Martha Lavey, Feburary 1957 - April 2017
Martha Lavey became a Steppenwolf ensemble member 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. During her tenure, Steppenwolf was awarded the National Medal of the Arts, the only theater to ever receive the honor, as well as the Illinois Arts Legend Award, Equity Special Award and nine of the company’s 12 Tony Awards. Lavey catapulted Steppenwolf to the forefront of new play development and production with a robust commissioning program that cultivates ongoing creative relationships with some of the most compelling playwrights today. Lavey oversaw the conception of and programming for the Garage Theater, an intimate space in 1998 that provided an additional platform for outside companies, new works and audience engagement. Several programs were established during her tenure, including Steppenwolf for Young Adults, an innovative and influential program for teens and their families; The School at Steppenwolf, an acclaimed training residency based in ensemble traditions; The Professional Leadership program for emerging arts managers and designers; The First Look Rep of New Work for plays in development; and the Garage Rep, presenting Chicago’s vibrant Off-Loop theater companies, among others. Lavey was named one of the ‘100 Most Powerful People’ by Chicago Magazine twice, was selected as one of the city's ‘10 Most Powerful Women in the Arts’ by the Chicago Sun-Times and was awarded the title of ‘2010 Chicagoan of the Year’ by the Chicago Tribune. Lavey and former Steppenwolf Executive Director David Hawkanson were recipients of the 2015 ‘Citizen Advocate Award’ presented by the Arts Alliance Illinois for their extraordinary contributions to the arts locally and nationally. In May 2016 she received an honor from the City of Chicago for her two decades of service as artistic director.
While leading one of the most acclaimed theater companies in the world, Lavey also performed in more than 30 Steppenwolf productions including The March, Middletown, Endgame, Up, Good Boys and True, Love-Lies-Bleeding, Lost Land, I Never Sang for My Father, The Memory of Water, Supple in Combat, Time of My Life, A Clockwork Orange, Talking Heads, SLAVS!, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Love Letters, and Aunt Dan and Lemon. Elsewhere in Chicago she performed at the Goodman, Victory Gardens, Northlight and Remains theaters and in New York at the Women’s Project and Productions.
Martha Lavey served a Board President for the Theatre Communications Group from 2009 – 2011. She served on grants panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, The Theatre Communications Group, Three Arts Club, USA Artists and the City Arts panel of Chicago. She earned a doctorate in Performance Studies from Northwestern University and was a member of the National Advisory Council for the School of Communication at Northwestern University. She was a recipient of the Sarah Siddons Award, an Alumni Merit Award and an Honorary Doctorate from Northwestern University.
Martha Lavey passed away on April 25, 2017 due to complications from a stroke. Faithful friends, audience members, donors, staff, artists, mentees, members of the Steppenwolf family and the national theatre community were all indelibly impacted by Martha's passion, commitment, vision and unmatched intellect. She will be dearly missed. Services for Martha were held in May 2017 in her parent’s home of Vienna, Virginia.
If you have a memory or a thought about Martha, please share your story with us. Comments will be collected and shared with Martha's family and the community.
Watch & Listen
Credits & Awards
Goodman, Victory Gardens, Northlight and Remains Theatres.
Sarah Siddons Award; Alumni Merit Award from Northwestern University.
"Polly Carl in Conversation with Martha Lavey"
"Martha Lavey, a Leading Lady of Chicago Theater, Dies at 60"
- The New York Times
"Martha Lavey, Fearless Leader"
- American Theatre Magazine
"How Did We Love Martha? Let Us Count the Ways"
- American Theatre Magazine
- A Clockwork Orange
- A Conversation with Frank Galati and E.L. Doctorow
- Aunt Dan And Lemon
- Citizens of the World
- Cross-Town Traffic
- Cross-Town Traffic
- Don Delillo
- Dream Chicago
- Exit The King (at Hull House)
- Ghost in the Machine
- Good Boys and True
- I Never Sang For My Father
- I Sing America
- Lost Land
- Love Letters
- Our Town
- Poets And Actors
- Rosencrantz And Guildenstern are Dead
- Stories on Stage: Fever Dreams
- Supple In Combat
- Symphony Space's Selected Shorts
- Talking Heads
- Tavern Story
- The Designated Mourner
- The House Of Lily
- The Infidel
- The March
- The Memory Of Water
- The Way West
- Time Of My Life
- Tribute To Allen Ginsberg
- Will the Circle Be Unbroken?