In Memoriam

Martin J. Bennison
Professor Emeritus of Theater

Martin Bennison was born February 28, 1943 in Bay Shore, Long Island. He received his B.A. from St. Vincent College, his M.A. from the University of Iowa, and his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. He taught at Wake Forest University and joined the faculty of Miami’s Department of Speech in 1971.

During Martin’s thirty-two years of his service prior to his retirement in 2003, he was instrumental in shepherding the growth of theatre at Miami University. His voice and guidance helped the Department of Speech to become the Department of Communication and Theatre, and again years later when Theatre moved from Humanities into the School of Fine Arts as its own departmental entity. He served as an Assistant Dean in the College of Arts and Science, and he directed over fifty productions, including works by Shakespeare, Chekov, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee, as well as a diverse series of musicals which included Oklahoma, Cabaret, West Side Story, and A Chorus Line.

Martin was a major force in the development and structuring of the Department’s unique BFA Degree program as well as a dynamic voice in the growth of its M.A. curriculum. For many years he served as Producer and Artistic Director of the Miami University Summer Theatre, a joint University-Community venture which was created in 1966 as The Village Playhouse to provide both local residents and University students the opportunity to work hand-in-hand and learn from each other as they explored theatrical production experiences.

Professor Bennison’s impact was substantial, not only in Ohio, but also nationally. He was President of the Ohio Theatre Alliance, a charter member of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, and a respected, influential leader in the American Theatre Association and the University College Theatre Association.

As a teacher and mentor, Martin understood that students were our top priority, and he recognized that they must be sensitively (and sometimes sternly) prodded to grow as artists and scholars beyond that which they thought they were capable of, and to “become that which they were capable of becoming,” —to reach potentials that Marty could see, even if they could not. He was awarded The Kennedy Center Golden Medallion for his service to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, a national theater program involving 18,000 students from over 600 colleges and universities nationwide, which serves as a catalyst in the process of improving the quality of college theatre in the United States.

Representative comments from former students confirm Professor Bennison’s impact:

  • “All of us who had a chance to study under him as a student will simply never forget Marty. It’s really not until this moment that I realize what an effect he had on me.”
  • “Thank you, Marty, for everything you taught me about art and about life. Your great example of love and joy will live on in all of us and all of those with whom we share it.”
  • “That laugh! Those stories! Your guidance! Your lessons! The tears! And tears of joy! Ah Marty, I’m a better person having known you.”
  • “Martin was one of those directors I would consistently try to invite to look at my directing work. He never failed to find something (perhaps as simple as the misuse of a prop, or as major as an entire wrong take on a scene) that always, always made my productions better. I will be eternally grateful to him for freeing me as an artist, supporting me as an actor, and challenging me intellectually.”

On the occasion of Martin’s retirement from Miami in 2003, Dr. Barry Witham, a faculty colleague for many of Martin’s years at Miami, commented, “His fertile mind was a source of continual insight. We talked often about acting, theory, directing, and historiography. His ideas—like his stage productions—were continually stimulating and thoughtful. Martin is gifted as a thinker and a teacher/artist, and I genuinely valued that. And he was and is a wonderful human being. I treasured his compassion, his wisdom and his ability to evaluate situations and people without being judgmental. He helped me, and countless others, to accept and prize—quite simply—who we are.”

Comments in a Eulogy delivered at Dr. Bennison’s memorial service included the following: “We have lost a creative, sensitive, and caring friend, with a sharp and quirky sense of humor. But I am struck by - and heartened by - the thought that Marty has strutted on, from stage right, in to another brilliantly and creatively lighted place…to a standing ovation.”

Theatre Professor Emeritus and former Bennison colleague Donald L. “DLR” Rosenberg also spoke, remembering Martin’s generosity and kindness. The two took frequent road trips over the years, during which Rosenberg often had difficulty staying warm in Bennison’s car. On one occasion, Rosenberg recalled, Martin surprised his longtime friend by producing a blanket that he had packed for the journey. “He taught me so much,” Rosenberg said. “He taught me how to be nicer to people.”

Martin Bennison is survived by his beloved wife and Miami Professor Emerita of Theatre Linda (Lin) Conaway, four children and their partners: W. Marcellus and Denise (Thomas) Bennison, Maureen (Bennison) and Troy Bender, Gèneva B. Conaway Bennison and Giovanni R. Angotti, and Rachel Gwyneth Conaway Bennison and Su Young Jo; grandchildren Logan Bennison, Susie Bennison, and Mason Bender. He is also survived by his brother William M. Bennison and wife Delores (Baker) Bennison, sisters Bernice (Bennison) Germinario, Elizabeth (Bennison) Couch, and baby sister Anne Marie (Bennison) Pavona and her husband Philip Pavona. He was preceded in death by his parents and brothers-in-law Samuel Couch and Philip Germinario.

Respectfully submitted by Rosalyn Erat Benson, Gion DeFrancesco, Geoffrey D. Fishburn, and Michael J. Griffith