He creates stages for emerging local performers to shine
Job Title: Founder, Artistic Director, Grindstone Theatre Society
When you’re a producer, writer, actor, improviser, singer, dancer and close-up magician (and a good cook, we assume) — but you’re also the founder and artistic director of the non-profit arts society putting on all kinds of shows, musicals and festivals — you’re the person who gets the call when things go wrong. And Byron Martin has always been that person.
Growing up with TV-producing and directing dad and set-designing mom, doing it all in a performative setting was just how you do it, to Martin. He still struggled, like any young actor, to get stage time. But he soon made his own stage for performers just like him.
“The people who ran the Varscona were looking for new ideas for a show. And I had seen an improvised musical in Edinburgh [Scotland], so I was like, you guys should do that. And they said, ‘OK, you do it.” So Martin “tricked” some his actor friends into doing what’s become Grindstone Theatre’s The 11 O’clock Number: The Improvised Musical, now in its 12th season.
“I didn’t really mean to start a theatre company, but we needed a name,” Martin admits. Today — with musicals like Jason Kenney’s Hot Boy Summer, improv and comedy performances and classes, subsidized space for artists to independently produce comedy shows, open mics and karaoke (there’s also a bistro, in case you missed it) — Martin’s unintentional theatre company is now fully established in a theatre-crazed town.
But no matter how it may grow, the spirit was set in those early, improvisational days. “Part of the beauty we were able to create with The 11 O’clock Number is a place for us to cut our teeth. And it’s the approach I try with everything — to be like, let’s suck at this, and give ourselves space to suck at it, and keep doing it. Because eventually, you’re not going to anymore. And that’s what you have to do to start your own thing.”