Clem Martini

Clem Martini, playwright (born at Calgary 25 Aug 1956). Clem Martini grew up in Bowness, Alta. As a child he loved animals, the outdoors and reading. In high school he began writing short fiction and won several awards and contests, including the Woolworths Competition, for his stories. This early success, along with the encouragement of an English teacher at Bowness High School, led Martini to try writing plays. In 1980 he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in playwriting at the University of Calgary, and in 1982 he became the first graduate in playwriting at the NATIONAL THEATRE SCHOOL in Montréal.

After university Martini taught drama and playwriting in Calgary at Wood’s Homes, a residential treatment centre for troubled youth. During his 15 years there, Martini met and worked with marginalized young people who were often at odds with their families and frequently felt trapped in criminal lifestyles. The imprint of these troubled youth appears in Martini’s writing, which frequently features conflicted characters seeking release and struggling to discover their true selves.

In The Colour of Coal (1988), a play based upon a 1910 accident at the Greenhill Mine in Blairmore, Alta, miners become trapped in a dark cavern after an explosion. While digging their way out through pockets of poisonous gas and flooded mine shafts, some die but others discover personal traits hitherto hidden and, thus, the disaster allows them to learn about themselves.

Illegal Entry (1995) features 3 criminalized teenagers who escape from their treatment facility and break into a house, planning to steal and sell valuable items and party in Vancouver with their earnings. They get locked in the garage and while stuck there they are forced to confront their skewed intentions.

After growing up with schizophrenic relatives, Martini decided to write about identity—how humans discover, cultivate and (possibly) lose their sense of self. Nobody of Consequence (1990) features a protagonist who is crushed in a trash compactor. He survives as a severed head and, in this new form, tries to reconnect with his estranged wife.

Martini explored literary identity in his play Selling Mr. Rushdie (1997). Three young adults encounter someone at a bar who, between attempts to pick up the waitress, claims he is the famed author Salman Rushdie. The trio decides to kidnap the man and collect the million dollars offered by the Ayatollah Khomeini after Rushdie published his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses. When they apprehend the man, he denies his former claim of being Rushdie but, since they are already committed to handing him in for the money, conflict ensues and questions of the self—of who we say we are—arise.

Martini’s characters offer unique perspectives, not only from marginalized people — whether criminals, victims, or the disabled — but also from animals and their human friends. The Life History of the African Elephant (1989), inspired by a radio interview with a trainer at the Calgary Zoo, features an elephant keeper who balances a new romantic interest with his commitment to his beloved animal. Secret Life of the Octopus (2005) features a protagonist who befriends a depressed octopus. Martini’s trilogy of young adult novels, Feather and Bone: The Crow Chronicles, is narrated by crows.

Martini has collaborated with his wife, Cheryl Foggo, on several projects including Turnaround (1999), a play based upon a young person who goes to court to officially “divorce” her troubled mother, and The Devil We Know (2012), a play set in Regina about 2 young African-Canadian girls who must defend themselves when a stranger arrives at their home looking for a hidden package.

Martini was nominated for a GOVERNOR GENERAL’S LITERARY AWARD for A Three Martini Lunch, an anthology of 3 plays: Conversations with My Neighbour’s Pit Bull, about a man who tries to communicate to his neighbour via a pet; House of Glass, about a 12-year-old girl seeking reconciliation with her neighbour after stealing condoms from her store; and Up on the Roof, which features 3 characters who face their disintegrating relationships when they become stranded on a rooftop. Among numerous other honours, Martini has been awarded 3 Alberta Writer’s Guild Prizes and has won the National Playwriting Competition.
In 2008 Clem Martini was appointed head of the drama department at the University of Calgary, and teaches playwriting, screenwriting, and theatre for young adults.