CU alum’s play to debut in Texas

It was a rainy Wednesday morning and all of the students in Media Writing were quietly mulling over their interview questions for their guest speaker, 26-year-old alumnus from Castleton’s 2019 graduating class, Martin VanBuren III.  

Nobody knew quite what to expect when someone in a sopping raincoat, a backwards cap and a nervous smile slipped into the room.

“He’s professional but he rolled in like one of us. He just looks like a college kid,” Jess Emery, a student in the class would comment later. 

Putting on a confident face, VanBuren introduced himself.  Pacing back and forth with his water bottle, he explained how he could never really fit into one mold at Castleton, resulting in his selft-crafted multimedia major.  He studied photography, film, journalism, and graphic design to complete the degree.

The discussion took an immediate turn toward VanBuren’s most recent success with his play “Aisle 6.” Through a coincidental turn of events, the play was found on Read My Play, a website for playwrights to submit and receive feedback on their work, by a high school in Lexington, Texas.  It is scheduled to perform it in October of this year. 

“‘Aisle 6’ is exhaustingly funny. It ticks a lot of boxes and features many different types of

humor,” said Cody Church, the Theatre Director at Lexington High School.  “It combines witty and physical humor, sometimes resembles a romantic comedy, other times a college flick. Most importantly, the characters are endearing, and their conflicts are relatable.”

Reflecting on the moment, VanBuren said, “It was such an insane feeling having Cody down in Texas pick up the show because I was a total unknown.”

The second part of a trilogy, “Aisle 6” follows the adventures of college students Jake, Alice and Oli as they persevere through the awkward transition to college life.  It includes punchy, witty dialogue mixed with profound advice on surviving the college experience and exposes some of the relatable insecurities that plague new students like having a social life, finding a major and of course, having the stomach for parties.

Diving into his process a bit, VanBuren says the characters and storyline are not necessarily based on his direct experience. Chapters of his life are encapsulated in his plays, with Aisle 6 representing his own college experience. 

“Every character that you write is going to be a part of yourself or someone else,” he explains.

VanBuren began the “Aisle” saga in his own Media Writing class with the same professor David Blow back in 2017.  He was inspired to write his own plays based on his experience in Castleton Theatre Department and his time recording Soundings events for the university. After shooting over 100 events, he was ready to introduce something new into the sphere.

“The root of everything was I was tired of seeing the same shows over and over and over again,” he says. “To be honest, I was trying to write shows for Soundings audiences.  People that might not have been into theatre very much.”

And his efforts seemedto have paid off.

“I really liked it! I know it sounds biased because you’re here asking about it but… It was really interesting,” Media Writing student Emily Ely stated after VanBuren asked for student thoughts on it. “I really like theatre, but I agree with you that a lot of the theatre in this area is really dense and hard to sit through.  It was really easy to follow.  I was trying to read just the couple first pages, but I just kept reading it.”

His first play, “Aisle 5” was originally scheduled to be performed at Castleton, but like so many other things, was abruptly shut down by COVID-19, both a blessing and a curse.  Left unable to take photos for his job, VanBuren had plenty of downtime to work on the next segment of his series resulting in the culmination of “Aisle 6” resonating with Cody.

Now he’s even more excited than he was for the Castleton performance, confidence renewed in his abilities. 

“I’m more excited about that than if Castleton does end up picking something up in the future, I’m more hyped about this, even though Castleton is substantially closer,”  he said.

In spite of his talent, playwriting is actually more of a side business for Martin, who is a full-time photographer.  

Today he runs Pine Fox Photo, his profitable photography business where he emphasizes taking, “unscripted and authentic photos.” He shoots weddings, graduations and portraits primarily. One of the most powerful drivers for his work is hearing the feedback, especially from those who get final photos of their lost loved ones. He describes it as an intimidating role to take and the legacy he appreciates cementing into these precious memories.

VanBuren’s success in photography predates even his time at Castleton, with his talent initially blooming in his hometown of Poultney, Vermont.  He first recalls picking up a camera in middle school but truly finding the lucrative element to photography in high school where he would get paid to take photos at baseball games. 

VanBuren’s talent for photography situated him nicely during his time at Castleton, where he would take photos for the university. Most all of the marketing material for the university were pictures he took while enrolled.

Now he works on his own schedule, having the personal freedom to shoot and edit on his own time.  This helps as he’s not exactly a morning person. 

“I work at like 2 a.m., so at 8 a.m. this wouldn’t have happened.  Thank you for making it at 11 o’clock,” he joked.  He is his own boss, “the master of his own domain” as David Blow would state later in the class.

While VanBuren has lots of tales of success, he has just as many struggles that he is confidently transparent about.  In his profession, he actively discussed his challenges, namely with wedding photography.  With 300 people in attendance, often under the influence, it can be difficult to wrangle them all together 

“It’s a lot of money to basically babysit someone,” he mused. Along with this, the redundancy of weddings sometimes gets to the young photographer.  Seeing the same color schemes and hearing the same songs can be and is exhausting, not to mention stifles his creative flow. To combat this, VanBuren has distanced himself from his usual wedding photography a bit, opting for more couples only features, like elopements.  Couples’ portraits give him a lot of flexibility to experiment and less to manage outside of his camera. 

“Just the couple, me and a big ass cake,” VanBuren aptly put

VanBuren also dove into some of his experience with playwriting.  While he’s had a great deal of success, he has met his fair share of rejection, which can be tough. Opportunities like the Texas situation make it all disappear. 

“It’s proof,” he said simply.

He even experiences some internal conflict about seeing his own play in person.  Not only does he have career complications, October is peak photography weather and VanBuren is not sure if he can get to Texas to see the play performed. 

“People ask if I’m going to go down and see and part of me thinks it’s going to be good but then it’s like watching your kids go off and do their own thing,” he said with a sigh.  In the same light, he wants to be a playwright who sees his work performed, to come to fruition.

Like his photography, Martin Vanburen III is unscripted and authentic.  He’s not afraid to share the downs that follow his ups, to tell the whole story.

“There’s an audience for everything,” he says.

Matin VanBuren III speaks to Media Writing students.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous post Book of the Fortnight
Next post Barrett bringing big ideas