An electrical engineer by training, Jay Newman has found a creative outlet in the performing arts scene for nearly three decades. But with the arrival of COVID-19 in Calgary, he might not be returning to theatre anytime soon.
Newman developed an interest in engineering at a young age.
“My father was an electrical engineer and so he made the suggestion,” he explains.
Newman decided he would give the profession a try and he’s been doing it full-time ever since. Newman says he would like to go into theatre full-time but realizes that it would be hard to pursue as a career. But that doesn’t stop him from enjoying it any less.
“Performing and getting that response from the audience — whatever the emotional response you’re looking for, whether it’s laughter, tears, or just pure excitement — it’s a rush.”
On stage, Newman is fearless
Newman’s longtime friend, Jeri Wallis, recalls meeting him on the set of Pirates of Penzance in 2002. She says that behind the scenes he’s soft-spoken, but on stage, he is fearless and can play any character.
“He tried to instill that in me, too. I’m a little more on the reserved side, but he’s just not afraid to look goofy, he’s not afraid to fall down.”
It’s been almost 30 years now that Newman has devoted his time to community theatre. There tend to be more women than men in the industry, so he has had the opportunity to perform a variety of genres, ranging from goofy pantomime to Shakespearean drama.
Newman also describes the emotional attachment he experienced with some of his past characters. One, in particular, was two years ago when he was asked to play Macduff in the Dewdney Players’ production of Macbeth.
“I put everything I had into that character. There were times that I walked off that stage absolutely exhausted just because of the emotional draw that it had,” he says.
“There’s some self-discovery in there, learning your own limits, learning how far you can push yourself into a character to bring this person to life.”
Fournell says she sees this in Newman and loves seeing him grow into his character.
“[He] is fully committed to his craft,” she says. “Jay is able to connect both with the audience and with the people he’s on stage with and working with. That is very important to him.”
Newman takes the director seat
As a director, Newman is constantly writing down his ideas for shows. His creative process starts with writing the dialogue, and then he writes whatever comes to mind.
“For me, the key is to just write and get everything down that I possibly can. Once I get to the end, I’m often able to come back and fill in some of the holes and expand a bit on what I’ve written so far.”
Wallis recounts being a cast member in a pantomime take on Beauty and the Beast directed by Newman. She also fondly recalls his debut in directing a musical, Singing in the Rain.
Wallis says it’s neat watching Newman fully assume the role of director. “Because it’s sort of well, now’s the time to put the friendship aside and just get the job done.”
COVID-19 cancels theatre and arts community
When COVID forced the theatre to go online, Newman had to cancel many performances planned for 2020.
“It was a very sad year for theatre in general, not just for me personally. So many people have worked so hard on all these productions that either got cancelled completely or just went on little online readings or performances that, as fun as they were, it’s just not the same thing.”
The COVID-19 restrictions haven’t been kind to the arts community. Newman says that people’s priorities have shifted, and the arts will remain on the back burner. Without adequate funding and live performances, it’s been difficult to showcase the city’s artistic pride.
“There are some fabulous shows that go up all over, not only in professional but in community [theatre]. A lot of the community shows in Calgary rival the professionals; we have incredible talent in our community.”
Newman fears that the performing arts will be the very last to be released from the restrictions.
“Theatre is everything that COVID is destroying. We’ve got the social gatherings, we’ve got the singing, we can’t have people in the audience, we can’t have people on the stage,” he explains.
“We’re having fun, we’re doing play readings and stuff like that, but it’s not the same. It’s just not theatre.”