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Impactful Alumni

A celebration of alumni from the school's first 20 years who have made significant impact on their industries, and continue to awe and inspire.

By current student Betty Fan

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Philip Akin's time in the Acting program inspired him to exist in the world as his authentic self - not to compromise or make apologies in order to fit in to an existing industry. He continues to be motivated by the principle of continuous improvement, and credits the simple act of treating people well as the reason for his successful legacy as a groundbreaker and mentor.

Philip Akin was the first graduate of the Acting program, in 1975. Since then he has appeared in at least 100 feature films and television shows, and has directed and starred in dozens of theatrical productions. Notably, Akin was one of the founding members of Obsidian Theatre, external link in 2000, and the Artistic Director from 2006-2020. In that time he accumulated more directing and leadership awards than any other Black director in the nation, including several Dora Awards, Toronto Theatre Critics, the Mallory Gilbert Leadership Award, the 2019 Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, and recently finished runner up as the Canadian Artist of the Year. His prolific acting career has taken him on screen voicing Bishop on X-Men to the titular character in a Stratford production of Othello. In stepping down from Obsidian Theatre Company, his goal is to ensure Canada’s next generation of Black artists take the helm and spark a narrative for the next generation. Most recently, Phillip is directing for the Shaw Festival including their productions of Trouble in Mind and Gatsby’s Jazz, Sonny’s Blues. He is the namesake of the The Philip Akin - Black Shoulders Legacy Award, external link, which aims to support and nurture emerging Black Canadian theatre artists through financial support, artistic guidance, and national promotion.

When I was just a young carpenter, Philip made the effort to reach out to me. He brought me under his wing, into the Obsidian Theatre family and the wider theatre industry. Without his mentorship I wouldn’t be the designer I am today. He’s put his time and energy into countless Black theatre artists and I’m lucky to be among them.

Rachel Forbes
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Rachel Forbes

Set and Costume Designer

Rachel Forbes is an award-winning set and costume designer creating for theatre, dance, opera and film. Her work has been seen across the country on stages big and small including the Shaw Festival, Buddies in Bad Times, Obsidian Theatre, Neptune Theatre, YPT, Centaur Theatre and many more. Rachel is a graduate of the Production + Design program, and currently teaches design courses at our school.

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The Ryerson experience including great learnings at school and the productions. But looking back the experience of being located downtown in the Toronto theatrical and dance community was an essential experience.

Simon Marsden

Simon is the Director of Production for the Stratford Festival. Previous to that he worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company in a similar capacity. His time leading production departments has included the reconstruction of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, renovation of the Avon and creation of the Studio and recently the new Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford. His other work has included various companies across Canada, the U.S. and Macau..

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I remember the vigour of the program and the lasting friendships that were made through living our art and growing up in a specialized dance program! The friendships made during those years led us to create dance collectives that toured and performed across Canada and in New York City. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing generations of former students out to see live theatre and dance in the community!

Maryanne Marsh

Maryanne Marsh is an artistic director, choreographer, notable dance educator and curriculum leader. As the director for the last 26 years, Marsh pioneered and cultivated an explosive program of a variety of dance arts and musical theatre at Rosedale Heights School of the Arts. The school was a regular high school that became an arts school in working with many students that had no early exposure to the arts. Marsh started the program from scratch and after a few years of teaching dance the program grew from the original two classes to six, and then over the next few years the program was built to include 18 sections of dance reaching over 350 students each year! Marsh is known for creating an innovative curriculum where students not only develop mastery skills in jazz, ballet, modern, musical theatre, improvisation and composition but also in history, anatomy, culture, and global issues in relation to dance. Marsh is also the recipient of the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence in 2002.

Maryanne was my first ballet, modern, and jazz teacher. I probably would have quit, but she told me I had ‘a good plié’. I call her my dance mom because she was the one who brought me into this world. Maryanne inspired me to push myself, be creative, and work with integrity. Maryanne, we, your students, are endlessly grateful.

Lukas Malkowski
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Lukas Malkowski

Lukas Malkowski works and lives in Berlin as an independent dance artist and choreographer. He is currently performing with DJ Luke Slater, working with contemporary dance company Wang/Ramirez, and premiering his short, solo dance film: 'takeoff',

Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg’s performances and education programs have had a major impact on the Canadian music scene. Co-founders of the Opera Atelier, external link, a baroque opera and ballet company, they have garnered national and international recognition for their highly collaborative productions, representing Canada at Milan’s La Scala and at the Royal Opera in Versailles. Despite an extensive international touring schedule, the couple shares their passion for the arts by hosting free workshops in the community for inner-city youth and emerging artists.

I started at Opera Atelier in 2013 as a student intern from the School of Performance. I was really lucky to get the chance to learn from Marshall, Jeannette and the team at OA even when I was still at university - it meant I got great experience working on a full-scale opera production in a professional hall early in my career. In 2015 when the Production Manager position came open I got the opportunity to take on a big role almost right out of school...

Zach Bruman

"...I am lucky to have been mentored by Marshall and Jeannette; they have an immense vault of knowledge built over decades. They have taught me key lessons: always pick up the phone - talking to people is often the best way to get things done. They believe in the power of building strong relationships, and to get things done as soon as they come up. Marshall and Jeannette are incredible problem solvers, and there is nothing they shy away from. Their passion for what they do is contagious!

No job is too small for them - one of my fondest memories is watching Marshall working quietly backstage, stapling 300 fake poppies to a plank of wood alongside Resident Set Designer Gerard Gauci. 

Jeannette has a calm and kind way of working with the dancers, and always gives extra one on one time to any artist who requests it.

My passion is in creating the best working environment for the team - and this is something I have learned from Marshall and Jeannette. 

Congratulations to the School of Performance on the 50th Anniversary!"

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Zach Bruman

My name is Zach Bruman, and I am Director of Production at Opera Atelier. I manage every aspect of getting our operas onto the stage, including budgeting, scheduling, hiring, and overseeing the build, set-up, run and strike of a production. Opera Atelier works internationally, so I have also planned and led several large-scale tours of 75+ artists and production staff to Versailles and Chicago.

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I came to the Theatre School in 1982. I was fresh out of high School and had absolutely no connection to the business. It was an incredible time – the staff were pros who worked at a level I dreamed of working at and they all seemed to have a calling for sharing their knowledge. My career took me off the legit theater path but I always recognize professionally trained Theatre people as having the right mix of brave and bold.

Annemarie Roe

As President of BaAM Productions since its inception, Annemarie Roe has led the company’s Creative and Production resources, working behind the scenes in partnership with leagues and teams to design and execute some of the world’s most prominent sports and entertainment events.

Under her leadership, BaAM has gone on to create fan experiences that face intimidating odds or that are often the first of their kind. Annemarie’s determination to find solutions and push her team to make it all happen is recognized across the industry. Over recent decades, Annemarie’s organizational philosophies of agility and innovative thinking have been vital to maintaining BaAM’s status as a trusted industry leader and go-to-resource for leagues and teams looking to carve new paths for fan engagement.

Her influence spans a client list that includes the IOC, FIFA, Pan Am Organizing Committees, NFL, MLB, NHL, professional sports teams and major sponsors. All one needs to do is look at the company’s portfolio of live entertainment work to see the breadth and depth of her influence. This includes production management of: the first NHL Winter Classic (and every NHL outdoor game since – from Buffalo to Lake Tahoe); relocating two professional sports teams during a global pandemic for the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors; construction of a competitive putting stadium just off the Vegas strip for the inaugural Major Series of Putting championship series; the conversion of a minor league ballpark into a professional venue for MLB Little League Classic; and project managing the build and operations of the highly celebrated MLB at Field of Dreams game.

Annemarie is a powerhouse. With a quick wit and marvelous confidence, Annemarie emanates a grace and effortlessness that is awe-inspiring. The word “magical” comes to mind when I think of her ability to lead a room. Though magic is often a product of wizardry, Annemarie has taught me that her magic stems from passion for her team and years of dedication to her art. She is a truly inspiring industry leader.

Maria Colasante
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Maria Colasante

Production Coordinator at BaAM Productions

As a Production Coordinator at BaAM I keep my finger on the pulse, working closely with colleagues and other great minds in the entertainment industry to support the planning and execution of large scale experiences for fans all over the world.

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Ryerson gave me the start I needed to fulfil my dream of working backstage in professional theatre. Now I get to share my passion for health and safety with current students and I'm always happy to see their enthusiasm and creativity. Another plus is crossing paths with grads and seeing them thrive in the arts and live events.

Janet Sellery

Janet Sellery is one of Canada’s leading experts in health and safety and the arts, entertainment and live events. She started her career in stage management and moved into health and safety after a critical injury involving an actor. Janet pioneered the health and safety program at the Stratford Festival, Canada’s largest repertory theatre, and one of her favourite projects was working as the Health & Safety Manager for the Opening, Closing and Victory Ceremonies at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Janet was a Co-Founder of the Canadian Event Safety Summit (2016-2018) and is now involved with Event Safety Alliance Canada.

Janet is an active volunteer with the Ontario Ministry of Labour Live Performance Health & Safety Advisory Committee, the Scott Johnson Working Group, the Event Safety Working Group and the Board of Directors for the Event Safety Alliance. Janet is certified as both a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) and a Certified Health and Safety Consultant (CHSC).

She has been awarded the “Jack McAllister Award”, the “Ron Epp Memorial Award for Professional Achievement” (Canadian Institute for Theatre Technology) and “Canada’s Safety Manager of the Year” (Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine). As a Health & Safety Consultant (Sellery Health + Safety). Janet focuses on customizing programs, training, and resources to reflect the constantly evolving and unique demands of the live performance environment. Janet is committed to “setting the stage for people to create their best work”. During the pandemic she has been working hard to support the arts community as we all figure out how to return to the work we love the best.

It's no exaggeration to say that Janet has laid the foundation of health & safety in the Arts in Canada. Her work at the Stratford Festival has led to her success as a highly sought-after consultant. Since graduating I've had the pleasure of working with her on a handful of projects, including a full safety review of our very own Ryerson Theatre. Without her mentorship, wisdom, and willingness to answer my calls on the weekend, I can honestly say my career wouldn't be where it is today.

Evan Sandham
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Evan Sandham

Evan is the owner of Production Health & Safety, specializing in health & safety consulting for the Entertainment Industry - from theatre and music festivals to film and tv. Known as a dynamic and engaging presenter, he has also taught theatrical safety workshops across North America.

Sonja Smits Early
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I only completed 2 years of the acting program but will always remember the community that was fostered at Ryerson. Despite the competitive environment, I was able to find a group of friends, who call themselves the “Rye High Gals” that still meet up. My interest in social activism would inspire me to help found the ACTRA Women’s Caucus which helped fight against exploitation of young women in film.

Sonja Smits

Sonja attended in the 3rd year of our Acting Program. Sonja Smits' career over 4 decades has included the lead in three television series, Street Legal, Traders and the Eleventh Hour as well as many TV movies such as Margaret Lawrence's The Diviners and Life with Judy Garlard. Sonja has worked in theatres across Canada and in the US, including the original production of Judith Thompson's Perfect Pie. She has appeared on television in American series and mini series. Her feature films, include David Cronenberg's cult classic, Videodrome and Owning Mahoney with Philip Seymour Hoffman. More recently, she starred in the indie film, Drifting Snow. Sonja has received numerous homours and awards for herwork including a Gemini Award-Best Actress, TWFT-Outstanding Achievement Award and ACTRA Award of Excellence. She was the first artist named as President of Harbourfront Centre Board, was a founding member of ACTRA Women's Caucus and has served as Chair at Toronto Artscape Foundation. Sonja is the co-owner of Closson Chase Vineyards, external link, a pioneer in the creation of the viticulture region of Prince Edward County. Sonja is currently a regular on the series Pretty Hard Cases.