By Karon Liu
With only a few days left until the curtain rises at the Ryerson Theatre School, none of the plays or dances are finished — and it’s going to stay that way.
Returning for its fourth year, the New Voices festival showcases seven plays and six dances that are still in the works, created entirely by fourth-year theatre students in the creative performance study program.
“When the (theatre) program moved from a three-year certificate program to a four-year degree program, there was a greater emphasis on students finding and creating their own work,” producer and theatre school faculty member Sheldon Rosen says.
From there, Rosen helped establish the creative performance program where students create monologues, plays and dances. He also leads the Guerilla Theatre, a student-run theatre company where anyone can show off their work and receive feedback from the audience. New Voices emerged from Guerilla to continue the process on a larger scale. Here, the focus isn’t about a finished product — it’s about how the work can develop after graduation.
Mary Anne Campbell never took creative writing classes or drama in high school and remembers that she had nothing to present to the class in her first year. But now she is choreographing a 20-minute dance entitled “Jaded,” a title that she admits to creating just hours beforehand. It revolves around the beauty myth, as dancers are transformed into various beauty icons: a housewife, a goddess, a geisha and a prostitute.
So how does one choreograph a dance sequence out of the blue? “I don’t know,” Campbell says jokingly. “I start with an idea and a movement. When I get someone to do it, it’s sometimes different, and when I get three dancers to do it, it’s three different movements. From there, I take what I liked from each of them and go from there.” Monika Schneider also took a similar cut-and-paste approach to her one-woman show, “Nevil.”
She’s still cutting down two hours of material into a dramatic monologue about a mentally challenged boy who struggles with the events in his life while working at an animal shelter. “Nevil” was conceived in a second-year improv class and developed in Rosen’s creative class, where other characters emerged. “It’s the first time that I’ll be doing this in front of an audience,” Schneider says. “When I came into this, I didn’t expect to write a play, much less do a one-woman show, but I was encouraged by (Rosen) and my friends.”
She gloats that since her set consists of two chairs, it can be rehearsed anywhere, including the boardroom where she currently sits, which is occupied by two massive wooden tables and bookcases filled with scripts.
Her classmate Aviva Zimmerman often watches Schneider practice and says that she would use the room for rehearsals too. But instead of two chairs, Zimmerman’s “Huffing Lysol” requires room for her dancers, so it’s a definite challenge. “We literally have no budget for this. It’s no frills,” Rosen says. “Everything you see is put together by the students themselves. It’s not like we could shut down the school and let them practice. Dancers and actors have different schedules, so it’s hard to find time to rehearse. The whole thing is an extraordinary team effort.” Despite the lack of space, Zimmerman expresses excitement for her “hyper-reality, pop culture sideshow” with jazz hands. It’s a critique of mass media through sketch comedies and infomercials that sell supremacist Barbies.
“Creating your own work is a need, and most people find that it’s not all about just being a classically trained actor. Ask anyone in the industry and they’ll tell you that,” says Zimmerman, who stayed at Ryerson solely because of the creative performance program. “Just getting experience and satisfaction of presenting your own work is great. I don’t have to say anything; my head just vomits and it’s all on the stage. It’s all about finding your own voice,” she says.
With that, Rosen takes a breath and whispers, “You’ll just have to come and see it.”
New Voices runs from March 26 – 30 at the Ryerson Theatre. Tickets are $12 in advance for students, $16 general admission.