Jamie Robinson has been ‘treading the boards,’ as they say in theatre, since he was a small child.
His debut performance was as the lead in a production of Oliver Twist, and it propelled him to many more productions at his prestigious arts high school.
After graduation he reached a crossroads – would he want to try his hand at something new, or is he destined for a life in the theatre?
A year of work outside of the theatre showed Jamie where his passions lie, and soon enough he was off to Concordia University to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts, followed later by his Masters in Directing from York University in Toronto.
Along the way he’s been able to gain experience not just onstage, but as a director and producer as well, including serving as artistic director of the Guild Festival Theatre.
Today, his biggest role in the theatre world offers him a whole new platform – as an educator.
Jamie is now part of the faculty at York University, where he teaches courses in the theatre program, as well as Acting for Non-Majors.
“There are so many different ways that you can be in this world,” says Jamie.
He still loves that he gets to experience characters who live lives entirely separate and apart from his own, and now he gets to help his students do the same thing.
It is this journey through humanity, Jamie says, where an actor can help guide their audience through the progression.
“If I’m playing a Greek warrior, to a lover, to a villain…we get to play these aspects of ourselves that we all have that are maybe a little scary, but ultimately the reward is that the audience gets to feel it with you in time.”
Jamie cites Shakespeare as one of the true leaders in character development, since he was able to take his characters on a journey the way that no playwright had before.
In Jamie’s world, the extremes of theatre actually offer an escape from reality. He can take characters to extreme places…instead of needing to go there himself.
“If you’re going to do theatre, it’s going to be provoking,” says Jamie. “The stories are going to be provoking, and they’re going to have hard topics and hard content. Otherwise it’s not particularly entertaining.”
Jamie’s personality perfectly suits his teaching career, where he teaches students to be quick on their feet, and highly adaptable to new situations.
This approach has also led him to pursue workable solutions to some of the greatest challenges actors face in social justice and in the equity, diversion, and inclusion spaces.
During his time in Stratford, he and his fellow BIPOC actors banded together to put on Harlem Duet by Janet Sears, the first all-black play put up at the festival.
In Montreal, he and his friends and colleagues started Metachroma Theatre, which was an effort to normalize the presence of visible minority actors in the city’s English-speaking theatre scene.
When it comes to mental health, Jamie says that much of his knowledge has come from his wife, a psychologist, who has helped educate him on how to handle students’ challenges.
He notes that in his own student years, there was significantly less discussion about mental health, and that art was focused on how “you’ve gotta destroy yourself to be the best actor that you want to be.”
Jamie simply does not subscribe to tha theory, and believes instead in building a mentally healthy, and supportive working environment for his students.
He tries to help students navigate the various mental health issues that they’re facing so that they can do their best work, and be their most uninhibited selves while acting.
After facing years of lockdowns and theatre closures, Jamie is tremendously excited about performing a monologue at this year’s High Notes Avante gala.
“Audiences are actually engaging in theatre, and theatre is adapting to the needs of audiences. We did learn a lot of things that we’re still learning, and let’s not forget that we can help mental health through our live performance,” says Jamie.
Theatre may not have qualified as an essential service under government regulations during lockdown, but for Jamie Robinson, live performance is absolutely essential.