Vivacious, quirky, and frankly undeniable, Robin Zee was born in Montreal to an ‘artistic, dysfunctional’ family. Her own art, encompassing mixed media, theatre, comedy, has been a practice of self expression and a conduit for healing. She was named Emerging Artist in Performance at the 2015 City of Hamilton Arts Awards, not long after premiering her first solo show, BorderLine Me, at the Hamilton Fringe. That show has been transformed into a new, eponymous book to be launched August 30th at The Staircase Theatre.
Her life’s journey has included a laundry list of trauma, including childhood sexual abuse, human trafficking, prostitution, street involvement, addiction and mental health issues. Through it all, art was always there to help her cope and, eventually, her daughter Skye, whose birth Robin calls, “the bridge between dark and light.” She became a Certified Addiction and Mental Health Counsellor and a Life Skills Coach, working as a case manager, facilitator and consultant with her own private practice.
“On one hand I feel this pull to apologize for the heaviness, but I’m really not one for sugarcoating and the fact is that it was my reality, bare bones,” she explains.“I think it’s an empowering story for anyone who is feeling stuck, who is dealing with their own issues...I survived and, in fact, I went beyond surviving and transformed the ugliness of my past into the strength and courage of my present and future.” As she describes it, “the one woman play touches the surface, and the book peels back the layers.”
The gestation process for both versions of BorderLine Me was arduous. “For years, people suggested I write my story. For years I attempted it... So often I’d write a bit and have to take a step back to process the aftermath of writing even parts of my story. Months would pass [and] I wasn’t really able to pick up where I left off, leaving me with many random pages reflecting fragmented pieces of my life and all the emotions that go with that.” Still, “I felt my story was and is one of triumph, courage, empowerment, strength and drive.”.
She was inspired when she saw Shelley Marshall’s Hold Mommy’s Cigarette, the one woman show resonating as a possibility for Zee’s own storytelling. Marshall connected her with Tracey Erin Smith of Toronto’s SoulOTheatre and, some time later, Robin mustered the courage to enroll in a series of Smith’s workshops. They helped Zee make some key breakthroughs in framing her story.
Then came the Hamilton Fringe Festival’s gallery miniseries, and “there was no turning back. I hired my long time friend Learie McNicolls to direct and had an absolute blast rehearsing. David [Brace] at B Contemporary Gallery was just so wonderful. We had great audiences, mostly sold out, and I met so many other performers along the way.” She went on to write another solo show, No Dick Pics Please, that she performed at the 2017 Fringe.
Five years later, Robin has performed BorderLine Me many times over. “One of the things I contemplated was extending the play, but I decided to leave it alone and shift into writing [the book],” a process she says took over a year. “I went over many notes, tackled the writing of my life in chunks, working daily on it for months and months.”
“I [felt] as if I opened Pandora’s box sometimes, and [that] I must have been nuts to take this on. However, if I didn’t, I think I would have felt I let myself down. This was by no means an easy undertaking; unpacking left me flooded with new and old memories, flashbacks, panic and all the aftermath from my first 34 years on the planet. There were times when it was harder to write what happened than it was to have lived it because back then I was numb and totally disassociated.”
She credits a circle of family, friends and mentors for helping her though, and says she found her ‘perfect fit’ in the guidance of Rebel Spirit Publishing.
“I wanted to share my experience as a way of connecting, encouraging, educating and empowering others that anything is possible, though I didn’t see this coming,” Robin says. “If you had told me some twenty or thirty years ago, well, I may not have believed it...but then here I am and here it is.” She’s ‘toying with the idea’ of writing a sequel.
The launch will include a reading and Q&A session with the author. There will be food and drink, and musicians Jessica Compton, Susan Edwards and Jesse Macrae will perform. Zee also hopes to incorporate wellness resources.
“This being my first book launch, I am super stoked, nervous, and tempted to yell out!” Robin Zee says. “Pinch me, just in case I’m dreaming.” V
BorderLine Me, Beyond The Edge
Friday, August 30, 7 - 9 PM
Doors open at 6:30pm
Staircase Cafe Theatre
27 Dundurn St. North
Books available: $25