December 8, 2019

Spotlight on Faculty: Sean Robertson-Palmer

Sean Robertson Palmer
Sean Robertson-Palmer

1. Who are you?

Currently I am a Sessional Assistant Professor in Performance Creation at York University, which is proving to be one of the most exciting and fulfilling roles of my life. However I am also an insatiably curious wanderer, a quality that has led me to playing lacrosse in Germany, climbing mountains in Sabah and writing for a fashion magazine in Cape Town. I train for multisport races in the summer and play pond hockey in the winter. I make my own pizza and pasta dough from scratch.

I have been working in theatre professionally since 2005, mostly in Toronto and mostly with the Kadozuke Kollektif, a performance company that I co-founded with Tatiana Jennings and a group of other misfits. We have produced a number of large-scale performance installations and site-specific performances. I have also facilitated youth arts programming in the public sector and co-ordinated a number of street art projects, which has allowed me to feel richly connected to my community.

2. Tell us about a creative or research project that you have been immersed in recently.

Currently I am finishing my PhD dissertation at York on battle rap in Toronto’s Hip Hop scene. It seems too good to be true, earning a degree by attending battle rap events and writing about them. I credit York’s graduate department in Theatre and Performance Studies for encouraging me to develop original research in an obscure but important corner of the artistic world.

I am also beginning to reimagine what devised theatre means to me after reconstructive hip surgery. Post-recovery, I have been on a journey to understand how my new body moves, what it is capable of, and reconciling with its inability to fit stereotypical tropes of strength and masculinity. In the studio this means experimenting with my new metallic joints, engaging with theories of disability, and playing with pain. My Devised Theatre students at York have been instrumental in helping me cultivate a training environment that experiments with adaptive physical practices, as we collectively work towards an understanding of our own unique bodies. Their trust and fearlessness is inspiring stuff.

Sean Robertson-Palmer in Sandman
Sean Robertson-Palmer in Sandman

3. What production or artist or scholar has had the most impact on you over the course of your career?

Narrowing this down is an impossible task, since I am a collector of heroes. I find people I admire and bother them until they teach me things. I am lucky to be guided through my PhD at York by two of my academic mentors, Dr. Mary Fogarty and Dr. Laura Levin, while also sharing space outside of York with heavy hitters of Hip Hop scholarship, including Dr. Murray Forman, Dr. Mark V. Campbell and Dr. Imani Kai Johnson. My editor at GQ Magazine, the incredibly dapper Nkosiyati Khumalo, was the first person to introduce me to the notion of a writer’s “voice”. In our short time together, he helped me cultivate my voice. Diana Belshaw, who ran Humber College’s theatre program while I was a student in the 2000’s, was the first educator that ever told me I was smart. Despite many stumbles, I try very hard to prove her right.

Early in my career, my artistic practice was greatly influenced by Ker Wells and Tatiana Jennings. Both mentored me during my time at Humber College and the latter became a life-long collaborator. The Toronto theatre scene is so stacked with talent that I seem to find a new hero every time I attend a show. Go watch theatre in Toronto and find your heroes! The great Hip hop producers of my youth such as DJ Premier, J Dilla and RZA continue to score my life and provoke creativity.

Sean Robertson Palmer
Sean Robertson Palmer in Desperate Tenderness

4. Is there an image or a quotation that inspires you?

When I need to be reminded that the world is beautiful, I search images of art by Swoon, Lady Pink, or Faith 47.