(1917 - 2012)
Judith Martin is an innovator and creator of the Paper Bag
Players, a theatrical group that performs for children. She
pioneered a new form of children's theater.
Martin was born in Newark, New Jersey, in August,
1918, where she grew up and received her education.
Her grandparents were poor working class Russian-Jewish immigrants
and her parents were upper-middle class.
Martin would commute to New York City for dance and drama lessons while attending the Newark public schools. When she graduated
high school, she attended for two years the Neighborhood (Playhouse)
School Theater. Maria Ouspenskaya, a noted actress of stage and films,
taught her the Stanislavsky method of acting. Martin then enrolled in
the New Theater School where she studied under Larry Galpern. He
had studied the Russian method of dramatizing fairy tales with song,
dance and fantasy. Martin was able to capitalize on this method in the
development of the Paper Bag Players.
Martin became the director of the dance project of the National
Youth Administration in New York. She choreographed American
dances for them which toured for two years throughout the metropolitan New York City.
With Diana Merliss, a former classmate, they founded the New York
Theater for Children. The productions were based on the original stories written by Martin, such as "The Runaway Horse." The productions were very professional and well received, but a shortage of bookings, forced them to end their venture.
Her initial professional success was in dance. She had studied
modern dance with Martha Graham and then performed with many new
innovative dance companies, including the Anna Sokolow Dance Company. She joined the Merce Cunningham Company where Martin was
a choreographer, director and lead dancer.
Her career was interrupted in 1956 when she married Solomon
Miller, an anthropologist, who taught at Hofstra University. They left
New York to travel to Illinois and on an expedition to Peru.
In 1958, Martin and three women formed an experimental group
which became the Paper Bag Players. She was a major force in the
group as she directed, designed, wrote and acted in all productions. By
1965, everybody, except Martin, had left and others replaced them.
They toured schools and children's theaters with their performances
of dances, sketches and songs. Their fantasy coupled with animation
on the stage captivated the young audiences. Martin also interacted
the performers with the children by audience participation.
The Paper Bag Players used people of all sizes, ages, and physical
characteristics in the performances. They felt that children could more
easily identify with people who look and act normal. It was not unusual to have performers go into the audience to involve the children.
Their stories were about the life that surrounds the children. "Hot
Feet" deals with the problems and joys of urban living; "Dandelion" is
about the evolutionary theory in nature; "I Won't Take A Bath" is involved in children's fantasies; "Grandpa" depicts the life process of
growing, changing and growing old.
Judith Martin and the Paper Bag Players reflected the realities of
life designed to educate and entertain children through the fantasy and
the magic of the theater. She also brought to many children the only
theater that they will ever see.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism
included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996,
written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated
by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime
Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.