Spotlight on...Marilet Martinez

Marilet Martinez

Marilet Martinez was born and raised in San Francisco’s Mission District. She grew up in a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, bilingual family of artists helmed by some amazing female role models who are forces of nature! She is an avid SF Giants and 49er fan, a massage therapist, a vegetarian, a childcare giver, a pretty good cook, and she also believes that she received James Brown’s ACL during her replacement surgery in 2006 that coincided with the week of his death. Marilet has worked with a variety of theatres that include Teatrovision, Woman’s Will, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Cal Shakes, Crowded Fire, African American Shakespeare Company, Brava Theater for Women, Shadowlight Theatre, and many more. She is a company member at The Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco and Impact Theatre in Berkeley. She is an actor, mover, puppeteer, fight choreographer and combatant, improvisor, and supporter of the arts. She is a member of the “Yeah I Said Feminist Theatre Salon” and is also a founding member of the Bay Area Latino Theatre Artists Network (BALTAN).

How did you come to work in arts education?

I’ve always been interested in how theatre and performance can affect an audience to take action. I felt the potential of theatre as a tool for social change and education when I was studying at the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts. Many of my mentors engaged me in work that was socially conscious, political, and educational. I decided then that was the kind of theatre I was interested in creating. My first job after PCPA was working for Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre Programs (where I still work part time). This combined my passion for theatre along with my passion for education. I toured schools doing plays about health for different age groups across Northern California. What I discovered and what still amazes me is that theatre speaks to young people in a way that engages their imaginations and critical thinking like nothing else that is marketed towards them. Along the way, I was very fortunate to meet friends and colleagues that were teaching artists who thought I would be good at it. Through these wonderful people and some persistence of my own, I became a teaching artist for Berkeley Rep, Word for Word, Stagewrite, Teatrovision, and a few other organizations. I continue to work in arts education because I believe, now more than ever, that young people need to engage in a process that can be challenging, expressive, fun, community building, creative, and in certain cases life-saving.

How do you personally define the role of a teaching artist?

I define a teaching artist as someone who uses their passion and skills as an artist to inspire and empower students to find their creative voice and expression. A teaching artist is part teacher, mentor, collaborator, designer, director, hustler, improvisor, friend, problem solver, organizer, juggler of schedules/classrooms/students, part counselor, cheerleader, whip cracker, tear wiper, shoe tie-er, class clown, and purveyor of general madness and revelry! A teaching artist is courageous, optimistic, tenacious, and unrelenting.

When you walk into a classroom, what’s the first thing that you do to break the ice with the students?

When I meet a new group of students, I tend to play a game that gets us goofy and silly such as, Pass the Face, Sound Ball, or Pop! Funny faces and ridiculous sounds lead to laughter, which can lead to community and connection fairly quickly. I tell the students that there is no right way to play the game—making mistakes is not only expected but welcomed and celebrated in my classroom. Students often fear getting it wrong or messing up, so I emphasis that we learn the most when we “fail.” I tell them even though I’m the “teacher,” I am a student alongside them. I also stress that their voices and questions matter and are required in order for us all to learn from each other.

At the end of each workshop, what do you hope students will walk away with?

I hope the students are left with a sense of empowerment. Whether that’s to create theatre, visual art, dance, or even something as simple as speaking a little louder or contributing to group discussions. I want them to know that their self-expression is worthy of being listened to and looked at. I find this particularly important for my students of color and my female students. I also want them to be inspired to experiment with what kind of expression speaks to them.

Tell us an example of one moment where you witnessed a great impact within a student in the classroom.

One of my recent experiences was with a very outspoken student who really liked to play the theatre games, but opted out of being in the class performance. When I asked him why, he simply said he didn’t really want to…it wasn’t his thing. I told him that was fine, but if he changed his mind at any time, he was welcome to join. Every workshop, he would run up to me when I arrived to greet me with a hug and ask if he could stand next to me in the circle. After the games, the class would move into working on the play, but while we did this, he would sit at his desk and draw pictures. He drew fantastic pictures of fairies with elaborate wings and stylish hairdos. As the weeks went on, I really wanted to see if I could get him to actively participate in some facet of the play. I asked if he could draw a poster to advertise the play. He quickly said yes and was beyond excited. During the second to last rehearsal, I asked him, “Do you want to sit next to me to —.” He cut me off and finished, “to be on book and do the clapping cues?” I realized in that moment that he really wanted to be a director or a leader of some kind, so of course I said, “Yes! That’s exactly what I want you to help me with.” He ended up doing a wonderful job on performance day! I also noticed that this created a different relationship with some of his classmates who didn’t typically interact much with him. His peers encouraged him and supported him in such a way that his teacher said she had never seen before!