Husband and wife perform together for first time on land

Frog and Toad aren’t the only best friends on the set of A Year With Frog and Toad at MTYP this holiday season.

Rochelle Kives, in the ensemble, and Ruslan Rusin, the bassist in the band have been together since 2007, when they met each other on the deck of a Norwegian Cruise ship.

Like Frog and Toad, they have stuck together despite changes throughout the years. Rochelle says Ruslan is the Frog to her Toad.

“He’s always the one calming me down, whereas I just have so much energy,” she said.

Rochelle’s ensemble work includes playing Red Bird, Mother Frog, Turtle, Squirrel and Mole in this seasons show. Ruslan plays bass above Toad’s house as part of the live band accompanying the show.

Rochelle had just graduated from Sheridan College’s Performing Arts program and wanted to travel. A contract with a cruise line was the best of both worlds since it allowed Rochelle to begin her performing career singing, dancing, and acting in the middle of the ocean.

Ruslan, originally from Ukraine, had been touring with the Odessa National Symphony for 7 years before taking a job playing in an orchestra with Norwegian Cruise. Playing on board allowed him to see more of the world while doing what he loved.

Working on cruise ships gave them the opportunity to work with famous artists like Patti Lupone, meet people from all over the world, and try new foods while visiting some of the most beautiful places on earth.

However, it isn’t always the vacation it might sound like, at least not for the performers. For example, before setting sail, Rochelle and Ruslan both had to learn boat safety drills. In case of emergency, they would both have to help escort passengers to safety.

They also had to be ready to perform in any condition. If the boat was rocking, Rochelle would have to keep dancing. If Ruslan heard the code for “man overboard” he couldn’t stop playing.

Both Rochelle and Ruslan say that working in extreme circumstances on ships helps them do their job on land.

“It makes you a better performer,” said Rochelle. “I don’t want to say fearless… but I’m not afraid to try new things because I’ve done so many different things and styles of music for a decade of my career.”

Ruslan says his time working on cruise ships has been an invaluable experience.

“You definitely grow as a musician in that kind of environment. You have to be in the right environment with the right people to grow,” said Ruslan. “Not every orchestra helped me grow but working on cruise ships helped me become who I am today.”

While working on cruise ships can be exciting, it can be difficult to grow close to members of the cast and leave them once the cruise is over.

When Ruslan’s contract ended, he went back home to Ukraine. Although they kept in contact, Ruslan and Rochelle weren’t sure if they would ever see each other again. Let alone if their “ship-mance” would continue.

But as luck would have it, Ruslan and Rochelle were offered contracts on the same ship a little while later.

From then on, they mainly worked for Celebrity Cruises who coordinated their contracts so they would be able to work together.

In between contracts, they would come to Winnipeg to see Rochelle’s family. After a while, they decided to settle down in the city so Ruslan could apply for permanent residency and they could raise their daughter Polina.

Part of their decision to settle down in Winnipeg is because the local arts scene is so vibrant. They each have been working on projects in the city as well as continuing to do short stints on cruises, but A Year With Frog and Toad is actually their first ever time working together on land.

“Sharing the stage together at home, with all of our family and friends in the audience has been a dream come true,” says Rochelle. “We will cherish the memories made during A Year With Frog and Toad forever!”