Read on to hear Jennifer Lamb talk about favorite UW professors and experiences, as well as how she managed to move from one Stratford to another. A *very* warm thanks to Jennifer for participating. –JLH
JLH: Was UWaterloo an obvious choice when you were choosing universities, or were there others you were considering?
JL: I am not sure how obvious UW was at the time. In those days we had presentations from universities to try to help us understand what each offered. I did what a lot of students in their last year of high school were asked to do which was apply to up to three universities. I applied to three, but UWaterloo was my first choice (for a lot of reasons) and so I was crossing my fingers for several months before I heard I was accepted.
JLH: Thinking back, what stands out from your time as an undergraduate English student at Waterloo?
JL: One experience in particular that happened in my 3rd year, was the opportunity to participate in a four month volunteer experience in an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia. Professor North in the English Department asked if there was anyone in his classes who wanted to spend a term somewhere in the world helping out children in need. Within a couple of weeks, four of us from different classes met together and with Professor North’s help and guidance we chose to go to St. Petersburg. We ended up living in an apartment attached to a rather deprived orphanage on the outskirts of town. It was a life-changing experience and I have never forgotten it or the kids we worked with.
Aside from that, my memories of UW focus on what it was like as a new student there. Not only did it have a gorgeous campus; with lots of greenery, ducks, and a creek, it was close enough to home to calm my nerves about being away from home for the first time. And at the same time just far enough away that I knew I would have some independence. Also the campus had all the amenities you could ask for including a bank, bars, a medical clinic. It felt like a small town within a medium sized city. A great transition from my hometown. At the time though, and most importantly I think, was the range of English Lit. courses and classes I was able to take. I admit, though, getting distracted by the sheer choice and graduation was delayed simply so I could continue to take additional courses! And I loved the smaller college campuses as well. Walking across the creek to attend class at St. Jerome’s, or Conrad Grebel added a layer of learning and experience that I still find very valuable. As I grow older and look back I realize more and more how much of an impact UW had on me.
JLH: You went from Stratford, Ontario to Stratford-upon-Avon. How did that happen? And what do people in the UK think about the “other Stratford”?
JL: Ha. Most people find it very odd and quirky that I have landed here. I do think I am one of the few who can boast about having lived in two Stratfords, each having a renowned theatre in it. My husband and I were living in Macau China when the Head of Production position came up at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) here in Stratford-upon-Avon. When we saw the posting, it was like being called home to the “mothership” (of repertory theatre!). He was fortunate enough to be offered the job and we moved right away.
JLH: Can you tell us about your current job? Was this what you set out to do upon graduating?
JL: I also now work at the RSC, in the Development Department, working with supporters who live in the United States. I have the best job in that I get to live in England, and travel to New York several times a year to meet some lovely people who share a passion for theatre and for Shakespeare in particular.
Regarding graduating: all I knew from the time I was a teenager and through university was that I wanted to work in theatre. My dream was to work at the Stratford Festival in Canada. Directly after graduating I was living in London, Ontario, volunteering at the Grand Theatre in London. There were few if any jobs in the arts at that time. But about nineteen months after graduating, my dad called to tell me about a four month internship at the Stratford Festival that had just appeared in the Stratford Beacon Herald. I applied immediately and happily did get that internship. I ended up working at the Festival for an additional nine years, in a variety of positions in marketing, advertising, special events, and fundraising.
JLH: What has been the most interesting part of life in England?
JL: That is a tough question! Living here is like living in history. I sometimes say it is like living in a cultural garden. The museums, theatres, and historical properties to visit and experience can be overwhelming. The British are committed to preserving their history and traditions in ways we don’t—or can’t I suppose—in Canada. There are so many places still standing today here in Stratford upon Avon and Warwickshire that Shakespeare knew, it really is amazing. But the more challenging and surprising thing for me and my husband I think was understanding that it is a completely different country than Canada. I had always envisioned England as similar to Canada but maybe older and wiser. But it is more than that. It is significantly culturally different. We may share a language but even that at times is a challenge and result is questioning looks and many laughs from my work colleagues, neighbours, etc.
JLH: Finally, can you share what you are currently reading?
JL: I am reading a couple of books right now: The Luminaries and Death and the Penguin. Two completely different reading experiences. I am also reading my daughter Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I mention that as it was a book I was first introduced to by UW Professor Ted McGee, from St. Jerome’s College when I was a student at the university. I had, of course, always read Anne of Green Gables but Professor McGee, taught this book in a course on Children’s literature and it has remained one of my favourites. I am lucky now I get to re-visit it with my eight-year-old.