Marya Sea Kaminski Accepts Artistic Directorship in Pittsburgh

Marya Sea Kaminski’s voice, piping in via phone from New York, cracks as she describes watching beloved Seattle holiday show Homo for the Holidays. “Honestly, I just wept the whole time,” she says. “I’m gonna miss Marc [Kenison] so much. I remember the first time I saw Cherdonna and Lou perform at NW New Works. I feel like I saw some of those characters be born, and saw some of those artists realize themselves. And fuck. I’m really gonna miss that.”

After some 17 years, theatre marvel Kaminski moves east this summer to take over as the new artistic director of Pittsburgh Public Theatre. “This is something that I’ve dreamt of, for sure,” she says. “I’ve been pretty clear since I was a kid that I wanted to be a part of a theatre company, to run it, to be a part of an ensemble and be in dialogue with an audience. Every move I’ve made has been at least trying to pull myself closer to that.”

Kaminski came to Seattle in 2001 to get her MFA in acting at the UW School of Drama, after which she cofounded Washington Ensemble Theatre with fellow UW grads (including Kenison). In addition to performing, directing and co-artistic directing at WET, the highly generative Kaminski gobsmacked audiences with original solo shows such as Riddled and In DisDress, and exposed, honest performances in My Name is Rachel Corrie, Electra, Hedda Gabler and Angels in America, to name a few. She’s an audacious writer, an insatiable collaborator.

“The theatre has always been where I’ve found what I needed, found out how to interface with the world and make sense of my inner landscape,” Kaminski says. “Having a home where I could express myself as a performer and writer was such a gift to me as a young person. Being of service, being in connection with a community and interrogating what stories we want to tell—that feels like an incredible gift to me now.”
Kaminski moved behind the scenes full-time in 2014, when she joined Seattle Repertory Theatre as associate artistic director. Working with and learning from current Rep AD Braden Abraham and former AD Jerry Manning provided invaluable experience, she says, as did her mentorship with Public Works, the massive community-focused program of New York’s Public Theatre that she iterated at the Rep. Kaminski lovingly calls it “the best job in the American theatre.”

“I thought it would be a terrific experiment to go through an [interview] process like this, but never anticipated it actually happening!” she says. “But when I first set foot in Pittsburgh it felt really good, and it unfolded from there.”

As part of a months-long interview process last fall, Kaminski presented three years of potential programming at Pittsburgh Public. Right now, she says, national impact comes from hyper-local initiatives like Public Works. “My first job is to really get to know Pittsburgh and excite and exhilarate those audiences,” she says of her approach to her bedrock role within a well-established, healthy theatre company like PPT. “I come as a guest first.”

A source of inspiration and guidance during this transition is the wisdom of American regional theatre legend Zelda Fichandler: Theatre starts with the actor. “I feel lucky to come at a leadership position with experience as an actor in communion with an audience,” Kaminski says. “There are so many of us behind the scenes trying to make a theatre event meaningful, powerful and beautiful, but the actors are the ones who realize that.”

Rather than mourning a loss, let’s consider Kaminski’s move yet another string in the strong, intricate web of regional theatre. “I joked on Facebook that I’m bringing Seattle with me,” she says. “But I’m not really joking.”