BWW Interview: DANIEL MARTIN Gets Fancy
Many of the actors I have spotlighted during this summer have been people I know personally. Others have been people whose work I have admired, but did not know at all. Still others were people I have seen over and over as I review shows and wanted to give them the credit that character actors don't usually get.
My last interview is one I have been saving, because I have a connection to this actor/ director/ playwright even though I have never actually met him.
Daniel Martin has written several plays, but I have been most intrigued by Theatre Downtown's upcoming production MISS FANCY, which Daniel has written and directed. Our connection stems from the story of the Avondale elephant, Miss Fancy, and her legacy that contributed to the founding of the Birmingham Zoo, a place that played a large part in my childhood.
When I asked Daniel why someone his age would be interested in telling the story of MISS FANCY, he seemed to be a bit unsure himself. "I'm not sure why the idea struck me to start writing this piece. I guess it came from a lot of places. You know, with the whole Avondale "renaissance" (as it were) we are seeing a lot of marketing strategies aimed at famed characters of the area, and one of the first and most famous of those is Miss Fancy. Not only does Avondale Brewery have a beer named after her, she is their mascot. I spent a summer rehearsing Shakespeare in Avondale Park, and it has this magical, historical feel to it. I'm not sure how to explain it, but I began to wonder about the history of the park and in my curiosity stumbled across the story of Miss Fancy and her trainer Mr. Todd. Up until that moment I had always assumed one of two things: 1- Mr. Todd was a white gentleman, as depicted in one of the most famous photographs of Miss Fancy - a souvenir postcard. And that 2- the depiction of Mr. Todd on Avondale's beer named after him (once again, the dapper aristocratic gent of the 1920s.) was based on history. However, when I began delving further into this story I realized that this was in fact not only UNTRUE, but quite the opposite. And, I think it was around then that I realized there was a story that seems unheard by many people I've talked to about it. Also, as a playwright, I've been dying to do a piece that isn't based in some fantastical, farcical world (as my plays often tend to be) but about something local - a true story. I have been wanting to do a historical piece for some time, and so in the moment I first realized the truth behind the story of Miss Fancy, those two things sort of combined and clicked in my head and I realized that it was a story I needed to tell."
Daniel Martin graduated from UAB where he did quite a bit of playwriting. During his junior year he won several awards for his work, which led to an invitation to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC for the summer. "That was a really eye-opening experience for me. I was able to study with writers whose plays I'd poured myself over in college, and got some really good feedback and advice about my writing."
As Artistic Director of Theatre Downtown, Daniel has felt free to produce several of his plays and feels Birmingham enjoys seeing new works. Although Daniel feels as if some of his work has been commercial in nature and not what he calls "high art", audiences have responded well. In speaking about MISS FANCY, Daniel explained, "This is going to be very different from what most people have seen from me as a writer, and I can say I haven't written anything along this vein since my college days. So, needless to say I'm terribly excited and a little terrified as well."
I have been very curious to see how an elephant will be depicted on stage on the second floor of an antiques shop. Daniel shared, "I had no idea how difficult it would be to translate that story to the stage. How does one depict an elephant? There are plenty of ways, and most of them are chancy at best - even with a budget that Theatre Downtown could only dream of ever having. So, that has been my current struggle in writing this story. I think I've finally found an idea that I'm going to settle on. I've started about 15 drafts of this play, but this is the only one, when writing it, I can see it, it feels right, and I can hear it clearly in my head. That's usually the sign, to me, that I'm on to something."
I have seen Daniel Martin appear in several shows, seen plays he has written, know he is the artistic director of one of Birmingham's best theatres, and noticed him working behind the scenes in productions. It is surprising how young this talented and accomplished guy really is. After hearing his views on this latest creation, I can't wait to see what Daniel has come up with this time.
I already have my ticket to see the world premiere of MISS FANCY and I hope that my readers will also want to see this interesting, new work. MISS FANCY opens on September 15 and runs through October 1st. For more information about show times and to order tickets, go to www.theatredowntown.org or call 205-565-8838. Opening night includes a reception after the show.