It was 2005 when Jennifer Tober moved to Pittsburgh and took a yoga class in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. When she came across the natural amphitheater in Frick Park, Tober knew it would be the perfect place to bring to life the works of William Shakespeare.
Tober has been a Shakespeare aficionado for decades. After graduating from West Virginia University in 1995 with a master’s degree in acting, Tober moved to New York City, where she spent 11 years acting in regional Shakespeare productions including Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and New York Classical Theatre. A versatile performer, Tober also acted in television shows, films and as an extra on many sets.
“Working on Shakespeare is something I wanted to do since my undergraduate years,” Tober said. “I am proud and happy that I have been able to do so for 25 years.”
Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks started the same year as Tober’s fated walk, with the mission to bring accessible, high-quality and free Shakespeare to Pittsburgh citizens while encouraging the enjoyment and preservation of natural public places and parks.
Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” was PSIP’s first play in 2005. Since then, PSIP has covered a myriad of Shakespeare’s work, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to “Romeo and Juliet” to “King Lear.”
Celebrating PSIP’s 15th anniversary this year, Tober led an all-female production of “Julius Caesar.” Irene Alby, teaching assistant professor of acting and directing at WVU, portrayed Caesar.
“As women in any industry, and specifically theatre because of the inequity of female roles, we have to keep breaking barriers,” Tober said. “We hear all the time that we’re not pretty enough or can’t handle the role. We have to keep pushing and making these opportunities for ourselves.”
Tober was recently honored with a proclamation from the city of Pittsburgh, marking Sept. 10 to be “Jennifer Tober and Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks 15th Anniversary Day” in the city of Pittsburgh.
PSIP has expanded in many ways since Tober’s walk in Frick Park 15 years ago. Production has grown while remaining free to the public, to include performances in Mellon Park and Arsenal Park, and a new Shakespeare reading group has been added, Bring Your Own Bard. Now with a full board of directors and nonprofit organization status, Tober has established a company with the ability to keep Shakespeare alive in Pittsburgh for decades to come.
For more information on PSIP, visit https://www.pittsburghshakespeare.com/.