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Shattering another glass ceiling

Jennifer Tarver takes on new role at Necessary Angel Theatre Company

"I wanted a certain kind of stability in my life but also to have the chance to stay still, listen and hone my creative energies," says Tarver. Credit: Xtra file photo
Jennifer Tarver is a tough lady to pin down. The acclaimed theatre artist officially took the reins as Necessary Angel’s artistic director Feb 1. But it’s taken nearly two months for us to schedule an interview. Not that she didn’t want to chat, mind you. But finding 10 free minutes is a daunting challenge these days.
 
While tackling the responsibilities at her new job, she’s also heading to Stratford to stage Waiting for Godot, planning her fall production of Venus in Furs at Canadian Stage, and working for the Royal Conservatory of Music. And somewhere in there, she tries to make time for her wife, Liz, and their three-year-old son.
 
“It’s been complete insanity,” she says. “I feel like we’ve been running on fumes the last three years. There was a point where nearly every dollar I was making was going back into daycare. Sometimes I feel like I’ve aged a decade since I had a child. But at the same time, it’s the best thing in the world.
 
“The good thing about being pushed to extremes is that it forces you to decide what’s artistically important to you,” she says. “The value of what’s fulfilling and relevant becomes more precious than it ever was.”
 
Hectic schedules are nothing new for Tarver. A decade-long career as a freelance director and teacher has made her a multitasker par excellence. But coming to Necessary Angel was born of a desire to slow down. With the demands of a young family weighing on her, constant travel was becoming less and less attractive. She was already considering cutting back on freelance work when the job came up.
 
“I wanted a certain kind of stability in my life but also to have the chance to stay still, listen and hone my creative energies,” she says. “I wanted to be somewhere I could really keep my artistic focus. I’ve been directing other people’s shows for a long time now, and I also wanted to get back to creating my own work, which is what I was doing before I ever had a freelance career.”
 
Only the third person to helm the organization in its more than 30-year history, Tarver replaces outgoing artistic director Daniel Brooks, who took over from founder Richard Rose when he left to run Tarragon Theatre in 2002. Though she can’t say much about upcoming projects (everything in the works still awaits confirmation), she has lots to say about how she hopes the organization will function.
 
“I’d love it to become a go-to place for artists from a myriad of disciplines,” she says. “Having just come out of the craziness of the freelance world, I know there’s a need for artists who work in that milieu to have opportunities to take a break and focus on creation and collaboration in a way that’s supported and understood.”
 
Beyond her plans for the company’s future, there’s another notable thing about Tarver’s appointment: she’s one of the first women to run a major company in Canada. Despite greater opportunities for women in other parts of the theatre business, when it comes to heading companies, it’s quite literally an old boys’ club.
 

“It’s vitally important to have a woman running a major company, even if it’s just a statistic,” she says. “There’s probably a continued flaw in the system, but I’m not exactly sure what it is. Having said that, I do see things changing, even though it’s at the speed of an iceberg. It’s going to be a long process that requires a conscious and concerted effort on the part of both men and women.” 

For more information, go to necessaryangel.com.