Fostering Discovery and Surprise

Jamie Norris, an accomplished theatre actor, writer and director will be returning to the faculty of the Vancouver School of Expressive Arts Therapy to teach the theatre module in the annual September intake of the program.

Jamie graduated from the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre School in 1987 after which he continued training at the University of Victoria and working as an actor, touring all around Western Canada throughout the 1980s and 90s.

“At theatre school I was lucky to work with directors and teachers who didn’t tell me what was right or wrong. I had to figure it out for myself and find what the truth of the character was for me. Something clicked for me there.”

Jamie’s professional theatre career has spanned over 15 years. During this time he’s acted in shows for major BC theatre companies including The Arts Club, Vancouver Playhouse, Belfry and Bard on the Beach. He authored six plays for Green Thumb Theatre, winning a slew of awards including the 2001 Canadian National Playwright Competition and an Outstanding Script for Young Audiences award. For three years, Jamie was the artistic director of Theatre Terrific a company whose mandate was to create theatrical opportunities for people with disabilities.

“It became clear to me that my favourite part of the whole thing was the rehearsals,” Jamie said. “Looking back, that’s how I really started to learn how to learn - through interactive communication - working on scripts and working with directors.”

Throughout all this, Jamie was also working with high-risk youth, an area of his life, which prior to discovering Expressive Arts, felt unconnected to the rest of his interests.

In 2001, Jamie began to notice a shift in his priorities. He was hired to direct three theatre shows in the Yukon Territories and after spending half a year in the north, he decided that it was where he wanted to be. “I got to know a social worker who was working in Dawson City and it got me thinking that I’d like to make the shift.”

 A self-cartoon - part of Jamie's Tsiigehtchic self-care projects

A self-cartoon - part of Jamie's Tsiigehtchic self-care projects

Jamie returned to Vancouver, took a 1 year counselling program and then landed a counselling job in Tsiigehtchic - a community in the Northwest Territories with a population of 140 people. “The biggest challenge when I landed in Tsiigehtchic was learning how to take care of myself and stay healthy as a counsellor in such an isolated community. Instinctually I began doing my own art projects, using what I now know to be Expressive Arts as a method of self-care.”

Prior to joining the faculty at VSEAT, Jamie spent eight years touring around communities in the Northwest Territories doing suicide intervention and prevention work – a topic he wrote his Expressive Arts masters thesis on. “Even if there is no art being made, the philosophies in Expressive Arts can really help to explore this challenging subject in a way that is authentic,” he said.

Jamie said that EXA has helped him to corral all of his learnings and different aspects of his life. “To me there is such a clear connection between EXA, counselling and directing [theatre]. It’s all about experiential learning and discovery. I’m not interested in being a director, counsellor or teacher that tells people what to do. There is a power in discovery and surprise. I want to foster that.”