Martha Enson ’84
Kevin Joyce ’86
by Sara Bodnar '03
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 75, No. 1, Fall 2003
When most people's workdays are starting to wind down, Martha Enson '84 and her husband Kevin Joyce '86 are just warming up. Five nights a week Martha and Kevin direct the Seattle-based circus dinner theater group Teatro ZinZanni. At four p.m. they arrive at a tent that can seat 300 people, rehearse for an hour with a medley of characters that range from a Russian hand-balancer to a German diva, give director's notes, and let in the audience. Twenty scenes, six acts and five courses later, Martha and Kevin stand before the crowds and take a bow.
Martha's and Kevin's careers both revolve around theater. The duo began working as directors and performers for Teatro ZinZanni three years ago, but their commitment to the stage goes back to the evolution of their own theater company, UMO Ensemble. The company moved from Northampton, Massachusetts, to Seattle in 1989, and since then Martha and Kevin have never looked back. While working with UMO the couple dove into a vast array of new artistic territory, which eventually led them to their current positions with Teatro ZinZanni. "Kevin and I both like delving into terrains we don't know very well, and doing and learning skills that are new," said Martha.
Martha and Kevin's involvement with Teatro ZinZanni requires a myriad of skills that include everything from acrobatics to improvisation. One of Kevin's original roles was Le Chef, an eccentric chef who harbors a passion for food and art. "It gave me license to do all sorts of funny things," said Kevin. "It's essentially an improvisational comedy role. I have a scripted character that I do in segments, but then I get members of the audience up, and whatever happens with them is whatever happens with them." In the fall, Martha will be playing Rosie, an audacious kitchen's assistant who does an aerial act on a circus rope descending 23 feet from the tent's ceiling. "As I turn 40, I'm doing the most physical work that I've ever done," said Martha. "I love it; it makes me really happy."
Martha and Kevin are the first performers in the group to also be hired as full-time directors. They generate the show's plot with the rest of the directing team and incorporate each performer's act into the circus. One of their recent tasks involved the integration of three acrobats who will be joining the group in a month. "As much as possible, the show remains the same from one cast to another," Kevin said. "We try not to have a complete cast turnover at any one time. We have a template for the show, and the new performers fit in."
Of course, working with a circus group has its hair-raising moments. Kevin remembers a mishap that involved a trapeze performer and a magic trick gone awry. "One night the Russian magician Maitre D was doing the bit where he pretends to hypnotize the trapeze performer and then lights him on fire," recalled Kevin. "Only that night the magician used a little too much fuel and the trapeze performer decided to wear a different shirt without telling anyone." The eventabruptly ended when the fire began to burn the trapeze artist and he fell off the table and onto the ground. The performer eventually jumped up and the show went on, but that night is still
ingrained within Kevin's memory. "It was one of those moments where everything is suddenly happening in slow motion and you can't really believe your eyes," he said.
Martha and Kevin's theatrical endeavors also encompass other projects. Martha still performs with UMO Ensemble, and has helped create and direct the company's shows "Caravan of Dreams" and "Cities." Kevin is no longer with UMO, and has since produced an award winning musical show called "A Pale and Lovely Place." While the couple has different jobs with separate companies, Martha and Kevin still feel one of the best elements of working on the stage is being able to work with each other. "We work incredibly well together, so we get to have that build all the time," said Martha. "The more we work together, the better we get at it."