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Ensemble Member Martel Manning
Ensemble Member

MARTEL MANNING is an Ensemble Member at The Gift Theatre.

He earned a B.A. in Theatre Arts from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.F.A from the University of Houston Professional Actor Training Program. Upon completion of both degrees, he spent a year at Milwaukee Repertory Theater participating in their Artistic Internship Program, which is now known as the Emerging Professional Residency. Martel is an east coast transplant and the eldest of his six brothers. He does his best to live as an example to the little ones that came after him.

I am a product of the barbershop. My dad has been a barber for years, and before that we were always in the shop together for hours, even if our haircuts only took 20 minutes. A huge part of barbershop culture is storytelling. True stories, fake stories, it doesn’t matter. What truly matters in the shop is, can you tell your story well and captivate your audience. I have seen grown men invent stories on the spot that no one in the shop truly believed happened. But the love and care taken to craft these invented stories was what ultimately held a group of rowdy people’s attention. My dad and I stayed for the stories that everyone would tell. Always with a splash of embellishment, but that was just part of the entertainment. Here, I learned that not only is listening to a great story fun, but TELLING a great story can feed you in ways beyond the extra plate that I sneak into the car at Thanksgiving. At the shop, I watched a bunch of grown men lie to each other (and they all knew they were lying) about where they’ve gone and who was there. But no one cared! They were in it for the journey. And that is what brought me to the stage and why I can’t quite quit it. The love and tender care that I have watched my father take to invent the story of his first- chair barber embarrassing himself in leather pants and rollerskates has been some of the best theatre I have ever seen. Because he was in tears laughing at his own lie. His own invented story. And every time I step onstage, I am fortunate enough to get the chance to chase that same white horse that he caught in that moment and share it with someone else.

“There is a lot of gatekeeping in the art world, so my career sort of started from spite.” Martel’s first acting teacher told him he wouldn’t make it as a professional actor, and he took it as a challenge. He hustled for years determined to carve out a place for himself onstage. After booking roles that took him from the East Coast, South Texas, California, and eventually Chicago (with a few more odd places in between) he realized the reason that he would stay onstage is because of the connection storytelling builds between performers as well as the audience. “I was determined to claim my space onstage. Now that’s evolved. This is a job where my eccentricities help me to connect with my community.”

In addition to performing, Martel has been an actor educator with The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, touring the west coast performing Romeo and Juliet and teaching grade schoolers that the gap between fine arts and our modern world “ain’t that big”. He has taught at the college level at the University of Houston, and served as a vocal and text coach for Midsommer Flight outdoor Shakespeare theatre in Chicago. Martel is also a freelance acting coach around Chicago.

Offstage, Martel is an inkwash and watercolor artist with a focus on portraits and figures. Both of these art forms are unforgiving which is what drew Martel to them in the first place. He enjoys having a creative outlet that isn’t strictly ephemeral like performing onstage. Between art on paper and art on stage, Martel has found a way to make works that can relate to other folks that have been told there isn’t a space for them.

Credits with The Gift include: Grapes of Wrath, Richard III, Hang Man, Hamlet, Cosmologies, Kentucky, and The Pillowman. With The Gift he has also performed and made his directorial debut in TEN, written and performed for giftLIT., and was a guest artist for Michael Patrick Thornton’s improv show You & Me. Other notable theatre credits include: Still Dance the Stars (New Light Theatre in NYC); Miss Buncle’s Book (Lifeline Theatre); Cymbeline (Strawdog Theatre); A Christmas Carol (Milwaukee Repertory Theatre).