Catching up with a grad: Reed Martin, SVHS ’78
A scene from “The Complete World of Sports (Abridged).”
When you’ve gotten everything you can out of UC Berkeley, clown college and circus life, what is a talented writer and performer to do next? If you’re Reed Marin, 1978 Sonoma Valley High School valedictorian, you co-direct the nationally-renowned Reduced Shakespeare Company and you move back and make Sonoma your home base.
Martin headed straight from Sonoma Valley High School to UC Berkeley and completed a double major in both political science and drama. Then he went to graduate school at UC San Diego where he got his MFA in acting. He took his first theater class at age 20, which he says was life-changing. Martin always knew he wasn’t headed for a desk job after college. “I certainly didn’t expect to become a playwright, although I’ve always been a writer,” he said. “I intended to study journalism at college but then I wandered into theater class and my life took a turn.”
Martin did a lot of soul-searching after finishing grad school. “I moved to New York City to be an actor, but New York at that time didn’t suit me. I found myself wondering how I was different from a million other people who wanted to be actors and I decided that what I had going for me was that I was funny.”
So he auditioned for Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Clown College to learn physical comedy. “I knew that comedians I admired, like Penn Jillette and Bill Irwin, had gone to clown college. When I graduated they offered me a job on the circus, so I took it. I spent two years touring to 84 cities across the USA and living on a train. It was a great experience. I played everywhere from Madison Square Garden and the New Orleans Superdome down to the Oklahoma State Fair.”
In 1989, Martin was asked to replace one of the founders of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, so he put both his comedy and classical training to use and has spent the past 20 years traveling the country with them. He cites Bill Irwin, Penn & Teller, Bugs Bunny, Monty Python, Spinal Tap and the Marx Brothers as some of his influences.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company has produced a total of eight shows now, including perhaps the best known – “The Complete History of America (abridged).” Martin has co-written all but one. Many theater companies have since followed their lead as comic reductions of classic works are quite popular now.
Martin has performed in London’s West End, at Lincoln Center Theater, Kennedy Center, Seattle Repertory Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, Pittsburgh Public Theater, California
Shakespeare Festival, McCarter Theatre, Long Wharf Theatre, Old Globe Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, The White House and Madison Square Garden, as well as in 11 foreign countries. The company’s tour schedule is exhausting just to read, with 11 shows set for March alone in such far flung locations as Connecticut, Vermont, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, followed by dates across the U.K. in early summer.
Martin’s performances as an actor in San Francisco productions include “Travesties” by Tom Stoppard and “The Government Inspector,” as well as at the Magic Theatre in Moving Right Along, written and directed by Elaine May and featuring Marlo Thomas.
Martin is also an accomplished writer, having written for the BBC, NPR, Britain’s Channel Four, RTE Ireland, Public Radio International, The Washington Post and Vogue magazine. He co-authored the book The Greatest Story Ever Sold, with Austin Tichenor, as well as Reduced Shakespeare: The Complete Guide For The Attention-Impaired (abridged). His many other talents include actor, singer, author and musician. Martin has also “appeared” on the big screen as his voice was heard in the animated feature film Balto and he appeared as Poco Hontas in the British film “Carry On Columbus.”
Up next for Martin? He just reduced the first five seasons of the TV show “Lost” for Sky TV in London and completed the new stage show, “The Complete World of Sports (abridged),” which premiered late last year and is headed to Sonoma on March 26. The Reduced Shakespeare Company will be performing “The Complete World of Sports (abridged)” in Great Britain for 11 weeks this summer, including a six-week run in London’s West End during the 2012 London Olympics. They’ll also tour the U.S. this spring, performing in Michigan, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Washington, California and Oklahoma. They are doing a benefit show at the Sebastiani Theater on March 26, with proceeds going to the Sonoma Valley High School Drama Department and the Sebastiani. And in addition to writing, directing, performing and producing stage shows, Martin is also on the theater faculty of both Santa Rosa Junior College and Napa Valley College, so he teaches several classes a year as well.
He feels tremendously fortunate to have found his true calling, and for that he gives thanks in part to his parents, “My mother and father always told us to try to find a profession that we loved, because we were going to be doing it for a very long time. That way you have a career rather than just a job.”
Martin lives with his wife and two sons, about whom he likes to say, all three are much funnier than he is. In his spare time, he is also a minor league baseball umpire. Making performing a family affair, Martin’s wife, Jane, is an accomplished actor herself and she now heads the drama department at Sonoma Valley High School.