After almost 30 years playing the part of casting director and administrator at TheatreWorks, Leslie Martinson has been thrust into a new role as associate artistic director. She brings a quick wit and a down-to-earth disposition to the job as well all those years of experience.

Martinson recently took a few minutes out from directing Kenneth Lin's political thriller "Warrior Class" to chat about what she loves about the company and why she's hooked on new works.

Q Are you excited about the new gig?

TheatreWorks Associate Artist Leslie Martinson on Sept. 24, 2010, at a rehearsal for Tracy Letts’ "Superior Donuts," which she directed.
TheatreWorks Associate Artist Leslie Martinson on Sept. 24, 2010, at a rehearsal for Tracy Letts' "Superior Donuts," which she directed. (John Orr/Daily News Group)

A I have to say, it's fun to wake up in the morning and go make theater every day, so I am delighted to be TheatreWorks' new associate artistic director. My new position pulls together lots of the different kinds of work I've done for the company -- casting, project management, artistic planning, new works, producing and, of course, general running around and figuring things out. I especially enjoy working with guest directors and visiting authors, helping make sure we have a good blend between how TheatreWorks is used to working and any new approaches the visiting artists propose.

Q What's your vision for where the company should go from here?


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A We are poised to be more adaptive, to become a more proactive company than what you might imagine when you think of a regional repertory theatre company. We have amazing, creative professionals working on what you see onstage from 8 to 10 p.m. each night, so our ongoing project now is to become a presence the rest of the week or even the year. We participated in the "Intrinsic Impact" program through Theatre Bay Area, which made it clear that our audience members have a deeper, more personal experience of a play when they have context for the production. I'm excited about the through-line TheatreWorks is creating, connecting our Education programs to our New Works programs to arrive at our Mainstage Season, where all the threads come together. I hope we'll always be presenting an eclectic array of shows, packed with imagery and ideas and imagination.

Q What's your favorite thing about working at TheatreWorks?

A Besides getting to used a capital letter in the middle of a word? (We got a piece of mail once which was addressed to Mr. Theodore Works.) I guess my favorite thing is how each show we produce is both brand new and part of a tradition. We work with designers and board members and subscribers who have been around for decades, but every time we have a "kickoff" rehearsal, it all starts from scratch again.

Q What makes it such a special place?

A Collaboration. Respect for the work of every person on each project. Believing theater can make a difference.

Q What turns you on about new work?

A For me, it's all about voice. Even when the play is still "under construction," a writer with a strong sense of voice can bring me right inside their world, and then I'm hooked.

Q What do you look for in a new play?

A When I'm reading a new script, I'm always hoping it will in fact be a play. Not a movie-on-stage, not an op-ed, not a master's thesis. There is literally nothing that couldn't be the starting point for a play, but for me there's some tipping point when it just isn't writing for the stage.

Q What do you love about "Warrior Class"?

A Well, it's a fascinating script, but I've got to say that what I love most right now is this cast. Seriously, all three are could-read-the-phone-book fascinating. I've got Delia MacDougall, Robert Sicular and Pun Bandhu. Smart, funny, creative, supportive -- what more could I ask for?

Q What surprises you about this play?

A I love that the play is shaped like a political thriller, but it's simultaneously a play about cultural identity. The playwright, Kenneth Lin, is now one of the writers on "House of Cards" for Netflix, so we've been watching that to get educated about "schemes and dreams." Your readers might be surprised to know how wide-ranging our research materials are. The bulletin board in the rehearsal hall has pictures of jelly beans, girls on horseback, cocktail umbrellas and men's neckties. The bookshelf includes Julius Caesar, James Carville and Mary Matalin and Karl Rove. We've had interviews with a political strategist in San Francisco and a domestic abuse counselor in Chicago. They'll just have to come see the play to see how that all fits together!

Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza and follow her at Twitter.com/karendsouza4.

'Warrior class'

Written by Kenneth Lin

When: Oct. 9-Nov. 3
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.
Tickets: $19-$73. 650-463-1960, www.theatreworks.org

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