[H]e’s a man who accidentally came across his destiny. Sheldon Rosen, associate professor at Ryerson’s Theatre School, is the mind behind New Voices, an annual festival that reveals the hearts and souls of hungry actors and dancers.
While working at Ryerson for over 12 years, he continues to teach this mandate unto his students.
“I don’t like the real world all that much so my religion and spirituality exists within the realm of the imagination. And the work I do here with the students is about their imaginations,” says Rosen.
But teaching theatre and performing arts wasn’t always one of Rosen’s interests – his first career choice was to be a baseball player. When that didn’t seem attainable, he completed his undergraduate degree in psychology instead.
A creative voice inside then led him to Syracuse University, where he went to graduate school for film and broadcasting. The television program in Syracuse is the sister program of the television program at Ryerson today.
Life wasn’t all fun and dandy after Rosen graduated. Through a series of circumstances, he became a vagrant hopping place-to-place, unsure of what each day might bring. Except for one day when an accidental wander into a library theatre would have something special awaiting him.
Rosen walked straight into a play casting and landed a role right then and there, despite his poor acting skills, so he believed.
“My character had a 10-second monologue at the end of act one. I kept adding my own lines to the monologue and the director loved it,” he said.
The 10-second monologue became a 20-minute monologue by the time he finished.
His ultimate decision to expand his career as a playwright broke out when his one-act play was accepted into the Toronto Learning Resources Centre’s one-night festival.
From there, Rosen began to produce his own plays. Close connections with theatre friends gave him the opportunity to travel to Vancouver and Stratford for two years. Rosen even found himself in New York on Broadway—a playwright’s dream.
Some of Rosen’s first plays include NED AND JACK, Souvenirs, and the Grand Hysteric. He has written and composed seventeen plays in his lifetime so far.
The success of the playwright provided a chance for him to go to National Theatre School in Montreal. Although he testifies to have learned a lot there, Rosen was ready for a mature role in his calling.
Perry Schneiderman, former director of the Theatre program at the National Theatre School, moved to Toronto where he then became the former Chair of RTS (he no longer resides). Schneiderman brought his brilliant student, Rosen, into the business.
After landing his career at Ryerson, Schneiderman asked Rosen to create an end-of-year event to showcase the hard work of graduating classes — thus came the New Voices Annual Festival.
Ever since this became a fourth-year project for the Creative Performance Studies program, student actors and dancers have begun to create and discover their own voices.
“No matter what someone brings in, I can connect to it. So it’s not about them doing it the way I would do it, but it’s about helping them find the best way for them to say and deliver what is in their heart.” said Rosen, “But there’s something about the ownership and statement of ‘this is who I am’ that students are afraid of.”
During the mid-week of this year’s festival, full-house audiences were privileged to see jaw-dropping dance performances such as H for Hyper | A for Alpha and Oh Bondye, Poukisa; both choreographed by Rodney Diverlus.
These dances combined lasted over an hour, but when observing the performances to the last detail, it wouldn’t feel this way. They contained a mixture of high energy, unusual, yet synchronized body movement, and cultural origin.
Another theatrical production that stunned the crowd was And Now, The End, a play that illustrates the relationships between individuals in different walks of life after being told that an asteroid would destroy planet earth in a year.
“Once the piece is chosen, it totally belongs to them. They’re about to graduate when they get out there, that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said.
There have been countless occasions where student work from the festival was picked up to appear before larger platforms around the world.
“New Voices is not the final product, it’s just a step in the process where students are able to see what they’ve worked on come to life, so that they have something to leave with after they leave our hallowed halls.”
This year the usual four-day festival expanded to a thrilling 10 days due to the excessive talent.
Like eating from a bag of Lays chips, Rosen couldn’t choose the limited amount he was ordered to. He has attended eight out of 10 festival nights, and on each night, sits back to soak in the polished productions of his students.
“I’m amazed by the combination of what understanding commitment and discipline can achieve.”