Life isn’t always full of elaborate sets, beautiful music and audience fanfare.
Terry Rowsell discovered it can be about the challenges of learning to live with not much more than the clothes on his back. In debt and homeless, he showered and left his school books at school because he had no place for books while living through a St. John’s, Newfoundland, winter outdoors.
“I spent my last year of university living on the streets and sleeping in the winter under a park bench in the snow,” the Langford actor said. “I was so poor I didn’t have any winter boots so I had two pairs of wool socks (stuffed) in rubber boots.”
After losing all his belongings in a divorce he said cost him everything he had, and no family to help support him through challenging times, the homeless English literature major endured by finding solace in the arts.
“Theatre has given me a unique perspective on life… You get to explore those characters and life experiences… it is kind of enriching,” he said. “The greatest thing is even in a tragedy people are able to go away entertained… This is a nice feeling.”
After discovering a park bench was the only shelter he had, his theatre family began to rally around Rowsell, finding him a couch to sleep on when they could, his fellow cast and crew members slowly helping re-brick his life back together. With their help, Rowsell eventually found his way to the opposite side of Canada where he continues to create Terry and give back at the Four Season’s Musical Theatre where he is board president. It is here he met someone else who found shelter there during dark times.
“I would argue at one point theatre saved me as well. When I first got involved two of my friends died in a house fire,” Lara Oberg said of the Johnson Street fire that claimed three lives, including that of her friends Emily Morin and Mark Mitchell in February of 2013.
“I didn’t know the people at Four Seasons at the time… But the two hours a couple of times a week, it allowed me to step out of my head.”
Oberg said she was extremely happy and honoured to be working with Rowsell and the rest of the Four Seasons team during those times and stressed their commitment helped her face her challenges.
“When people get together when they do something they love and by and large it is something that is extracurricular or volunteer… That’s the spirit that brings people together,” Oberg said. “When people take certain roles there is time when you need to step outside yourself and that makes you vulnerable, that puts you on an equal footing that can be a place for more authentic connections.”
She said the community is tight because of the trust they place in each other and those they collaborate with on stage, and that is a connection that can be seen at the Fringe Festival where Woman with Horns continues Sept. 3, 5 and 6 at the Intrepid Theatre. Rowsell and Oberg take the lead in a decades-old piece Rowsell wrote when going though the toughest stretch of his life.
“If you see someone in the street that looks poor don’t just write them off. I have done okay, I have a good job, a good career, a good family and a nice home in Langford,” he said. “You get to meet people sometimes who can help you in ways you never expected and what comes around goes around.”