August 22, 2016

Spotlight on Alumni: Jennifer Lennon

Jennifer Lennon photo: David Cooper
Jennifer Lennon; photo: David Cooper

Jennifer Lennon graduated from York in 2009, and has worked since then as a Lighting Designer in theatre, dance, and opera. After graduation she kept learning as an Assistant Lighting Designer at the Stratford Festival for three seasons before moving over to the Shaw Festival for another three, which included designing The Twelve-Pound Look with director Lezlie Wade. As a freelance designer she has had the opportunity to work for larger companies such as Factory Theatre and Toronto Dance Theatre, as well as many vibrant indie companies and collectives.

In 2015, she designed the lighting for the first half of Factory Theatre’s Naked Season, including Bombay Black, for which she won a Dora Award. Earlier this year, she lit Opera 5’Die Fledermaus, a full-length, site specific opera that was sponsored by Steamwhistle Brewery.

She is currently working on the set and lighting for a re-staging of one of her favourite productions, The Container. Written by British playwright Clare Bayley and produced by Theatre Fix, The Container is an hour-long rollercoaster of a piece staged inside a 20’ shipping container which focuses on the stories of five migrants traveling illegally across Europe.

The Container Collective, 2014, photo: Lauren Posloski

Do you have any advice or tips for York students just entering the dept.?

You have tremendous resources available to you—use them! Jump in headfirst and drink it in as much as you can. Your professors, your fellow students, the libraries & archives and events are unique opportunities. Try to choose electives that genuinely interest you—you might surprise yourself. Try activities or workshops that you have no experience with, attend concerts in the recital hall, see what students in other majors are up to. York is a hive of activity, and one of the most marvellous things about working in theatre is that every life experience you have ever had is something that you can draw on in your work. Don’t just attend university to study theatre, study life.

What was the most challenging aspect or experience of training/studying at York?

I participated in the Production stream and the Creative Ensemble program concurrently, which I don’t believe is an option anymore. (This makes sense—the schedule we maintained could be brutal.) Learning how to budget my time and energy was a huge challenge. I found Creative Ensemble especially tough at times, and it was that difficulty that kept me coming back. I knew by this point that I didn’t want to be a career performer, but the Ensemble became my school of tough love, teaching me how to take creative risks, cast off ideas that weren’t working (no matter how much I loved them), and how to take responsibility for myself as a collaborator. Trying to show up to those rehearsals and bring my best to my teammates was a battle sometimes.

What was your favourite place at York, and why?

I discovered the Sound and Moving Image Library (SMIL) early in my four years, and it became a favourite place to spend a bit of free time digging for treasure. Many of the most interesting pieces in the collection are items you can’t check out, like LPs or rare video recordings. Sitting in the library with headphones on watching a grainy clip of Martha Graham dancing, or listening to rough field recordings from the early 1900s fired up my imagination and threw me back into my work reenergized.

Bombay Black, 2015. photo: Joseph Michael

What is your fondest memory of studying Theatre at York?

Remembering long nights spent in the design studios always makes me laugh. On the one hand, we were students who had cut our deadlines a little too close and eaten far too many chocolate-covered espresso beans, but on the other hand it was my first glimpse of the camaraderie of the theatre world as a designer. Designers often work in isolation for long periods of time, tucked away in offices and studios with notebooks and laptops, so working together with other designers in the design stage of a project, bouncing ideas back and forth, was a special joy.

Do you have any advice or tips for York students just about to graduate? about to join the job market?

The most successful theatre professionals I know are curious, engaged, passionate people who are always genuinely interested to talk to you. “Networking” isn’t by definition a shallow thing. Seek out conversations with people, let the community feed you, and don’t stop seeing theatre for the fun of it!

Also, if you are planning on a freelance career, try to think about how to run your life like a small business—because that’s what you are. You are in charge of finance, marketing, research and development, and administration… as well as actually doing the work itself. So be proactive with your financial planning and and take care of yourself—prioritize your mental and physical health, because your work schedule probably won’t.