In the year after her graduation from Princeton, Marisol Rosa-Shapiro ’07 was working as a directing and producing intern at McCarter Theatre. Teacher and performer Giovanni Fusetti came to Princeton to work with the Philadelphia-based Pig Iron Theatre Company, and during his visit, Fusetti taught a workshop and lecture titled “Tao of the Clown.” It turned out to be a life-changing experience for Rosa-Shapiro.
“The style he was talking about — clowning, physical comedy, ways of communicating beyond the verbal — was something that I had loved so much in the theater that I had seen over the years, as a child and as a young person,” she said.
At Princeton, where Rosa-Shapiro majored in history and earned a certificate in theater, her courses emphasized text and the heritage of the cannon. It was “very much about plays, but less about play,” she said. Fusetti gave her a language for understanding the kind of theater that she loved — and the kind of theater wanted to make.
“It was that light-bulb moment for me that completely changed my course,” said Rosa-Shapiro, who eventually studied under Fusetti in Italy and has carried that experience with her as a performer, producer, and educator.
Rosa-Shapiro, who finished 2018 with a 10-performance run at the inaugural Up Close Festival in New York, has a busy year ahead. She recently received a CityArtist grant from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture for her production of four satirical works of skewering Seattle icons, titled In SEAtu: Rain & Coffee & Salmon & Weed. She’ll also be traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border with the humanitarian group Clowns Without Borders. And her red-nose clown show will make its Seattle premiere in April.
With her theater company, Soledad Ensemble, Rosa-Shapiro has been developing a play called The Seven Ravens Project, which tells the stories about child migrants through the lens of a tale by the Brothers Grimm. “It melds the sort of allegorical, mythical, fantastical world of the Grimm tale with some more immediate, real-life context,” she said. “The sprout of the story is this little girl who is living among a large community of displaced people, all of whom speak different languages and come from different contexts.” The ensemble worked intensively on the piece for three weeks last year through the LabWorks program at the New Victory Theater in New York. The creators are now looking for developmental and institutional partners, to help bring the piece to the stage.
Rosa-Shapiro caught the acting bug at an early age when her mother took her to a performance by Tada, a children’s musical theater company in New York City. She was transfixed by the show, and within a few years, she earned a spot on stage as a member of the company.
She later went to New York’s Hunter College High School, whose theatrical alums include Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and actress and politician Cynthia Nixon. “We had this really empowering experience of student-run theater,” Rosa-Shapiro said. “It was kind of the wild west — it seems crazy, some of the things we got away with in high school — but very much in the spirit of self-directed learning.”
At Princeton, her independent work focused on African American theater history, and her theater pursuits continued along the student-run, self-produced path. Rosa-Shapiro was active in Princeton Summer Theatre, Theatre Intime, and the Princeton University Players. The creative drive of her high school and college days has since carried over into her professional journey.
Working as an independent producer involves taking risks that can be both “exhilarating and harrowing,” Rosa-Shapiro said. “The collaborative spirit is so potent and really tremendously powerful,” she said. “Things are forged together in fire, and whether it’s the fire of the creative process or the fire of the producing process, we build these relationships that are really deep and strong through that creative risk-taking.”