BOSTON — “Do you want me to sing for you?” said young Marilyn Plotkins with a giddy smile and wide eyes.
This question was posed to every guest that walked through the front door of her large, middle-class family’s home. At a young age Plotkins knew that she loved to sing. Her challenge was to find the right outlet to express her joyful noise. After attending her first play, Gypsy with Ethel Merman, she knew theatre was her destiny.
Marilyn Plotkins is the Chair and Director for Suffolk University’s Theatre Department, founding Director of Boston Music Theatre Project, and author of The A.R.T. Reference Book: The Brustein Years about the American Repertory Theatre. Plotkins is involved with theatre on nearly every level as an actor, director, professor, and aficionada.
Having a passion for theatre, Plotkins made the difficult decision to become a sociology major in college. She was attending college in 1968, during the Vietnam War, and felt that theatre was a frivolous and selfish major during such a serious state of the world. Plotkins filled her theatre void with intense political activism.
In the midst of a political activist campaign, Plotkins found herself back in her old high school. As she entered the doors of the school theatre she was overcome by emotions, falling to her knees in tears. The sound of her sobs echoing around the empty theatre struck a cord in her heart; she needed theatre back in her life.
As a college student, Plotkins hid her love for musical theatre, claiming to be in the “musical theatre closet.” Musical theatre seemed juvenile to her until she realized that she could incorporate political and adult themes. Impassioned, she changed her major to theatre and went on to get a masters from Emerson College and a doctorate from Tufts University in Boston, MA. Boston was a blank canvas for Plotkins to paint with her exuberant creativity and passion.
Plotkins landed the job of Theatre Director at Suffolk University in 1983. When she arrived Suffolk’s theatre was in shambles, there was no department, minimal enrollment in arts and theatre, and only one performance a year. Plotkins set out to change things at Suffolk and change she has. The theatre has been recently renovated, there is a comprehensive department, enrollment has sky-rocketed, and the performances are abundant.
“I have created exactly the type of office I want to work in,” says Plotkins, “I am so proud of it.”
Emma Putnam, Plotkins’ assistant, says that the theatre department is Plotkins’ “baby,” which would make Plotkins’ a single mother, as she reared the department alone.
Plotkins’ youthful personality was a major tool in her ability to create a flourishing theatre department from scratch. Students describe her as fun, enthusiastic, dedicated, but most of all energetic.
Nicholas Panagiotou, actor and student at Suffolk University, says “I feel like she almost has more energy than me sometimes and I am pretty energetic.”
“We have similar personalities; it’s weird being the low-key one. She’s frantic and I hold it together. Which is different from what I’ve ever done before,” says Putnam.
Although she focuses a great deal of her attention into her theatre endeavors she also cares about her students, faculty, and co-workers. Putnam explains that she always tries to stay as involved as possible in the department and her student’s life, making sure that they are doing well.
Plotkins thrives on originality and the little spark in everyone that makes them unique. She encourages her students to be open-minded and think for themselves. Panagiotou says that is what makes her such a great professor and director.
Directing not only benefits her students, but it benefits Plotkins as well. She says that “directing makes her a better actor.” She reflects that as a child she would always help those kids that couldn’t dance or sing well. She did not even know she was directing them, she just loved to help.
Her passion is still alive today. She is currently directing the spring musical, Hair by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Plotkins will continue working to improve the Suffolk University theatre department, add her unique touch to musical theatre at large, and impact the lives of theatre students until her final bow.