'My Jewish Background Helped Train me to be a Director'

Published: May 13th 2010
in Culture » Stage

Jen Shuber
Pic: courtesy of Jen Shuber

Jen Shuber studied at Tisch, received her Shakespeare Acting Certificate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and danced with the National Ballet School. But now she’s settled full-time in Toronto to let her directing and choreography career flourish. “I believe there are lots of opportunities for Canadians right here at home,” she says.


One of those opportunities is Angelwalk Theatre’s final production of their inaugural season, the romantic musical The Last Five Years. Created by Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown, Years tells the story of Jamie and Cathy, two young New Yorkers who fall in love, marry, and separate over the course of five years. The two tell their story in overlapping songs, except Jamie (who happens to be Jewish) starts at the beginning of their relationship while Cathy starts at the end, working her way backwards.


Shuber, who has assistant directed for Soulpepper and Stratford and choreographed at the Tarragon, spoke with Shalom Life about directing this moving story and how her Jewish background helps contribute to her success.


What attracted you, as a director, to The Last Five Years?


For me, this show represents hope, progression and letting go of past mistakes. I am drawn to it because it is a story that audiences will be able to relate to and truly enjoy. The music is magical and the characters journey is gripping.  


I also have a lot of respect for the writer and lyricist, Jason Robert Brown, who has been hailed as one of Broadway’s smartest and most sophisticated songwriters since Stephen Sondheim.


This musical explores the rise and fall of a relationship through a very unique structure. What appealed to you about this, and what sort of challenges did it present to you as a director?


What appeals to me is that the structure is unconventional and unpredictable. The trajectory of time in this play is a real challenge for the actors. I spent a lot of time helping them understand the chronological order of the play and I think we were very successful. This was a huge challenge and we spent a lot of rehearsal hours on this element, and I think the work put in shows in the final result.


There is also a strong Jewish aspect to the show. How did you feel Jason Robert Brown handled the Jewish parts?


I think Brown had a very clever way of incorporating the Jewish elements. One way was musically. If you listen to the arrangements there is a klezmer influence in some of the songs, and these often represent Jamie’s music. 


You've worked with some very seasoned companies in the past. What was it like working with a brand-new theatre company?


I am honoured to be a part of Angelwalk’s inaugural season. Brian Goldenberg is a young producer with a ton of passion and I believe he is going to bring many more exciting projects to Toronto audiences in the future.


How do you split your time now between directing and choreography?


I am focusing primarily on directing now. This is where I am truly in my element and I believe it is what I am meant to be doing. My skills as a choreographer are a huge asset to the directing process because I can look at things and understand them from a movement perspective. 


You're also directing a play reading in Harold Green Jewish Theatre's inaugural playwrights festival. How did that opportunity come about?


Related articles: (stage, jen shuber, angelwalk theatre, the last five years, brian goldenberg, in the beginning)

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