You’re right. I fixed it.
Best, Lynn


3 mary Kerr September 9, 2023 at 4:01 pm

ah …such a beautiful remembrance and sharing for a great woman. artist and your dear friend. Thank you Lynn


4 Lynn September 9, 2023 at 4:26 pm

Thanks Mary. We’re losing too many of our heroes, aren’t we?


5 Toni Ellwand September 9, 2023 at 9:46 pm

Such a lovely tribute to an incredible artist.


6 Lynn September 9, 2023 at 10:26 pm

Thanks so much Toni. Yes, Marti was an incredible artist and we were lucky to see so much of that artistry.


7 Kelly Monaghan September 10, 2023 at 9:43 am

Thank you so much for posting this.
I was in awe of her abilities. Canadian theatre is immeasurably poorer for her loss.


8 Lynn September 10, 2023 at 1:40 pm

Thanks Kelly. Sad times.


9 Harold Povilaitis September 10, 2023 at 1:49 pm

Thank you SO MUCH, Lynn, for posting this beautiful tribute to Marti Maraden.

I share your admiration for her amazing Stratford production of “The Merchant Of Venice” … such a sensitive and balanced production !

Her recent Drayton productions of “Twelve Angry Men” and “A Few Good Men” continued to prove what a remarkable director she was … and I had been looking forward to her planned Drayton production of “Mary’s Wedding” this November.

We have truly lost a very special artist !


10 Lynn September 10, 2023 at 2:37 pm

Thanks Harold. She was special.


11 Joe Szekeres September 15, 2023 at 10:30 am

What a beautiful tribute for an extraordinary individual. I do remember seeing her work on stage at Stratford. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Lynn. A hug to you for the loss of your dear friend, Marti.


12 Lynn September 15, 2023 at 12:40 pm

Thanks Joe. She was a giant in the theatre and in our lives.