Photo by Kevin Laibson
Marta Rainer ’98 describes herself as a “peripatetic, poly-directional Polish-American theatre artist.” When she’s not traveling the world doing one-woman shows, she can be found teaching in Wellesley’s theatre department and writing program.
Why are you drawn to doing solo shows, like Unaccustomed to My Name?
I’m not interested particularly in the cattle call auditions, and I’m not interested particularly in other people determining my career path. I would really like to try to make something, and then from that thing discover what the next thing is. … So I did start writing solo theater, which I started to tour all over the world. And I think a lot of the career opportunities I’ve had came from just that first project of saying, “OK, well, I’m going to invest some time in this and some money in this, and some creative capital in this.” People saw me at festivals. People then invited me to come elsewhere. Nora Hussey [director of the Wellesley College Theatre] was constantly shilling me to theaters around. Bless her heart, my guardian angel. She introduced me to a lot of people, and she brought me [to teach at Wellesley].
The students in your class on women in American comedy have an unusual midterm—they’re each doing a four-minute standup set. How do you prepare them for that?
We have been looking at different standups, improvisers, storytellers, and solo performers, and breaking down styles, thinking about what’s effective, thinking about the audience. What does the audience need to hear? Thinking about what your voice is. What do you want to say? What are you angry about? What are you excited about? What have you noticed that you’re not sure if anybody else noticed? … They’re on the cusp of discovering that thinking about [performing] is worse than doing it.
What advice do you have for students (or alumnae) who are interested in a career in theater?
Create community. Read a lot. Keep filling your cup with things that inspire you. And try to show up for things, because sometimes the hardest thing is walking in the room and being present to the people that you want to play with. And I’m increasingly introverted as I get older, so it’s good for me to reiterate these things to myself.