Judith Martin – 1918-2012

Judith Martin

Judith Martin, a leading figure in the field of children’s theater for over 50 years, died on Saturday, July 28, 2012. She was 93.

Judith Martin along with Shirley Kaplan, Sudie Bond and Remy Charlip co-founded The Paper Bag Players in 1958. Creativity was shared during the first years, but as the company developed, Judith Martin more and more shaped The Paper Bag Players identity. She wrote, designed, choreographed, directed and performed in 35 Paper Bag Players shows.

Artistic Director from 1963-2009, she developed a contemporary theater for children. The shows intimately reflected a child’s world. Each story taken from a child’s experience and unfolding in a theatrical environment made of the simplest of everyday objects: cardboard boxes, paper bags, and found household objects children recognize and in fact play with. Even the littlest of theatergoers felt a part of the action, thrilled to see their imaginations and fantasies so vividly reflected. In each show music, dance, painting, and contemporary stories combined in theatrical pieces that affirmed life’s endless possibility for fun, adventure and surprise. The shows that included HOT FEET, I WON’T TAKE A BATH, DANDELION, and WHEN MY COUSIN SLEPT OVER, enchanted young theatergoers and the work deeply influenced fellow artists.

Judith was born (1918) and raised in Newark New Jersey. After High School she studied dance and drama at the Neighborhood Playhouse and children’s theater at The New Theater School. She became interested in Modern Dance in the 1940s, studying with Martha Graham and dancing with the Merce Cunningham Company. In 1950, she formed the Judith Martin Dance Company. At this time she, also, taught dance and drama to children at Settlement Houses in New York City and New Jersey. In her working with children she began to experiment with improvisations and to develop her own understanding of what captures a child’s imagination and holds their interest. These classes lead her to ask four artists friend to join her in forming a theater company. That company became The Paper Bag Players.

The company began to rehearse in the basement floor of 187 East Broadway, a few years later they moved to the first floor of 185, the company remains there to this day. Judy and her husband, Solomon Miller, an anthropologist, and their daughter, Daisy, lived in an apartment two flights up from the studio. Her daughter, Daisy Miller, son-in-law, Seth Armus, and grandchildren Lilah and Benjamin Armus survive Judith. Her husband, the anthropologist, Solomon Miller, died in 2009.

The Paper Bag Players popularity grew by leaps and bounds. From performances on the Lower East Side at the Living Theater and the Henry Street Settlement, the company soon had toured to 37 states and to Canada, England, Scotland, Wales, Israel, Iran, Egypt, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. Theater Critcs, from Clive Barnes who called Ms. Martin, “a national treasure,” to Charles Marowitz who praised The Paper Bag Players ability to “reach children at their level of consciousness.” to The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo, Japan) that noted,” Far from reserved, the children spiritedly participated: singing, shouting, and taking part in all the action,” praised the company’s work. Awards included an OBIE for, “raising the level of children’s theater through intelligence and imagination,” The Sara Spencer Award and Jennie Heiden Award from the American Alliance for Theater and Education, three American Theater Wing Awards for, “sustained contributions to American Theater design,” a New York State Governor’s Artists Award, the Medallion from the Children’s Theatre Foundation and Nick Jr’s “Playful People Award.”

Judith Martin said about performing for children, “Ours is a lovely field to work in. It compels you to do something more basic, more fun-loving, more joyous. It is a great support to your imagination.”

The Paper Bag Players continues to create and tour, now under the Artistic Direction of Ted Brackett. Over 72,000 children in a 27-week tour that begins in November will see their new show, THE PAPER BAG PLAYERS SADDLES AND SUNSHINE.