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Steve Ross's LIFE WITHOUT to be read February 29 by NEW STAGES in Peterborough

Market Hall Performing Arts Centre, 140 Charlotte Street, Peterborough, Ontario.

Courtesy of Steve Ross

Joe Szekeres

I look forward to any opportunity to speak with the down-to-earth, unpretentious Steve Ross. He is just one hell of a nice guy who quickly puts people at ease. Sometimes, we need to say this to other people. His response:

“Thank you. Well, I was raised by good people. It’s a conscious effort.”

Steve’s back at Stratford now in rehearsals for ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ to play Albin and in ‘Something Rotten’ to play Shylock. ‘The Merchant of Venice’ has always been his favourite Shakespearean play. He will probably never get the chance to play Shylock, so he’s quite content to go the route of musical theatre to play the role high school students will always remember. ‘Something Rotten’ is pre-Merchant days. Shylock is the producer of the musical that gets put on.

I’ve never seen ‘Something Rotten.’ Ross believes the show is an excellent fit for this year’s Festival.

Steve is also a playwright and a fine actor. This month, his script ‘Life Without’ (which premiered at Stratford’s outdoor HERE FOR NOW FESTIVAL) will have a staged reading on February 29 at New Stages, Peterborough, with actors Fiona Reid, Michael Riley, and Sean P. Dolan. Founding Artistic Director of NEW STAGES Randy Read will direct the staged reading.

Is there a significance behind the title NEW STAGES?

Steve said Randy went back and forth regarding the company name selection for some time. It wasn’t about new work, but Randy liked the implications of potential work, new work, and new horizons. NEW STAGES current Artistic Director, Mark Wallace, appears to be pushing for new theatrical work, which Steve finds quite exciting.

‘Life Without’ started as a monologue, and the other two characters appeared. The production then became three people. It is billed on the NEW STAGES website as: “What do you do when your child turns out completely differently from the person you hoped they would be? LIFE WITHOUT is a riveting drama about family, children, grandchildren, the dream of happiness, and the prospect of a life without.” I saw the first production last summer at Here for Now. What do I remember the most about the production? Audience members were getting up to leave, but I couldn’t. I had to sit there for a few minutes to gather my thoughts.

Sean P. Dolan will return from the HERE FOR NOW production to play the same role.

Ross is elated with this casting for ‘Life Without.’ Fiona is well-known in film, television, and stage, having just finished appearing in ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.’ Steve says Michael is a fantastic artist who has appeared in numerous television and film roles. Riley loves the staged readings and has appeared in a few. NEW STAGES’ model of staged readings requires the artists to come in the afternoon, rehearse, and then read later in front of an audience. The story unfolds in the audience's imagination as they listen.

What is it about staged readings that appeal to actors in general?

For Steve, it’s the words and the acting. Actors have no choice but to listen to the writer’s words. There’s no gap, no props, and no costumes, and that’s what Steve loves. Randy also likes that, and so do the Peterborough audiences, who, according to Steve, love using their imaginations:

“Staged readings give an audience ownership. They feel part of it instead of having something put at them. Audiences don’t have a choice as they are involved.”

Ross will not attend this staged reading on February 29 since he is in rehearsals himself; however, as a playwright, he re-visits his work with audience and actor feedback. After its premiere at HERE FOR NOW, he did that with ‘Life Without.’ Mark Wallace will do a question and answer after the staged reading, and Ross is keen to hear the responses then.

He continues as a playwright. His production ’12 Dinners’ will premiere this summer at Stratford’s Here for Now Theatre July 10-27.

Is he writing another play for a larger cast, or does he prefer the intimacy of a smaller cast? He cheekily responded:

“Yes, and yes are the short answers. I wonder because I’m so new to writing, I wonder if the influence of the knowledge that to get things produced you have to do small casts for the most part was inbred before I even started writing. As an actor, you watch, look and wonder at the fact that there are many small casts out there.”

He is developing a six-person play, the biggest he’s ever written. Steve’s learning a lot about six threads on the page and making sure there are six active voices in the script. This one’s a comedy and he is excited to see where this will lead because he's never written one. This play will be part of the Foster Festival in St. Catherines. That festival put the call out for some new work and took submissions last year, and three were chosen. Steve doesn’t know the other two playwrights. Each of them will get some sessions with the team at the Foster Festival and Norm himself on Zoom to develop and tweak the play.

In April, the three playwrights will get public readings, and then one of those shows will be a full production. Steve remarked:

“It’s been so cool to pick Norm’s brain about comedy because I’m a fan of his writing.”

What continues to keep him focused on the theatre industry as an artist?

“The glib answer is I kinda don’t know how to do anything else. I find the longer I’m in the industry the more I want to do it. My bar keeps rising for myself, and I want to do better and better work, and I want to get in the mindset. I don’t mean to sound like a noble person, but I’ve never been in the industry to be a star…I’m in it (and it’s taken me a long time to articulate) live in people’s skins and live different existences. That’s what keeps me going back and back and back…”

As a writer, Steve gets to create these people on the page, whereas as an actor, he and the other actors have to create the foundation behind the scenes with the assistance of the creative team.

Ross is endlessly fascinated with everyone, so I’m glad I told him he’s a nice guy who puts people at ease so quickly. He’s been a working actor for the last 32 years and is grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the craft and the art of “getting to live in people’s skin.”

He’s also worked hard at his career, and that’s purposeful on his part. He wants to be a good company member. He makes it a point to get to know new company members at the Stratford Festival, and anywhere he’s hired. He likes to get to know the names of everyone behind the scenes, too, because he does. Well, to me, this sounds like Steve is highly in demand as an artist, be it at the Festival, HERE FOR NOW, and Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre, where he performed in the annual panto this past December.

Steve has been grateful for the re-hiring at the Festival, as that has been key at this stage. As he gets older, he is now in the process of paying it forward and setting an example of showing generosity, much in the same way individuals like the late Keith DiNicol showed him.

See? That’s why Steve Ross is a hell of a nice guy.

And that’s why you should get to see the staged reading of his script LIFE WITHOUT on February 29 and see Fiona Reid, Sean P. Dolan and Michael Riley bring the story to life.

To learn more about NEW STAGES and to purchase tickets for February 29 and other events, visit or call the Box Office (705) 775-1503.

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