From Vancouver to London: Jennie Neumann is bringing Canada to the West End

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  • Damon Bradley Jang

Let me introduce you to Jennie Neumann, she’s the exceptional performer and producer who’s been wowing Canadian audiences for over a decade. Her first company, Another Musical Co-op splashed onto the scene with The World Goes ‘Round with The Vancouver Sun hailing it “a show so polished that this little gem could easily be in New York”. Jennie followed that critically acclaimed and sold out production with the intimate Songs for a New World. The Straight called it “a knockout night” stating “If this is what a new world sounds like, then the future looks bright”. Not only a producer, Jennie has wowed audiences as a powerhouse performer throughout Canada. Critics first took notice when she starred as Tracy Turnblad in the Arts Club’s production of Hairspray. The Globe and Mail called her “a triumph” with “a joyful bell of a voice”. Known for her exquisite vocal abilities, her performance as Natalie Goodman in Next to Normal was hailed as “absolutely mesmerizing” by Homorrazi and that “her voice was perfection”. Most recently, Jennie received her

MA in Musical Theatre Performance from the world-renowned Royal Academy of Music in London,

Finishing her year with a captivating performance with the duel roles of Alaura Kingsley and Carla Haywood as well as Angel City Soprano in Cy Coleman’s masterpiece City of Angels. She’s now ready to take London by storm with her exciting new company Canuck Theatre which recently debuted in London’s The Phoenix Arts Club this August. The Canadian Cabar-eh was a thrilling event showcasing new Canadian musicals featuring performers from Canada and Britain. I was lucky enough to chat with Jennie about her career in Canada, deciding to return to school and her exciting new company, Canuck Theatre.

OSB:  First off l’d love to talk about your experience at The Royal Academy of Music and working on City of Angels?

JN: Wow. City of Angels was a huge show and was a lot of work, but I’m so grateful for the experience. Our production was double cast, meaning we had two different tracks to learn.  I’ve never had the opportunity to work as a swing so it was a great introduction. It’s such an important skill that you aren’t necessarily taught in theatre school. Most of the time you end up learning on the job so it was nice to have the experience while studying.  

OSB: What do you find was the biggest differences between the training at Capilano University versus the training that you did in London?

JN: I would say the biggest difference is time. Capilano University is a three year Diploma Program where as Royal Academy of Music is a one year MA Post Graduate Program. Most students at Capilano had never had intense training before so the three years of study was essential. It allowed us to take more specialized classes. For example we studied mask work and clowning. R.A.M. is a one year intensive program. A lot of the students had already had previous training or, like myself, had worked in the industry. Capilano University gave me the skills for the industry and R.A.M. took those skills to the next level.

OSB: So can you educate me a little bit about the program at R.A.M. Is it still conservatory style training?

JN: Interestingly the Royal Academy of Music is actually the oldest conservatoire in the United Kingdom. The Musical Theatre MA is a year long intensive training program. The fantastic thing is besides the 37 musical theatre students, there are 3 Music Director students who work alongside  you throughout the year. I met the musical director for The Canadian Cabar-eh, Luke Holman, during my time at The Royal Academy. Throughout the year you do class projects where they bring in different directors from the industry to direct truncated versions of different musicals. It’s a great way to put the skills you’re studying in morning classes into practice right away.  

OSB: What were classes like?

JN: Similarly to Canada you have dance, acting, voice in text classes as well as private singing lessons. You also have a class called Integration which is with the head of the program Dan Bowling. It was very similar to Master Class at Capilano University. Depending on the student Dan would focus on different aspects of their performance. You also have internal school competitions. We had an Acting through Song competition, Poetry Competition and Text into Song Competition. For those competitions it was very important to me to highlight Canadian content. There is so much amazing work being produced in Canada and I felt vey honoured to get to highlight that with my year at R.A.M.

OSB: It’s surprising to hear from me about the fact that there's such a disconnect between what it’s like in the education of Canadian content in the UK?

JN: There isn’t a lot of Canadian content being produced in the United Kingdom. I think Come From

Away is a big game changer for Canada and it’s Musical Theatre industry. It just won the Olivier for Best Musical and it’s selling out every night. The unfortunate thing is a lot of audiences and even people in the industry assume it’s an American written show.  

OSB: Yeah, I know for myself that I didn't really know a lot about Canadian content until I worked on the InTune Conference with Touchstone and Arts Cub Theatre Company. Now it’s really developing especially with Sheridan and its Canadian music theatre institute. 

JN: There’s a real renaissance right now with creating new musicals in Canada. I love that there is so much focus and funding going to create new work. I was really lucky and performed at the InTune Conference and Blame Canada! with The Canadian Theatre Writer’s Collective. There is so much interesting and exciting work being created right now. Those events, and my time at R.A.M are what have inspired me to start Canuck Theatre. I want to showcase Canadian work in the U.K. Musicals like Children of God and Les Filles du Roi focusing on Indigenous stories are so important to share with the world. This is a part of our history, and our history within the Commonwealth that should be told.  

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OSB: Obviously, I've been following your career since you first graduated from Capilano University. You were booking lead roles and working all over Canada. What made you decide to go back to school and put your career on pause for a year?

JN: I was very fortunate to get to work on amazing projects throughout Canada and to be a part of many Western Canadian and World Premieres. I also produced a lot in Vancouver. Those are the shows I’m most proud of. Producing with Another Musical Co-op was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences. I learnt so much about myself as a performer during those projects. I do think it’s important though to always continue training. I was feeling quite stagnate as an actor and that I hit a wall in my performing. I am so grateful I took a year off from working to go back to an extremely focused training. I’ve grown so much this year and it’s given me a new trajectory for my career.  

0SB: How was the workload going back to school after having such an exceptional career in Canada?

JN: The workload was extremely demanding. I’m used to focusing on one project at a time, maybe two. Being back at school I had to split my focus on many different classes and performance projects. I was learning much more varied material than I had been used to. I was usually at school for 10 to 12 hours every day. You had to learn how to pace and take care of yourself both mentally and physically.  

OSB:  What is one piece of advice you would give to people who are planning to go back to school or to further their education? 

JN: If you have any inclination to go back to school Do it! It’s one of the best decisions I have ever made.  

OSB: And then what would you tell first year, twenty year old, Jennie now? What would you tell her?

JN: Celebrate what makes you unique instead of trying to fit into a box.  

OSB: So how are you going to approach your career now when looking at roles or shows? How are  you looking at developing your career? Has studying at R.A.M. changed your perspective?

JN: This year has shown me what I can bring to the table that no one else can. Going back to school is what inspired me to start Canuck Theatre in the first place. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to showcase Canadian work in the U.K. I think it’s important and something that isn’t being done enough outside of Canada. The Canadian Cabar-eh was just a taster of what I have planned for Canuck Theatre.

OSB: Yes, huge congratulations on Canuck Theatre’s first event, The Canadian Cabar-eh, at The Phoenix Arts Club. What a debut to have!. It sounded like an amazing event. Tell me more about it. 

JN: Well first and most importantly all the proceeds of The Canadian Cabar-eh went to The Actor’s Benevolent Fund. It was really important to me for our first event to give back to the community that has inspired me. The Actor’s Benevolent Fund is an organization that gives aid to actors and stage managers in need due to illness, injury or old age.  

OSB: That’s really cool that your first event was to give back to the theatre community in Britain. It’s very rare that a professional company’s first event is solely for charity.

JN: It’s something that’s really important to me. I’d like to make The Canadian Cabar-eh a yearly event that’s entire focus is to give back.  

OSB: What makes The Canadian Cabar-eh unique from other events?

 The Canadian Cabar-eh is purely new Canadian written musical theatre. London audiences have never heard this collection of music before. It’s important to introduce work that is being created in Canada. Canadian writers have a unique voice and perspective that should be highlighted in the

United Kingdom, especially with our history in the Commonwealth. I’m thrilled that our first cabaret included not only London performers, but Canadian performers as well. I was lucky enough to have the phenomenal Eva Tavares perform. She most recently finished the North American tour as Christine Daee in Phantom of the Opera. It was a great event to combine Canadian and British artists performing Canadian material and London audiences really responded.

OSB: So how did a London audience react to some of the newer Canadian material?

JN: I was surprised and delighted to see a lot of Canadian expats in the audience actually. People were blown away by how clever and funny and often poignant the work is. Craigslist Cantata in particular was a huge hit. After the cabaret people were coming up to me asking when our next event was. They wanted to come back and hear more. It’s exciting for audiences to hear something completely different. It’s been fantastic being able to share this work and celebrate it with our Commonwealth family.  

OSB: How did you manage to collect all this exclusive material that has never been produced in the U.K.?

JN: What was really amazing is when I first announced the cabaret, Canadian composers were so excited to share their work with new audiences. Every writer I asked was eager to be involved. We had songs from Award Winning writers including Corey Payette, Andrew Cohen and Tracey Powers. 

I was honoured to have Landon Braverman’s music included. He’s been a huge advocate for Canadian writers having founded The Canadian Musical Theatre Writer’s Collective. It was a phenomenal event to introduce London audiences to what work is being done in Canada.  

OSB: What can London audiences expect to see next from Canuck Theatre?

JN: The plan is to produce full productions of Canadian written musicals. After the feedback from the cabaret, there are definitely shows that London audiences are keen to see. I’m in talks with different writers, but you’ll have to keep an eye on our website to find out more about our next event!

OSB: I have to ask what’s the best UK show that hasn't been brought to North America? That really should be?

JN: I think audiences should be very excited for Six that is coming to the Citadel. It’s just announced it’s going to Broadway, what a great coup for Edmonton audiences! I will say though the number one show here right now is the Canadian written Come From Away! I’m beyond excited that audiences in the West End are flocking to a show uniquely Canadian.

OSB: So when can audiences look forward to seeing you next perform?

JN: I’m actually returning to Vancouver this September to star as Kathy in Raincity’s production of Company.  The production will be staged in an apartment so it’ll be completely immersive and a very unique experience for theatre goers. I love performing in unconventional settings so I’m really looking forward to this production. I think it’ll be an event not to be missed for Vancouver audiences.

OSB: So then have you missed the theatre scene in Canada?

Of course, the Canadian industry is very special. For being such a big country it’s such a connected community. Even being halfway across the world I still feel connected especially now with Canuck Theatre. I’ve been getting to collaborate with Canadian writers and explore their work with London actors and directors. It’s sharing a piece of my home with London and really what could be better?

OSB: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat. Can’t wait to see what you and Canuck Theatre do next. This is definitely a company to watch out for. London audiences should be prepared!