Melissa Jane Shaw
Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design
Degree: Theatre and Drama Studies
Year of graduation: 2000
Actor, choreographer, producer, writer, singer. Melissa-Jane (MJ) Shaw is all of these and more.
The theatre company she founded in 2006, Seventh Stage Theatre Productions, has received consistent high acclaim for its work. The Toronto company’s latest play, Stockholm, (which MJ starred in) was nominated for a Dora Award in 2012. MJ works closely with former classmate, Kelly Straughan, who is the Artistic Director of the not-for-profit women’s-based theatre company. Strong supporters of Sheridan, they regularly hire students and graduates as interns.
With additional projects keeping them busy, MJ and Kelly have put Seventh Stage on a hiatus until the fall of 2013. They are taking the time to focus on other tasks, with MJ acting in the lead role of Hard Rock Medical, a new Canadian TV series and Kelly serving as the new Executive Director of the Toronto Fringe Festival.
Born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, MJ spent her teenage years dancing and singing in Ottawa, before coming to Sheridan. After graduation, MJ did a couple of tours singing on Celebrity Cruises until a nasty injury led her to develop a second career as a publicist. During this time, she returned to the University of Toronto to earn her Masters in Theatre.
Today MJ works mostly as an actor and choreographer. She choreographs musicals regularly at The Rose Theatre in Brampton, does many television voice-overs and works on set and on stage. In between she keeps busy with the business of Seventh Stage and LaRouge Entertainment, her corporate entertainment company, as well as teaching dance, fitness and yoga classes for various studios.
It’s amazing to think of how many things she does on a regular basis, but MJ says this is typical of most of the people in her field.
“Canadian artists have to be multi-talented to make a living. The ones who develop every skill possible stay employable,” she says. “This includes working in theatre admin, creating companies, writing, teaching, you name it. Even the few who work exclusively as actors have mastered the marketing themselves through social media.”
With so much experience and such a long list of projects, MJ seems the perfect person to give advice to new graduates. Her top tips are:
● Take risks; it’s the only way you get better.
● Get to know your strengths; don’t be something you’re not.
● Work, work, work! Theatre and acting is a business - the 10,000 hour rule applies.
Finally, MJ reminds graduates to be sure they’ve chosen the right path. “If you can imagine yourself being happy working in any other industry - do that instead. People aren’t kidding when they say this is a very tough career.”