Passings: David Rotenberg

A field of flowers at sunset

David Rotenberg, an award-winning author, former theatre professor and director of York University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Acting and Directing program, passed away on Nov. 9.

David Rotenberg
David Rotenberg

Over the course of his career, Rotenberg has been counted among Canada’s foremost acting teachers and coaches, whose former students include Tatiana Maslany, Rachel McAdams, Scott Speedman and Sarah Gadon.

After staging Broadway shows in New York City, Rotenberg began his career at York University in 1987, teaching MFA and bachelor of fine arts (BFA) acting and directing, going on to become director of the MFA program and then frequently supervising other MFA directors until his retirement from York in 2008.

“David had a profound impact on how acting was taught at York, and his approach to acting, recently documented in his book on the subject Act: The Modern Actor’s Handbook (ECW Press, 2021), influenced his students and many acting teachers who were graduates of our program,” says Eric Armstrong, professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre & Performance.

During his time at York, Rotenberg also directed several productions, including Threepenny Opera, The Idiots Karamazov and his own adaptation of The Great Gatsby. He also founded, as the artistic director in 2003, the Professional Actors Lab in Toronto, and has taught at a range of institutions, including the National Theatre School of Canada and Princeton University.

In 1994, Rotenberg travelled to Shanghai to teach at the Shanghai Theatre Academy, where he directed the first Canadian play produced in the People’s Republic of China. That experience inspired his career as a novelist, setting him on a path to writing a successful mystery series – known as the Zhong Fong mysteries – which are set in modern Shanghai, as well as a historical fiction novel titled Shanghai. He also has written several speculative thrillers set in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto, as well as a science fiction series.

Many people were struck by Rotenberg’s warmth, sympathy and genuine spirit. He had a way of adding light to any place he entered, his grin brightening even the darkest of days. Rotenberg leaves behind a legacy of generosity, connection and partnership.

He is survived by his wife, Susan Santiago, and his two children, Joe and Beth.