A Fearless Traveller, Performer and Teacher
3 Nov 2000
Special to the Athens News
New York-born Sharon (Melina) Rosner has been entertaining and helping people her whole life. Now she's brought her energy and talents to Greece.
A NOVELLA would have to be written to do full justice to Sharon (Melina) Rosner's life so far - and perhaps a full-blown novel by the time it draws to an end. The multi-talented New York-born actress has managed to cram so many experiences into her X years (performers rarely reveal their age, but whatever it is, she doesn't look it!) that a 4-hour interview barely seems to skim the surface. Her insatiable thirst for more adventures has brought her to Greece, where she's already - in just a few months - made enough contacts and friends to comfortably fill a pocket agenda.
A self-declared "over-achiever and perfectionist," she's a veteran of the stage and screen, an acting/directing coach, a classical piano virtuoso, a speech-language-hearing consultant (with a master's degree in Communicative Disorders), a personal fitness trainer at the American Embassy here in Athens, an accomplished photographer/artist and published writer. "The more I have to do, the better I can organise my time," she states.
In Greece, where she is known as Melina - because of her striking resemblance to the late Greek actress Melina Mercouri in her earlier movies - she has already begun auditioning for films and TV series, working in commercials, and offering her coaching services both privately and at acting/directing schools. In addition, she's planning to use her education and skills to work with trafficked women and Roma kids.
As a child, she describes herself as "a street-smart Brooklyn princess" who always felt unique and very different from the rest of the family. "I was an only child for so long," she says, "that I created little worlds for myself; I enjoyed being alone. Later, I had an extraordinary educational background and amazing travels throughout the world that no-one in my immediate family had."
Melina distinguished herself early in life, starting to play classical piano at the age of four, with her first public recital just a year later. Subsequently, she gave annual recitals at Carnegie Hall, Steinway Hall, and other famous venues in Manhattan. "I learned to read music before I could read English," she recalls. It wasn't long before she began to take dance classes - tap, modern, classical ballet, jazz - and would spend her leisure time writing and illustrating her own stories. With a particular talent for dialects, she also enjoyed acting out characters for friends and family, "to make people laugh."
Excellent grades at school put her in a "special progress" program, where she regularly came top of her class. Before going on to college, she visited Israel, living on a kibbutz for three months. "It was a life enhancing experience," she enthuses. "I found out that I was a free spirit at heart."
At Syracuse University, she enrolled in liberal arts and music for the first year, then going on to a speech and hearing sciences course, despite an obvious leaning towards the performing arts. "I loved music, art and drama more than anything," she explains, "but my parents pressured me into doing something safe, so that I could make a living." Meanwhile, she'd become close friends with San Francisco-based rocks bands like the Grateful Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane, often travelling with them on national and world tours. "I was truly a friend, not a groupie," she clarifies. "They gave me backstage passes and the use of a limousine."
Instead of attending her graduation ceremony, she preferred to spend nine months in Israel and Europe, visiting The Hague, Paris, London, Brussels and Luxembourg. On her return, she still felt torn in deciding what to do, but was fearful of following her heart. "It had been instilled in me that I had to do something practical," she says. So she continued in the audiology and psychoacoustics field, with a graduate program at the University of Arizona.
Then, taking a much-needed break from her studies, she travelled alone all over Central and South America, living with the Indians in remote villages. "I hitch-hiked for almost a year," she remembers. "I was fearless; it was a different time. Amazing adventures ensued - I even delivered a baby in Guatemala - and mystical experiences with brujos and brujas. It was like something out of Carlos Castaneda's books." The photographs she took were later exhibited in San Francisco galleries and published in magazines.
After obtaining her Master of Science degree at San Francisco State University and working on a government grant at a medical centre, Melina completed a clinical fellowship at a hospital, working with developmentally disabled people. "I would design personalised amplification systems," she says. "They were doing a lot of research on brain stem testing; it was very revolutionary at that time."
In the meantime, she started doing some serious acting in San Francisco, where she had also auditioned and been accepted by the Conservatory of Music as a classical pianist, studying with an "incredible" teacher from Japan. While living in the Haight-Ashbury district, she worked on research papers for a number of rock bands - and also personally for Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead - on the effect of specific instruments on musicians' hearing, custom designing hearing-protective devices.
The following year, she specialised assisting children who were deaf, mentally challenged, or autistic, with speech disorders and cognitive language problems. Combining her work with theatre performances and piano recitals, she finally felt she'd achieved the ideal existence. "I was finally doing everything I'd always
wanted to do," she says, "all at the same time. I had a fabulous life, with a huge circle of friends."
After auditioning for and completing a programme of studies at the Drama Studio London - which had its American campus in Berkeley - she worked with repertory companies, performing Shakespeare, Restoration comedy and modern plays. A long stint at the Bay Area Playwrights' Festival with Sam Shepard, Joseph Chaikin and Robert Woodruff had her developing new works, before she went on to do a play, Balm in Gilead, that became something of a phenomenon in SF. "We developed a cult following," she says.
At the peak of her SF career, her father's ill-health brought her back to New York, where she became involved in off-Broadway productions, performance art at La MaMa, a long run of a solo show, Family Matters, soap operas, commercials, voice-overs and the occasional movie. Meanwhile, she made a name for herself as a communications disorders consultant, frequently working with disabled children, with whom she communicated in English, Hebrew, Spanish or Sign Language. "I'm very unorthodox in my approach," she explains. "I use yoga, music, drama, improvisations, the Alexander technique; I'm a holistic therapist." Ten years later, she was in Beverly Hills, not only acting in TV, independent features and a lot of theatre - particularly deaf theatre, which was challenging- but also as a writer and producer of Public Service Announcements. In addition, Steven Spielberg's and other celebrities' kids enjoyed the benefits of her speech-hearing-language expertise. Not content with all that, she gave workshops to directors on how to communicate with actors in LA and throughout Europe. "We go into the rehearsal process," she says, "and examine how to do intimate scenes with someone you don't know, how to rely on objectives, obstacles, and means using verbs and adverbs, blocking for the camera, how to make bad scripts and dialogue work, and so on." She still found time to work with inner-city kids, teaching them play-writing and acting skills and mentoring for literacy. "This gives me the most pleasure," she enthuses, "and I'd love to do it here in Greece, too. It's mind-blowing how the kids grow in self-esteem - it's so empowering."
The need for a break from LA brought her to Greece last year. She intends to stay. Here, she's busy exploring the professional scene, while following up on her own personal quest. "I'm searching for why I have such a strong connection and affinity with Greece," she says. "I feel I have unfinished spiritual business here."