Mike Ross earns a place in the Soulpepper Theatre Academy
by Lindsay Kyte
Mike Ross sipped his Starbucks coffee like a real Torontonian. He was fooling everyone but himself. A look of worry suddenly crossed his face. “Oh God. I hope I don’t melt from the humidity here this summer,” he exclaimed, with a characteristic messing of his hair.
Ross, former Jive Kings’ front man and Charlottetown Festival regular, will not be returning to the Island’s ocean breezes this summer. He’s been chosen as one of 10 members of Toronto’s prestigious Soulpepper Theatre Academy, a pilot program designed to rival the National Theatre School and the Stratford Conservatory.
“I’ve been known as the ‘musician who acts’ or the ‘actor who plays music’ for a while now. And it’s been great. But I’ve been looking for an opportunity to further my acting skills so I can stand on my own two feet in either genre,” says Ross. “This program is the perfect place for it. I feel like I’ve been lacking in some aspects of acting technique and when it comes to certain playwrights, eras or styles, there are definite things you have to know.”
The Soulpepper Academy is a two-year intensive program for actors already in the business who want to enhance their skills. Competition was stiff, with hundreds of actors who’ve shone under the lights of Stratford, Shaw and beyond vying for a spot in this inaugural year. Ross was at home in PEI for the holidays when he got the news.
“I was unbelievably excited,” he recounts. “When all is said and done, I’ll be very proud to say I was part of the first Soulpepper Academy. And I’m also proud to say I’m representing PEI there. I like it when people’s eyebrows go up when I tell them where I’m from.”
However, entering a two-year intensive means a lot of change for Ross and his fiancée, Nicole Bellamy, who had enjoyed their summers working in PEI and working all over Canada for the rest of the year. “It’s very different, knowing exactly where I’ll be for two years. I’ll be in the company of some truly great artists and part of a really exciting project. But I’ll really miss being home this summer. I’ve learned so much from the Charlottetown Festival and met some truly great people. I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to have performed with them.”
After the Academy’s two years, Ross is undecided about where he will go next. “I haven’t had a plan yet for life and I’ve done okay. I prefer to have a series of possibilities in mind and wherever I’m pushed, I’ll go. Part of me would like to take what I learn at Soulpepper and open a theatre company in PEI. And another part of me would like to stay in Toronto and work on important projects either as an actor or a musician.”
Ross says where he comes from and what he’s learned from his experiences in PEI are a huge part of the reason he got that phone call last December. “I’ve gained essential skills from everything from dinner theatre to the Jive Kings to the Festival to UPEI. It’s one of those things where you don’t realize what you’ve been training for until the opportunity presents itself. Then it all makes sense.”