August 28, 2012

Spotlight on Faculty: Shawn Kerwin

Design professor Shawn Kerwin was Chair of the Dept. of Theatre from 2003-2009. She returned to teaching after a two-year sabbatical in Fall 2011. We caught up with her in May 2011 to find out what she’d been up to…

What projects did you take on over your sabbatical?

When I started my sabbatical, it also ended my two terms as Chair of the Department. While I have always kept designing plays while teaching at York and running the Department, the first thing I did was design more plays. Having a sabbatical allowed me greater flexibility in taking on work out of town as well as taking on larger projects such as the set design for the production of Pride and Prejudice at London’s Grand Theatre. Working on that production was a treat because I was working with York grad Gillian Gallow as the costume designer, and co-faculty member Gwen Dobie as the movement coach. Always a treat to work with ex-students and colleagues in the professional world. During my sabbatical I have designed 10 productions in places as varied as St. John's, Newfoundland, Blyth, Gananoque and London, Ontario, as well as in Toronto.

Did you get to travel as part of you sabbatical?

I spent one month in Europe—two weeks in Italy where I fell in love with Rome (who wouldn't?), hiked the Italian Alps, saw museums and galleries in Amsterdam, London, Rome and Turin, and reconnected with friends I made while being a student in London in the early 70's. A wonderful reminder of the importance of the relationships one makes in school: we have kept in touch over all of the years and, although we may only see each other once every 15 years or so, we continue to value the experiences that brought us together as students.

What have you learned, as part of the projects that you worked on, that you'll be bringing back to your students?

Most recently, I have been a full-time resident at the Canadian Film Centre's Interactive Digital Media program based at MaRS in Toronto. This five-month intensive program has been an extraordinary opportunity to learn about the most current and future aspects of digital culture. I have been working with people who are from outside of theatre and  have had the chance to learn about a constantly changing field, working with some of the most exciting people currently creating digital media. A quote I have been hearing a lot, attributed to William Gibson: “The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed.” Well, I have been spending time with people who are in the thick of the “future”.

What was the hardest part of your sabbatical?

I can't think of a hard part. No—honestly! Except trying to decide how to accomplish everything I wanted to.

… and the best part?

Being given a sabbatical in the first place. It is an extraordinary opportunity to shake off the dust and take in new influences.