Shu Shubat's family always belittled her dreams of becoming a performer. Years later she found out why: "My father had a cousin who was an acrobatic dancer in a strip club."
The family was so scandalized that to this day they don't talk much about this relative. But when Shubat wanted to take dance lessons in the first grade, her father was clearly frightened, telling her that she was too old. When that didn't dissuade her, Shubat's father and grandmother filled her head with all kinds of ideas about the horrors that lay in store for anyone in the arts--drug addictions, poverty, despair.
If this approach was meant to scare her off, it worked--temporarily. She was still attracted to the arts, and to anyone who could create without feelings of guilt.
When she was in her early 20s, Shubat, now 43, became romantically involved with a jazz composer and performer, Pat Metheny, who didn't smoke, didn't drink, didn't do drugs, didn't do any of the things her father had warned her about. For six years, Shubat says, she lived for Metheny. When he was on tour, she killed time, skating along the lakefront when the weather was nice, listening to music when it wasn't. "I supported him emotionally while he focused on his art," she says. In return, he showed her that leading a creative life could be satisfying.
But Shubat soon grasped that she was living vicariously through him. "I realized it was making me miserable. If I didn't try to see if I could do it on my own, I felt I would literally become ill."
Soon after she broke up with Metheny, she bought a bass guitar and began teaching herself how to play. While she was waitressing at the Heartland Cafe, she met Janet Bean of Eleventh Dream Day. Bean invited her to join the band. Though she was far from an accomplished musician--"They used to feed me chords to play"--Shubat was now performing.
By 1989 she had left the band and, along with Ollie Seay, founded Tarantula Moon, a performance art troupe. After several years of working in such fringe venues as MoMing and Link's Hall, Tarantula Moon evolved into the Jellyeye drum theater, now known for its intensely physical, highly choreographed spectacles, gracefully combining Shubat's interests in music and dance.
Today Shubat feels liberated, but remains cautious. "I'm like a cat who's just been let out of the closet," she says. "I'm going slowly, but I am moving."
This weekend Jellyeye presents a compilation of five years' worth of work--a greatest hits, of sorts--at 8 PM Friday and Saturday and 2 PM Sunday at Pegasus Players, in the O'Rourke Performing Arts Center of Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson; tickets cost $17 to $19. Call 773-878-9761.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by J.B. Spector.