Akiba Alum Makes Mark with ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’

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Actor Michael Zegen, Matthew Shapiro, actress Rachel Brosnahan and Shapiro’s girlfriend Natalie Savits, with actress Alex Borstein photobombing, attend the season one premiere of ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.’ | Photo provided

Matthew Shapiro got his start in theater as an elementary school student at Solomon Schechter Day School, but it was in the drama program at Akiba Hebrew Academy — now Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy — that he found his passion.

That passion took him to the Emmy Awards this year, where The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a series he worked on as a co-producer, won eight awards. The Amazon series follows the life of a 1950s Jewish housewife in New York City who finds her way into stand-up comedy after her husband leaves her.

The show picked up awards for outstanding comedy series, outstanding lead actress in a comedy series, outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series, outstanding directing for a comedy series and outstanding writing for a comedy series at the Primetime Emmy Awards.

At the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, the show also won outstanding casting for a comedy series, outstanding music supervision and outstanding single-camera picture editing for a comedy series.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has scored with audiences as well, with an audience approval rating of 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.com.

“Since I was a kid, [I] just kind of always loved film,” Shapiro said. “I used to perform plays for my parents. I did so many a day they put a limit on how many they would watch a day.”

At Akiba, he performed in The Music Man, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Me and My Girl and Hello, Dolly! He also directed his own show, Born Yesterday, and found he was better suited to a behind-the-scenes role.

“That’s where you’re really able to tell the story,” Shapiro said.

After graduating from Akiba in 2001 and studying film and television at New York University, he did production work for Failure to Launch, My Week with Marilyn and After Earth, among other films. In the Golden Age of Television, though, his most notable work might be his producer credit for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Shapiro’s drama teacher at Akiba, Dewey Oriente, who still works at the school, said he isn’t surprised that Shapiro ended up as a co-producer for a hit series. And he’s incredibly proud.

“Matt was very enthusiastic,” Oriente said. “He was a great asset to the program. He and the group of friends that were in there, there was a lot of camaraderie amongst the students [and] amongst me and the students. We really had a good time together.”

Shapiro’s first major job out of college was as a post-production assistant on Failure to Launch. After that, the jobs started rolling in. New York City has a small, tight-knit community of people who work in his field, Shapiro noted, so people recommend each other and help each other out on projects.

“[It] is similar to the nice community of why I loved Philly and loved going to Akiba, where there was really this nice, small, nurturing community of people and friends that I’m still in touch with,” he said.

For more than a decade, Shapiro has worked in post-production. For the projects he works on, he takes the footage and puts it together, including the music.

“You have your basic building blocks and you’re now trying to craft this story,” he said. “What you can do in editing is pretty incredible. Taking out a shot or reversing the order of shots, you can really change a lot. You’re making the story come to life.”

Two years ago, he received a call that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was looking for a post-production producer. He read the pilot script and wanted to jump on board. He had been waiting for the right series to launch him into television work. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel spoke to him.

“It was that pilot script I read,” Shapiro said. “It had such a great vision. You just saw that world of 1958 and the character’s life is blown up and she finds her way into comedy. It was just such a funny, kind of different, brilliant script. The cast they put together for that and the whole team they got on that was pretty amazing.”

He got started right away, working with the team to put the pilot together. He is now working on the second season.

“It’s been incredible,” Shapiro said. “From the beginning, I thought this project was special and I loved it and I love being a part of it. But you work really hard on some projects and love them and think they’re great, and then no one watches them or a very small group of people end up seeing it. For something to be a part of the zeitgeist and really connect with people — the love for this show has just been really exciting and rewarding to see. There’s something so joyous about the show and positive.” 

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