Julia Grace

Langley doctor brings dark roles to life on community stages

A Langley actor takes on several roles in a Titanic production.

Langley’s Jay Martens is finding the new doctor-by-day, actor-by-night lifestyle to be “rich and fulfilling,” and he’s particularly keen to be taking on a few villainous and mischievous roles on and off the community theatre stage – of late.

“Perhaps it’s the cheekbones, or my deep voice, but I tend to get cast in more villainous roles, and this play is no exception,” Martens explained of his multiple roles in the Surrey Little Theatre’s (SLT’’s) rendition of The Last Lifeboat.

Tonight, Martens opens in the role of an entitled millionaire and womanizing Mr. Hearst, as well as a manipulative Senator Fletcher, and a few less pronounced characters in the Canadian premier of Luke Yankee’s play about the sinking of the Titanic.

“Playing evil or fallen characters isn’t too difficult, even though I strive to be just the opposite in my own life,” offered up the 42-year-old father.

“We’ve all experienced some darkness in our lives… we remember how we felt, what we did, who we hurt, who hurt us… I can tap into those emotions and help a darker character come to life,” he added. “There is truth to be discovered in seeing the human condition laid bare… lessons to be learned… situations to avoid etc.  I love the challenge of playing a good villain,” he said.

In fact, the juxtaposition of Martens’ life to that of the characters he’s been asked to play has actually helped him grow both as a man, a father, and a physician.

Interestingly enough, he said, he’s found that his artistic side has helped him become an effective doctor.

“At least, I think I am,” Martens said. “There are times you need to empathize with your patients and see things from their eyes and times when you need to steel yourself somewhat from the painful reality of illness and loss.

“I believe my experience in the arts has helped me better relate to my patients and communicate to them clearly and effectively…  in the same way that a physician must listen and respond to their patients, a good actor listens and responds to what their scene partner is doing, this creates an effective and organic scene… and hopefully a clinical encounter that isn’t confusing or frustrating for the patient.”

While Martens isn’t new to the stage, he recently returned after a few years away.

“These last few years I’ve been on a hiatus from theatre, my priorities were raising my young family and building my practice… but I really felt the call to return to the stage this spring and I poked around the audition notices and rolled the dice on this play about the [head] of the company that built the Titanic.”

This is his first experience with Surrey Little Theatre and he claims to be enjoying himself “immensely” as they’ve rehearsed and watched this “very interesting story” take shape.

“I do love Titanic lore but I hadn’t really explored the life of J. Bruce Ismay much before this play. It has been a very educational experience for me,” Martens added.

He’s part of an ensemble cast playing multiple roles tells this epic tale that explores not only the tragedy itself, but the sensationalized trials and aftermath of the night that the huge, thought-to-be unsinkable passenger liner collided with an iceberg during her maiden voyage on April 14, 1912.

The Last Lifeboat is a parable for our times, said the play’s director Dale Kelly, who explained that it’s the story of Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Lines. It explores his decision to save himself rather than going down with the ship, and how that makes him the scapegoat for one of the greatest tragedies of all time.

“It is a tale of one man’s destiny, shaped by good, if misguided decisions. The play shows how we are judged by our actions, not our intentions,” Kelly added.

Martens describes Kelly as a “great director” and probably one of the most patient men alive.

Admittedly, Martens confesses to being a bit of a mischievous entity at rehearsal in recent weeks, known to frantically whisper for someone to get on stage because they’ve missed a cue, which of course they haven’t.

“Or I rumble ‘Papaya’ in my most creepy voice just before another player is heading out for a serious scene,” he elaborated. “I really am having a blast doing this show!”

Other Langleyites join Martens in this production include Fort Langley’s Owen Carlson joining the cast, and Langley City’s Mike Busswood taking on an acting role as well as the task of production manager.

The Clayton Height’s based drama club raises the curtain on the production today (Thursday, April 14) – on the 104th anniversary of the sinking of the British passenger liner – and carries on until May 14, running Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m., with three Sunday matinees, April 24, May 1, and May 8 at 2 p.m.

The Last Lifeboat can be seen at Surrey Little Theatre, located at 7027 184th St. in Surrey, and tickets are $15.

There is, however, a special promotion for everyone attending the performance tonight (April 14) – tickets are half-price.

Performances on Friday, April 15 and Saturday, April 16 are already sold out. To book a spot, call 604-576-8451; email reservations@surreylittletheatre.com; or go to www.brownpapertickets.com.

More information is also available at www.surreylittletheatre.com.

“This play is going to be an experience for the audience that is for sure,” he said, inviting people to the show. “Scenes change and progress through time at a frantic pace. The set is fantastic and there are more than 200 lighting/sound cues. Emotions run high and there is even a laugh or two amidst the high drama. I don’t think people will be disappointed.”

The thespians from SLT plan to enter this play in the Fraser Valley Zone Festival (regional theatre competition) in Langley in May, and if successful they hope to move on to the provincials at Theatre BC’s Mainstage in Chilliwack in July.

(STORY CONTINUES BELOW PHOTO)

PHOTO:Ben Odberg, Fort Langley’s Owen Carlson, Julia Grace, and Langley’s Jay Martens are among the cast in Surrey Little Theatre’s rendition of The Last Lifeboat. (Tom Taylor/Special to the Advance)

An added bonus

Participating in this SLT production has presented some unexpected benefits for this doc.

That same booming voice that likely landed him several lead roles as a young child “because I would be the only kid the audience could hear clearly” has now opened the door to another artistic avenue for Martens.

“Fate has it that I met up again with fellow Last Lifeboat cast member Rebecca Strom, who I acted with in Tale of Two Cities up in Prince George (while he was doing his residency) in 2005.”

She is a talent agent for Refinery Artist Management and he’s since joined their roster as a voice-over artist for ads and animation, Martens explained.

Born and raised in Langley, Martens went to elementary school at Langley Central Fundamental, attended D.W. Poppy, where he dabbled with life on stage.

But, it was on the stage at Trinity Western University – while doing his undergrad – that he believes he “hit his performing stride,” and fully embraced his love of acting.

“It was there that I came out of my shell and really began to thrive,” Martens said.

“My first semester, I saw an audition notice for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and decided to give it a whirl. It almost didn’t happen though… I was on my couch about an hour before auditions and I had convinced myself that it was too much work or too scary, or I can’t act, anyway (or some such equally lame excuse). Besides I’d much rather watch Star Trek the Next Generation, which was just coming on. Fortunately, it was a rerun and one of my least liked episodes, so I took that as a sign and headed to auditions. I had the extreme pleasure of playing Tom Snout in the Tinker/The Wall that year.”

That experience launched his dramatic career.

“I went on to do five more shows at TWU, including the lead in Two Gentlemen of Verona and a minor in drama to compliment my biology major.”

Despite Martens busy schedule as dad and doc, after this experience with SLT he said theatre-goers can expect to see more of him on community theatre stages locally in the months and years to come.

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