Thursday, September 16th 2021   |

TU theater chair lights up about Shakespeare Festival

By KAREN LOZINSKI, Exclusive to the CCJN

Marty Sachs’ office in McWilliams Hall on Tulane University’s verdant campus is like those of so many creative academics: a small box crowded into a suite with the other tight boxes of his colleagues ringed around a central reception area. It’s a situation familiar to many students, teachers, and professional academics—doing your work in a space that might be allocated to a walk-in closet in a suburban home—but Sachs’ office is altogether homey, welcoming, and comfortable. In fact, most people call him Marty.


Martin Sachs, chairman of Tulane University’s Department of Theatre, and Dance and renowned lighting designer in his own right. (Photo by Karen Lozinski)

Sachs himself, though chair of the Department of Theater and Dance and professor of Lighting Design, Sound, and Theatrical Photography at Tulane, is affable and down-to-earth. He’s also the artistic director of the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, which mounted three plays this summer: Cymbeline, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Incarnate.

Last summer the short program of mostly Shakespearean works held at Tulane was noted  by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust as one of several American Shakespeare companies “continuing the work of the Bard,” according to Sachs. The trust now lists the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival on the trust’s Shakespeare on the Road site as part of its partnership with the University of Warwick.

The festival is in its 22nd year, and Sachs is proud to note that internationally known Shakespeare specialist Rob Clare directed its headlining production, Cymbeline. Without casting aspersions on the festival’s other two productions, Sachs envisions a future with two Shakespeare plays presented to fest-goers.

When asked about the selection process of works for the festival, Sachs notes that the winter remounting of the festival’s main play always influences their choice. Some 5400 students from 74 schools attended the seven performances this past January, from schools as far away as Pensacola. The needs of those students and their education, along with what plays haven’t yet been mounted, are always considerations when selection time rolls around.Shakespeare’s “problem plays” are not out of the question for the festival either, though to date, the only work that fits that designation that’s been featured is Measure for Measure. The festival hasn’t touched on the history plays either, though Sachs hopes to change that in the coming years.

Tulane’s Shakespeare Festival is also in talks with The NOLA Project ( about future collaborations. According to the NOLA Project’s website, it “is an ensemble-driven theatre company that strives to challenge, entertain, and engage diverse New Orleans audiences through high-quality and innovative performances of relevant great works, the development and production of new plays, and comprehensive educational opportunities for aspiring theatre artists.”

During his undergraduate years, Sachs started out as a biochemistry major, who got into theater fortuitously.

He auditioned for plays and was cast, but always in peripheral roles, which he claims sent a particular message about what his potential future might have been on the stage itself. He decided to study stagecraft, which he so vastly enjoyed that he became extremely proficient. This led to his life-long passion for theatrical lighting. He’s also done sound and scenic construction during his career, but it’s lighting where he has shown his forte. He’s designed lighting in various theaters across the city and country, and is the recipient of four Big Easy Theatre Awards for Lighting Design.

Sachs states the script is the roadmap when it comes to lighting design, and the overall concept of any production is developed in concert with the director and other designers, creating a visual text for the audience that includes scenery, costumes, props, oral text, and sound. All that must then be lit.

“As I tell my students, there is a term for theater without lighting. It’s called radio,” said Sachs, with a laugh.

Lighting integrates the work of the set and costume designers, and the task of the lighting designer is not only that integration, but to deploy his or her aesthetic that makes everything work as a visual package. That’s the fun and the challenge of the profession, because each job potentially comes with a different director, theater, production, set, and costumes.

“You create magic for living…we create illusion, and they pay us to do it. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Sachs reveals.

Naturally, Sachs has words of guidance for anyone considering going into theater and prospective theater students:

“I try to make it abundantly clear to my students how difficult a profession this is to crack. You don’t go into it for the money—you do it because something drives you to do it. You can’t do anything else—it fulfills you intellectually and creatively. And that’s what I look for in my students—that fire.”

Despite the profession’s pitfalls and hazards, Sachs views the training and education that theater students get as one that ultimately expands horizons.

“Theater prepares you for anything. The nature of what we do is collaborative, so you have to work well with others. You have to be creative, and be incredibly good at time management and juggling multiple projects. So if you can do all that, plus come in at or under budget, you can do anything.”

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