Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
Steppenwolf Theatre Company hosted a warm and heartfelt public memorial celebrating the remarkable life and legacy of ensemble member and former artistic director Martha Lavey, who passed earlier this year at the age of 60. On October 9, more than 500 ensemble members, friends, family, co-workers, and collaborators gathered in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre to share in a two hour tribute to the legendary Chicago cultural leader with stories, song, laughter and tears, hosted by current Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro and Executive Director David Schmitz. More than 500 people also tuned into the live stream of the event.
In addition to the hosts, the evening included speeches honoring the many ways that Martha Lavey touched the lives around her personally as a sister, aunt, friend and collaborator, and publicly as a cultural and community leader, mentor and advocate of the arts and artists. Speakers included ensemble members Amy Morton, Bruce Norris,Yasen Peyankov, Molly Regan (sharing the words of ensemble member Austin Pendleton) along with Jenny Avery, Doug Brown, Ben Cameron, Curt Columbus, Nora Daley, Michele Dragisity, Evan Hatfield, Bruce Sagan, Jessica Thebus and Andy White. The event also included musical performances by the All Nations Worship Assembly Chicago Ensemble, Suzi Petri and ensemble member Jim True-Frost. A retrospective video looking back on Lavey’s life and legacy was provided by HMS Video.
The following morning, the stretch of Halsted Street in front of Steppenwolf Theatre was renamed “Martha Lavey Way” in an honorary ceremony. Steppenwolf ensemble, employees and public gathered at the corner of Willow St. and Halsted St. at 11 a.m. for the sign unveiling with remarks by Steppenwolf Executive Director David Schmitz and Alderman Michele Smith.
The honorary street renaming ordinance was submitted by Alderman Michele Smith of the 43rd Ward and granted by the City Council. Two honorary “Martha Lavey Way” signs have been installed—one at the northwest corner of North Halsted Street and West North Avenue, pointing north, and the other sign will be located at the southwest corner of North Halsted and West Willow Street, pointing south.
Martha Lavey joined the Steppenwolf ensemble in 1993 and served as Artistic Director from 1995 to 2015. Under her transformative leadership, Steppenwolf became a national leader in producing new plays and commissioning playwrights, doubled the size of its ensemble and diversified its base of artists, added two performance spaces, expanded and deepened its partnerships in public schools and the community, created Steppenwolf for Young Adults, and instituted a platform for engaging audiences after every performance. She oversaw the production of hundreds of plays and transferred dozens of Steppenwolf productions to Broadway and abroad, gaining national and international recognition for the company and Chicago as a vital theater destination.
Steppenwolf Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro and Executive Director David Schmitz (photo by Michael Brosilow).