Jeremy Webb vividly recalls a night he was starring as Macbeth on Neptune’s studio stage: “A lady on Argyle Street came up to me and says you were wonderful, fantastic, I loved you…as the Clock.”
He recounts the story with a grin. He had just played one of the great Shakespearean roles, and the fan, like many others, wanted to congratulate Webb on his performance as Cogsworth, the tightly wound enchanted clock in Beauty and the Beast.
The gregarious actor actually played the role twice at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre, in 2007, when he was nominated for a Merritt Award for best supporting actor and again in 2016 for the hit production of the Disney musical that has claimed a huge place in his heart.
Soon, people may start recognizing him for another Neptune role: artistic director. It’s a role for which he has been preparing for nearly two decades.
Neptune Theatre was where Webb made his Canadian theatre debut. The memories flood back every time he rides its elevator.
The day after arriving in 1998, the Cambridge, U.K. native took that elevator to begin rehearsals for Blood Brothers, directed by Linda Moore.
“I was mesmerized,” he recalls. “It was like walking into a movie set. There were the accents, the wide streets. People were walking around with Tim Horton’s cups in their hands and everyone was so friendly. It was like nothing I’d experienced before. Film producers I hadn’t met agreed to see me just because I was new in town. John Dunsworth had me in his casting office doing Shakespearean monologues.”
Back in England, he graduated from the acting program at Bristol Old Vic Theatre, which counts Daniel Day-Lewis, Patrick Stewart, and Jeremy Irons, among its alumni. Webb was one of many talented young actors competing for gigs.
In Halifax, he stood out, quickly landing roles as a villain on CBC TV series Pit Pony, as a guest star on the quirky sci-fi drama Lexx, and later in theatres across the province including Two Planks and a Passion in Canning, Valley Summer Theatre in Wolfville, and Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre.
In those early days, he met Elizabeth Murphy, co-founder and co-artistic director of Shakespeare by the Sea.
“He’s one of those people who makes his presence known,” she recalls, noting he has starred in a number of shows for the Halifax company which turns 25 this year, including Othello, for which he won a Merritt Award for best actor for his turn as Iago. “Doing Othello with Jeremy and Troy [Adams, the title character] was magic. He’s a wonderful character actor and you see all these amazing characters parts he plays come together in a very serious role like Iago.”
Murphy, who also calls Webb a friend, says he is a good choice for Neptune because in his heart he’s a great producer and PR genius.
“He’s always thinking ‘how do I let people know this is happening?’ He has his ear to the ground and is friendly with everyone. He’s committed to showing off everything that is good locally and will give Haligonians new experiences they might not have had.”
Webb understands Neptune’s role as a regional theatre and the importance of connecting to community, says general manager Lisa Bugden. “He has a keen interest in creating theatre that is of this place and that speaks to this community.” Though his five-year appointment began Jan. 1, 2018, he rolled up his sleeves as soon as his appointment was announced at the end of August to begin developing his first season, Bugden adds.
The 2018-2019 season will be announced on Feb. 14, two months earlier than usual. “It’s a love letter to Halifax,” enthuses Webb, who continued to work as Eastern Front Theatre’s artistic producer till the end of 2017, while taking on his new Neptune duties.
He’s also excited to direct Mamma Mia!, the final show programmed by outgoing artistic director George Pothitos, April 10 to June 3. “I’m inheriting one of the most established theatre companies in Canada,” Webb says. “And coincidentally I’m taking over with a new, renovated building…I want to throw open the doors, bring love, heart, soul, and passion into the building. It’s such a great resource for the community. I want to choose plays that will challenge the audience and give them an inspiring night out at the theatre. I have a strong desire to see more diversity on stage. It’s important for the artistic director to have an eye for that.”
One thing he won’t be eyeing is actors’ measurements.
In November, the theatre community rejoiced at Webb’s Facebook post calling for an end to “the archaic, unnecessary practice of having measurements on resumés,” responding with more than 230 likes to his pledge “as Neptune’s new AD, I will ask actors to black out those numbers with a sharpie, going forward, until it’s a thing of the past.”