Hendrix Magazine

A Marvel in Motion

Marathon mom sets fast pace as professor and more

The other morning I was privy to a conversation between two professors I know, both of them accomplished in their fields, both mothers of young children. They were discussing the parent-teacher organization at their children's school, weighing the merits of deeper involvement against the many demands of work. I didn't catch the name when one mentioned a friend of theirs who had recently served as a PTO president, but then the other said, "Of course you can't use her as an example — you'll kill yourself trying!"

They took a moment to shake their heads wonderingly, and that's when I knew which friend they meant. Because no matter how industrious and productive you are, you probably don't want to compare yourself to Mary Ruth Marotte '95 — not if you don't want to feel like a slouch.

Still, it can be fun, in a shivery, scary-movie sort of way, to contemplate Mary Ruth's résumé and regimens from the comfort of your sofa. Let's start with the résumé: After earning her bachelor's degree in psychology from Hendrix (she did it in three years), a master's degree in English literature from the University of Central Arkansas, and a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee (she finished her dissertation while raising twin toddlers), Mary Ruth returned to UCA in 2005, this time as a member of the English department faculty.

Now an associate professor, Mary Ruth not only teaches and sits upon the usual slew of committees, but she also serves as her department's director of graduate studies. What's more, having seen a need for graduate students to gain a better sense of the profession, in 2007 she cofounded (and she continues to direct) an annual graduate student conference, which gives students the opportunity to present and discuss work with their peers.

And still more: in addition to regularly moderating panels and facilitating discussions at conferences, colloquia, and public events such as the Arkansas Literary Festival, Mary Ruth has been a co-organizer of the Arkansas Philological Association's annual conference twice in the last three years.

All of which, for those of us who aren't Mary Ruth Marotte, might seem enough to keep a person busy. Especially since she and her husband Dr. Jeff Marotte '94, a Conway urologist, have three active children (Simon, the third, followed Olivia and Ethan, the twins), all of whom have swim practices, music lessons, chess club — the usual bevy of familiar activities, as well as less common ones such as triathlons and rehearsals for parts in theatrical productions. (And yes, Mary Ruth is a member of their school's PTO; and yes, she's recently served as its co-president.)

But if you are Mary Ruth, then while doing all these other things you have also published a well-written, strikingly cogent book (Captive Bodies: American Women Writers Redefine Pregnancy and Childbirth, Demeter Press, 2007); co-edited another (Papa, PhD: Essays on Fatherhood by Men in the Academy, Rutgers University Press, 2010); published numerous academic articles, book chapters, and reviews; and presented so many papers at conferences that a bulleted list of them takes up an entire page.

Does thinking about all of this work make you feel grateful for your comfortable sofa? Does it maybe, just a little, make you want to hide under a blanket? Not Mary Ruth. She's just getting started.

Though she loves teaching, cares about her students and finds satisfaction in her writing projects, Mary Ruth's great passion (and all she really wants me to be talking about here) is Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, of which she is the executive director. What this means is that, together with artistic director Rebekah Scallet, Mary Ruth oversees the operation of one of the most ambitious and impressive enterprises in the entire state: Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre's summer festival.

It really is something to behold, too. Every summer since 2007, dozens of talented, hard-working theater people from all across the country arrive to participate in the festival, where they work alongside other talented, hard-working theater people from Conway and Little Rock (including interns from both UCA and Hendrix) to stage several performances of four different productions — three of them Shakespeare plays, the fourth a beloved non-Bard classic. And they do so in the most hustling, bustling manner imaginable: There are performances in Reynolds Performance Hall on the UCA campus (AST operates under the aegis of the UCA Foundation); outdoor "Shakespeare on the Green" performances at The Village at Hendrix; special performances at Wildwood Park for the Arts in Little Rock; a host of programs and performances tailored especially for children — and all of this occurs in a matter of weeks.

Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre is the state's only professional Shakespeare company. It also happens to be a fantastic one. For testament to its excellence, you need only look to the positive media attention AST has garnered, not just from local and regional outlets but in national publications such as the New York Times. Or you might consider the following: In AST's inaugural summer season, over two thousand people attended its productions. Pretty impressive for a new artistic venture in a small state. Even more impressive? Attendance this year was almost five thousand. Clearly, the word is spreading.

Not without a lot of work, though, which brings us back to Mary Ruth. Yes, the summer festival is stunning with its weeks of ceaseless frenetic activity, of late nights and early mornings and every person involved with the plays — actors, stage crew, directors, volunteers, everyone — always needing to be two places at once. But this exciting summer work is just the tip of the colossal, year-round iceberg. To sustain such an ambitious enterprise calls for endless grant writing, phone calls to potential donors, hosting fundraising dinners, organizing huge fundraising events, recruiting board members (I've recently become a board member myself, and guess who got me to do it?) — the list goes on and on, and Mary Ruth has done it all.

Why? The answer lies in part with an experience she had almost 20 years ago, when she attended her first-ever professional Shakespeare productions at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. It was, Mary Ruth says, "a defining experience," one that helped inspire her to pursue studies in literature. It's also the reason that when she heard, years later, of a similar festival being launched in Conway, she knew right away that she wanted to be on board. And soon she was — quite literally so. She's one of AST's original board members. That's right,

she volunteered.

From the portrait I've been painting here, you might imagine Mary Ruth as an agitated bundle of nerves, someone who talks too fast and never sits down. The truth, though, is that she comes across as completely laid-back, soft-spoken — even, if you can believe it, relaxed. She regularly hosts dinners for friends, likes to read in the early morning hours, enjoys making breakfast for her kids and walking to school with them. So how can someone so busy stay so, well, sane? It's anyone's guess, but I have a suspicion it's the several miles she runs most mornings before dawn.

Oh, did I not mention that Mary Ruth likes to run marathons? Sorry, it's difficult to write a proper profile of a person you can't keep up with. And at any rate I'm out of space and need to lie down. But if you ever bump into Mary Ruth hurrying from one project to another, consider calling out this line from the King in Hamlet — "We thank you for your well took labor"! — and then ask her about next year's season. That'll stop her in her tracks and get you a smile to boot.

She's always got time for Shakespeare.

Trent Stewart '92 is the author of five books, including The Mysterious Benedict Society series, which is popular with children of all ages.