Like most theater pros, Jen Schriever got her start in high school drama, in the Ridgewood High School New Players Company. But the stage wasn’t for her.
“I was terrified of performing, but I loved theater.”
Schriever found a subtler role in the background, hanging the lights from the ceiling that direct the audience’s gaze and set the show’s mood. Next month she returns to New Jersey professionally for the first time since leaving for theater design jobs in New York City and abroad.
The gig is directing the lighting for The Other Josh Cohen at Millburn’s Paper Mill Playhouse, set to open Feb. 19.
“My role is a little more abstract,” said Schriever, a 1998 Ridgewood High graduate and adjunct theater professor at Purchase College, where she studied. “It supplements the show with something that’s a little less literal, heightening the moment psychologically or emotionally.”
“Sometimes it’s best if the audience doesn’t even notice it.”
Her work hasn’t gone unnoticed in the theater world, though. Her list of credits both on her own and as an associate is long, including several Broadway productions. On New Year’s Eve, she lit the Metropolitan Opera.
She was enthusiastic about the upcoming Paper Mill production, not least for what she said is a refreshing originality. The Other Josh Cohen is a musical comedy about a down-and-out New York City burglary victim who faces a dilemma when he mistakenly receives a large and much-needed check intended for – well, the other Josh Cohen.
It’s an original story that debuted only in 2012 at the SoHo Playhouse.
The month-long run is also a bit of a homecoming for Schriever, who credited her local roots and easy access to quality theater with inspiring her path into the industry.
The theater world is filled with Ridgewood connections, she said.
“Ridgewood has a unique theater situation,” Schriever told Patch. “It’s weird that people who I know in theater are my friends from high school.”
“There’s a weird hotbed of creativity in Ridgewood.”
That doesn’t make it easy of course. Her first paid gig, landed over the summer when she was 16, came through a professional lighting designer working with the New Players. It was grunt work, disassembling lights after concerts at the Meadowlands, from the shows’ late night endings, sometimes, until dawn.
Her advice to hometown aspirants was simple: take all the grunt work you can get.“Say yes and seek out any way to be around the theater,” Schriever said. “And say yes to any project no matter how grueling. They always lead to something bigger and better.”