Some parting words from longtime theater producer Beth Marshall

Marshall is leaving Orlando after nearly 30 years of amplifying local talent

Dame Beth Marshall leaves Orlando's stage.
Dame Beth Marshall leaves Orlando's stage. photo by Rob Bartlett

Will the last artist to leave Orlando please turn out the lights? In what's increasingly becoming a depressing trend, Orlando's creative community will soon suffer another significant loss when longtime theater producer Beth Marshall and her husband, Chris Foster, depart Central Florida for the Colorado mountains. Like her recently relocated friend Tod Kimbro (whose musical My Illustrious Wasteland was an early Beth Marshall presentation), she's headed west, and after nearly 30 years here, Marshall leaves behind a legacy far too long to list.

From her performances with Impacte Productions and Temenos Ensemble Theater to her tenure as Orlando Fringe's producing artistic director during its move to Loch Haven Park, and through her work on the annual Play in a Day and her "Trayvon Martin Project" series, Marshall's biggest impact has perhaps been in amplifying developing talents — such as Arius West, whose recent solo show at ArtSpace was her local producing swan song.

Part of why Orlando Weekly named "Dame" Beth Marshall one of the people we love (in the 2017 "People We Love" issue) is because she's never been at a loss for words. So I'll step aside and simply excerpt some parting advice from our recent exit interview over crudités and hummus at Stardust Video and Coffee:

In 1995, I came to visit a couple of friends who had just moved here. While here, I decided that I would go audition at the then-Civic Theatre, and I got cast in two shows. The first was A Christmas Carol and I was playing the charwoman; Alan Bruun was the director and Chad Lewis was the assistant director ... so that's where that's where it started. I have really good memories of everything at the Civic.

Back then, I remember being out on the lawn in Loch Haven with Chad Lewis, going, "I would love to have a festival here some day." When I first went to Fringe as a patron in '96, [Marshall's son] Darth was a baby. So I did not get to see tons of things, but I saw great children's theater, and I was like, "Oh my god, this is the kind of thing I would like my son to be exposed to."

The narrative of my Fringe story really begins when Heritage Square was where the beer tent was downtown, and Terry [Olson] had some kind of crisis that he had to go deal with, and he was running the beer tent and dealing with the festival. He's like, "Can you watch this for me?" We'd just met, I have never poured a beer in my life, and I do not even know what I'm doing. So my first introduction really was Terry in a crisis, and me going, "OK, I'll help."

After Fringe I made an early decision to do two things [as an independent producer] that really made all the difference, I think. One was that I wasn't going to go nonprofit, and that is a massive decision, and it was not an easy decision. That, and not having a physical plant — having a building — because what happens is: people, project or paycheck has to suffer. My deal always was going to be that I'm not going to deal with a building; that's not where the money is going to go, and I have no desire to be a landlord.

I only produced what I thought I could afford. I never said "I'm gonna have six to eight shows every season." I might have four shows, I might have eight shows. They might be one-off kind of things, smaller pop-up things, or they might be a big thing.

What I have been good at doing is, I'm good at asking people for money. And the reason I'm good at it is because I will just go, "here's my product." I have not created a body of work that always sells out. I've not pandered. I've created work that I've tried to keep quality balanced, [and] if you buy into that kind of boutique theater style, then I'm the artist for you.

I've always paid my staff well. I pay for loyalty. The longer you stay with me, the more money you're gonna make.

Honestly, I've never been one to obsess about money. There is a saying [about] "progress over perfection" and it is something I constantly work on. But quality still matters to me; I'm still old school in that regard. As much as I want to not be a "show must go on" kind of person, I know in my heart, I'm still a "show must go on" kind of person. This is not a good way to be, I'll be honest about it, and it's probably my kryptonite.

There's plenty of reasons to stay here. There are some great people here and inarguably, we have talent here ... so anybody who's creating art here, I would say, keep fighting. I mean, you can't stay here and not fight the fight. If you're going to stay here you have to fight it. If you get to the point that your well is not full enough to be able to fight it, you have to find a way to leave.

You've got to fight the fight, and you've got to donate the money. You've got to get out there and let your voice be heard. You've got to create art that matters, even if it's if it's not making you the most money, to try to change minds.

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