Rosebud School of the Arts: Transforming lives, Transforming culture
by Laureen F. Guenther
Rosebud School of the Arts in the village of Rosebud, Alberta, offers post-secondary performing arts training that’s unique in Canada.
The school began in 1973 as Rosebud Fine Arts Camps, founded by youth pastor and fine arts teacher, LaVerne Erickson. In 1977, the camps evolved into Rosebud School of the Arts, operating as a fine arts high school until 1986. Rosebud Theatre began in 1983, when the school presented its first theatrical production. In 1988, Rosebud School of the Arts (RSA) began operating as it does now — a post-secondary, performing arts guild school.
RSA now has an average enrollment of 30 students across four years of programs. Rosebud Theatre produces five shows a season, welcoming tens of thousands of visitors every year.
RSA’s tagline is “Be transformed. Transform culture,” says RSA’s education director, Paul Muir.
Student transformation takes a faith-based approach, through two main programs, a one-year Theatre Foundations certificate program, and a three-year Mentorship Program.
Theatre Foundations immerses students in all aspects of theatre – acting, scene study, movement, voice, visual art, design, technical theatre, and “lots of music”. Students also study Christianity and the Arts, Muir says, “learning what it means to be a storyteller of faith.”
Many students who complete the one-year Certificate of Theatre of Foundations audition to enter RSA’s Mentorship Program. Others move in other directions, some going on to degree programs at other Canadian schools.
The three-year Mentorship Program, Muir says, is “our flagship professional theatre training program.” Mentorship students can major in technical arts like stage carpentry, stage management, or lighting. They can major in theatre arts, which includes directing, design, acting or costuming. Or they can choose a major in acting.
“In that (Mentorship) program,” Muir says, “is the real core work of honing, training, transforming, transparent authentic storytellers. That really is the goal.”
Students who complete the Certificate and the first year of the Mentorship Program receive RSA’s two-year Diploma. Those who complete the Certificate and the full, three-year Mentorship Program are awarded RSA’s highest credential, Fellow of Rosebud School of the Arts, FRSA.
Muir believes RSA is unique among Christian faith-based performing arts schools in Canada.
“There’s a strong understanding here (in RSA and in Rosebud Theatre), that if storytellers can truly be conduits for the Spirit, something can happen,” he says. “Something transformational can happen between actor and audience, when that actor, that performer, that set designer, that stage manager, can be utterly free in the Spirit… and give themselves to the story. … Audiences can have the opportunity to be carried along on a ride of the Spirit … that actually shifts, impacts, transforms the way they think and feel.”
Many of Rosebud’s 100 permanent residents are connected to the school or theatre. “We often say ‘It takes a village to raise a storyteller,’” Muir says.
“We really are cloistering ourselves away in this little town, to focus on the work of becoming a storyteller… That happens in the classroom. It happens on the stage. But it also happens on the street or in someone’s living room.”
Each student has a faculty advisor, whom he or she may meet with frequently, and discuss any aspect of life. “Those advisors take that job very seriously,” Muir says. “We all invest in an extra way with those students who are our advisees.”
A “huge performance component” is another RSA distinction, Muir says.
In their first year, students give public performances of a devised movement piece. In their second year, they perform two fully-mounted student plays. In the third and fourth years, they may begin to audition for Rosebud Theatre shows. Every RSA student also spends hours apprenticing alongside professionals in wardrobe, lights, sound design, set building, props and stage management.
Performance and hands-on experience may occur at other theatre schools, Muir says, but not in the way it happens at RSA.
“We often say the audience will teach you,” he says. “When (RSA students) get to act in a play with Rosebud Theatre, they are doing 40, 50, sometimes 90 performances of a show, so they’re out there in front of audiences all the time.”
“Students come out of here with a deeper, more full understanding of that relationship between actor and audience than at most any other theatre school, because of that professional experience they get on the (main stage).”
RSA’s acting students also receive acting coaching in a distinctive way. At most theatre schools, Muir says, an acting instructor coaches an entire class. At RSA, the ratio is one instructor to two students.
While RSA celebrates the benefits of a small, rural village, Muir says the school intentionally builds students’ connections to the broader theatre community.
Theatre professionals from Calgary, an hour away, often instruct at RSA, and students attend many professional theatre productions in Calgary. Students also work alongside professionals who come from across Canada to work at Rosebud Theatre. And in their first, second and third years, students take theatre study trips to Vancouver, Toronto, New York, and London, England.
Then, before graduating with an FRSA, students produce a Final Project, an independent theatre piece.
“The student must pull together a creative team, be in charge of production details, rent a space, find an audience, be in charge of marketing, ensure box office happens, etc,” Muir says. “All the details of mounting an independent project are under the student’s control.”
That’s excellent preparation for theatre graduates, he says, who often create their own work while building their theatre careers. “At RSA, our hope is to be catalysts for transformation in our students,” Muir says.
He describes watching Shayleigh Sihlis, a fourth-year student, perform at a recent RSA event. “I think of her four years ago, when she first came here,” he says. “And I think about her (this week) performing. Just open, available and beaming and alive! … That is a transformed individual.”
“(Shayleigh) knows the difference between being closed and being terrified and not being available, as a storyteller, as a singer, as an actor. And she knows what it is to actually be out there.”
“What we try and do is be the vehicle, the container, for that to happen. We know it’s the Holy Spirit. We know that it’s God working through this container.”
Sihlis speaks about RSA’s transforming impact on her.
“It’s been a really hard journey, but worth it,” she says, “because the (RSA) instructors really get to know you and so they really get to see where your habits are, so you get to have those honest conversations with them about what might be holding you back.”
“That level of relationship that Rosebud brings to the table really has a ripple effect for me. The seeming goal had been for me to find my voice as an artist. But that level of relationship has really affected me on a much deeper level.”
Muir requests prayer that God will continue to bless and guide Rosebud School of the Arts and Rosebud Theatre as they continue transforming culture by transforming student lives.
To learn more about Rosebud School of the Arts, see rosebudschoolofthearts.com.