This month, Steven Rosario is heading to New York City to the English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition for high schoolers – for the second time. Last year, he was a semi-finalist. This year’s win in the state competition, Steven says, has helped convince him of his own acting skills: “I realize that it’s not a fluke.”
Steven is a junior at the Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA), a public charter school for grades 7 to 12, at which students declare a major in one artistic discipline. Steven started as a film major but, in ninth grade, was taken to see Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. Beyond igniting a steadfast devotion to Williams (Steven’s “main man” when it comes to playwrights), the play drew Steven in with its characters – particularly Tom Wingfield, a poet who struggles to free himself from the monotony of daily life. Tom “wanted more,” Steven explains. “I felt like I could connect with him. I wanted more. I didn’t feel fulfilled being behind a camera.” He switched his major to theatre.
One of Steven’s first and favorite theatrical roles was in Prospect High: Brooklyn, a play written by URI graduate Daniel Robert Sullivan and the 46th St. Collective and performed at URI. Playing the role allowed Steven to express feelings he had previously concealed, and to claim credibility in front of an audience of adults. “As a teenager… people look at me and say, ‘You haven’t really experienced life,’ but I feel like it’s different when I’m on stage.” With all eyes on him, “I have the ability to talk about what I want to talk about.”
Steven’s family moved often as he was growing up and his parents got divorced. “I didn’t have anything or anyone to look up to,” he says. “I wanted so much attention that I would often get in trouble.” Like his character in Prospect High, he felt lost and angry without the ability to express himself.
Steven’s arrival at TAPA in seventh grade set a different course. He learned new skills, including memorization and public speaking. “I definitely would not have had so many people who support me in my life as support me now” without coming to TAPA, he says. Steven is similarly dedicated to his community, serving as a teen ambassador for the Trinity Repertory Company and helping his fellow students (and competitors) at TAPA prepare for the Shakespeare competition this year. “I do theatre to inspire other people just like I was once inspired,” he says.
Each participant in the Shakespeare competition performs a monologue and a sonnet. Steven plans to deliver a speech by the villainous Angelo of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, in which he crows that his lecherous advances towards the nun Isabella are impossible to expose (“The character’s just so damn evil!”). To temper the villainy, he’ll be pairing it with the more starry-eyed Sonnet 116. Shakespeare “was infatuated with the relationship he had with his craft,” Steven reflects. “He devoted so much time [to] what he did. It reminds me of the legends of today. Everything they do is to be better.”
And no one personifies that work ethic more, for Steven, than actor and professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He cites the Rock’s range: from Pain and Gain (religious, mild-mannered) to The Fast and The Furious films (more furious and fast-tempered). Johnson’s positivity encourages Steven to start the day committed to self-improvement and to end it feeling fulfilled. Also “he keeps his body in good shape.”
For now, Steven keeps his nose to the grindstone. He’s learning about musical theater and commedia dell’arte at school and recently received the Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship for young adults in the arts. “I really don’t know what life is gonna throw at me,” he says. “I know that I’m gonna take the approach that best makes me happy.” Still: “It’s a bit scary that my life is moving really, really fast.”
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