Martha Lavey, Former Head of Steppenwolf Theatre, Dies at 60

Martha Lavey Dead
Photo by Joel Moorman

Martha Lavey, ensemble member and former artistic director of the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, died Tuesday. She was 60.

Lavey has spent nearly two years recovering from a debilitating stroke that she suffered in May 2015. She had another stroke earlier this month.

“As faithful friends, audience members, donors, staff, artists, mentees and members of the Steppenwolf community, we were all indelibly impacted by Martha’s passion, commitment, vision and unmatched intellect,” current Steppenwolf artistic director Anna Shapiro and executive director David Schmitz said in a statement. “Martha cared deeply for each and every one of us — no matter our relationship to her or the theatre. She will be dearly missed.”

Before becoming an administrator, Lavey was an actress herself, first appearing with the company in John Malkovich’s 1981 production of “Savages” while she was still a student at Northwestern University. She later performed in several other productions, including “Aunt Dan and Lemon” in 1987 and “Love Letters” in 1990, before joining the ensemble in 1993.

Lavey served as the artistic director of Steppenwolf from 1995 to 2015, becoming the first woman in the theater to hold the role. In this position, she oversaw the productions of hundreds of plays, many of which were transferred to Broadway and abroad. The list of productions includes Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County,” which won the 2008 Tony Award for best play, and Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” among several others.

Often dubbed as the “mom” of Steppenwolf, Lavey helped usher the company into a new era of theater, bringing in new plays and writers, especially women.

Services for Lavey will be held near her parents’ home in Vienna, Virginia, at St Mark Catholic Church. A memorial to celebrate her life and her impact on Steppenwolf and the Chicago community will be held at Steppenwolf, with a date and time to be determined.

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