Supporting roles

Husband and wife resident artists make it work at Human Race

By Don Hurst

Photo: The workshop production of Tenderly directed by Marya Spring Cordes; photo: Steven Box

Actors are not typically known for their stable marriages. The juicy shreds of celebrity matrimony meltdowns fill magazines and TV shows. Maybe it’s the hectic schedules that cause bonds to break or perhaps something about pretending to be other people all the time creates its own stress. For whatever reason, a popular American pastime seems to be watching actors’ marriages implode.

Jamie and Marya Spring Cordes are two local actors—both Human Race Theatre Company artists in residence—who refuse to be identified by that stereotype. Marriage has not restrained them; in fact their commitment to each other makes them even stronger artists. Jamie believes it is sad some actors shun matrimony. The support of a spouse encourages him to develop as a performer. Marya says her marriage to Jamie has made her “a more well-rounded human being.”

“Love unlocks so many things in a person, she continues. “It unlocks the best things, it unlocks the worst things.”

The emotions of love, both positive and negative, help them understand their characters better, and translates to more realistic performances.

While the Cordes’ would not have it any other way, their married theatre life does challenge them at times. The average day of the average theatre professional is a grind. An actor may wake up at 5:30 a.m. to audition for a new show, then head to the day job that pays the bills, before rehearsing in the evenings. Now add the commitment of marriage and it’s easy to see how quickly the profession can strain marriages. That kind of routine could break lesser bonds; the Cordes’ make it work.

“It is because we understand the industry and because we understand each other, we respect each other, that it works out extremely well,” Jamie assures.

Jamie and Marya have had plenty of practice juggling their hectic schedules and their marriage. Both teach theatre at Wright State University, both are artists in residence at The Human Race Theatre Company and both perform professionally. Recently, Jamie performed for Dayton audiences in The Full Monty. During the day he taught voice at Wright State and in the evening he rehearsed for the show. Also, there were frequent trips to the gym because you don’t go Full Monty without hitting the cardio. In the middle of all this there were days when he and Marya only saw each other for about five minutes of stolen time passing each other in the halls. As The Full Monty ended, the cycle repeated all over again, this time with Marya performing in A Little Night Music for the Short North Stage in Columbus.

Understanding the industry and the life of an artist has kept their marriage strong, but it also helps they have a shared mission. The Cordes’ are dedicated to developing the next generation of theatre. Marya says they have always “gravitated as performers to sharing our craft.” Together, they use their skills and experience to help writers and composers refine their works.

Jamie and Marya are regular contributors at the Human Race Theatre’s New Musical Workshop. Through this program Jamie has sung in a variety of roles, giving composers the rare opportunity to hear their songs performed. Marya has directed several shows for the workshop, including the Rosemary Clooney-based musical Tenderly. Thanks to her guidance the show went on to a successful run at Victoria Theatre helmed by Kevin Moore. That production led to an engagement at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park where the show shattered box office records by selling out 70 performances in a row.

The Cordes’ are just as committed to encouraging new performers as they are to developing new works. They are both founding members of Wright State University’s Musical Theatre/Acting Preparatory Program (MAPP). The initiative offers acting, dance and voice lessons to area teenagers. Marya particularly enjoys teaching students.

“Telling a new story is special, and a young person is like a new story evolving—you never know what they’re going to bring to the craft,” she says.

The Cordes’ believe these classes are essential to actors because theatre is an art form that students learn by doing and by following mentors who have walked the walk.

In 2014, Jamie and Marya, along with their colleague Sherri Sutter, proved that they do walk the walk when they produced the musical Vanishing Point and cast some of their students. Marya and Jamie agree that it was a rewarding experience but disagree on their roles—Marya directed and claims Jamie was a producer, but Jamie claims that he was just the guy sweeping the stage.

Despite his lengthy professional singing resume that includes roles in Sweeney Todd and The Full Monty, Jamie shruggs off any suggestion that sweeping the stage was somehow beneath him as an artist. He firmly believes professionals do what has to be done for their craft. Sometimes in theatre you are the one on center stage singing to the praise of the audience, and sometimes you are the guy backstage with the broom.

For an artist to succeed, they need to be comfortable on both ends of that spectrum. The same attitude holds true for marriage. Marya says marriage unlocks the best and the worst out of us all. It seems that a marriage built around not only encouraging each other, but also encouraging others, shows more of that best part of ourselves.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at

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Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at

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