Marcus Walker is marshaling medicine, faith and family to fight the aggressive melanoma that ambushed him this fall.
His friends are bringing laughter to the battle. On Monday they’ll host a roast to raise cash to help sustain Lakewood Playhouse.
Walker, who has run the theater since 2001 and is now taking a medical leave of absence, is the first to say come, even if you can’t pay the suggested donation. Support is about much more than money.
David Fischer, one of the roast’s organizers, concurred. It’s about good friends and truly awful jokes, many of which will be aimed at Walker.
Lucky for them, the 53-year-old Walker is one of the funniest guys on the planet, and a minister.
“He is probably one of the worst punsters I know,” said Fischer, executive director of the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts. “He’s just always searching for the worst possible pun, and 96.5 percent of the time he finds it, and, even worse, shares it.”
Walker declined repeated requests for sample puns, saying only: “Puns are so terrible that I never remember them afterwards. They are explosions of a twisted mind.”
Or perhaps they are the logical result of his résumé.
“I’m a left-wing Baptist minister who keeps trying to make theater redemptive,” he said.
He’s also the husband of Tacoma City Councilwoman Lauren Walker. Their sons Reuben, 22, and Henry, 19, are students at Western Washington University.
Marcus Walker is pretty sure Reuben will turn out OK. He’ll graduate with a major in physics and vocal performance, a natural combo.
Henry might be more of a problem. “He’s been studying theater some,” Marcus Walker said. “It’s a little scary.”
Scary is embedded in the nature of local-level theater. Even at the best of them – which Lakewood Playhouse is – the budget is only as strong as the last show’s ticket sales.
That’s why Fischer, who counts Walker as his best friend and who suggested him for the Lakewood Playhouse job, is aiming the fund-raiser at the theater, not the pal.
Money-wise, Walker’s war with the melanoma is under control. So is Lakewood Playhouse’s finances, as much as any theater’s can be.
In his near-decade at Lakewood, Walker has grown the budget from $40,000 to $400,000 a year and cleverly developed a young audience.
“We do seven main stage shows a year, and we’re up to 12 to 15 youth theater productions,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we are doing so well.”
The kids from those shows fall in love with theater and grow up buying tickets to shows.
That young, avid audience and support from the City of Lakewood have helped pay for upgrades, including air conditioning and a readerboard, and renovations to the theater at Lakewood Towne Center.
Walker hopes next week’s roast will produce an operating cushion for next year and help raise $35,000 for a new lighting system.
“A lot of lighting designers are saying they won’t work here unless we upgrade,” Walker said.
Strong audience support has given Walker breathing space for risks with play choices. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and “Sweeney Todd” will help support “My Name is Asher Lev.”
Chaim Potok’s Asher Lev will show up at the roast, Fischer promised.
“One of my lines is that Marcus seems to gravitate to plays written by Jews,” said Fischer, who is Jewish. “That makes him the only Baptist minister/theater artistic director who wants to be a Jew in the entire world. He’s ready for conversion, I think.”
That ability to breach differences is one of the gifts Walker has brought to theater here, Fischer said.
“Theater is a place where we teach empathy and remind people of what it’s like to walk in everyone else’s shoes,” he said. “At a time when we are painting labels and building walls, I think empathy is the answer.
“Anywhere that’s taught is deeply important, and Marcus and Laurie embody that in everything they do.”
Such a spirit is worth supporting at Monday’s roast, even if it means enduring one of Walker’s rebuttal puns.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677 firstname.lastname@example.org
Expect punch lines
What: Roast for Marcus Walker to support Lakewood Community Playhouse.
When: 7 p.m. Monday.
Where: Urban Grace Church, 902 Market St., Tacoma.
Cost: Suggested donation of $50.
Marcus Walker preaches at Burton Community Church on Vashon Island. To read a sermon in which he discussed his cancer and his faith, go to www.thenewstribune.com/merryman.