July 1, 2018

4 Questions: Jeannette Lambermont-Morey

50 Years of Disruption

This week, we’re joined by director and theatre maker Jeannette Lambermont-Morey, who currently is teaching scene study for the winter semester of the third year Acting Conservatory at York. In answering our four questions, she shares “mind-blowing” experiences, and fond memories of the most impactful moments of studying  Theatre at York in the mid-seventies.

This article is part of our series 50 Years of Disruption, in celebration of the Department of Theatre’s 50th Anniversary. In it, we ask each participant four questions about themselves and their time at York.

1. Who are you?

Jeanette Lambermont-Morey Directing Faust—photo by Burke Campbell
Jeanette Lambermont-Morey (photo by Dimitar Pentchev)

My name is Jeannette Lambermont-Morey (BFA Theatre Performance 1978). I am a director, theatre maker, and teacher. Since graduating I have worked steadily in the industry in several parallel capacities: helming a number of small theatre companies, directing productions as a freelancer, private acting coaching, and teaching at the college and university level. I began teaching very soon after graduating (initially as a substitute teacher at Ryerson University around 1981) and have knitted teaching work in and around my professional directing jobs ever since. Early in my career I was lucky enough to spend eight years directing at the Stratford Festival. This high-stakes, high-quality environment had a lot of influence over my practice, and introduced me to a standard of excellence that has motivated me ever since. While there I piloted the inaugural Shakespeare-on-Wheels program working with students from Perth County schools, and led a number of workshops for visiting teachers from all over North America. I went on to direct countless shows for theatre programs throughout Canada and the United States, including the Juilliard School in New York. I have enjoyed an annual freelance contract at George Brown Theatre School which has been renewed about twenty times; but coming home to teach and direct at York U (which I have done a number of times), well, that has always been a highlight. Over the years, as a result of this balance of teaching and directing, I have become keenly interested in the concept of communication in the rehearsal room, to the point where this simple idea has become the centre of who I am as an artist. Listening is my key-word, my core-value, my activator: listening to the text, to the sub-text, to the physical signals, to the energy in the room, to the audience, to the director, to the actors… listening to everything.

Jeannette Lambermont-Morey directing Faust—photo by Burke Campbell
Jeannette Lambermont-Morey directing Faust—photo by Burke Campbell

2. What was your favourite moment during your time in the Theatre Department, and why?

My favourite moment during my time in the Theatre department was the first time I walked out onto the stage in our production of Separate Tables, by Terence Rattigan, directed by Hutchison Shandro. The action was set in a seaside hotel, and I was playing Miss Cooper, the proprietor. It was my first experience with an alley-style stage (audience on both sides) and my mind was blown. The stage was divided into two halves — one side was the hotel sitting room and the other the dining room, with a hallway between linking the two. In the action I often had to move from one room to the other, and was astonished by the 3-dimensional feel of the surroundings; a total emersion experience. I was intensely aware that there was audience in front of me and behind me at the same time — making proscenium-style “performing” impossible. This was gigantically liberating and completely shifted my idea of theatrical space. Like a thunderbolt I lost the need to “demonstrate” and found the beginnings of a new kind of theatrical “truth” that resonated with me. I have never forgotten that feeling, and, in fact, to this day I tend to use the alley-stage format whenever possible. It is a great regret that I do not remember who designed that game-changer set…

The cast of Separate Tables (Jeannette Lambermont-Morey is in green in the centre), circa 1977.
The cast of Separate Tables (Jeannette Lambermont-Morey is in green in the centre), circa 1977.

3. What comment, quotation, statement, or action that a professor—or classmate—offered had the greatest impact on you?

In the mid-70s Neil Freeman was in the early stages of his work with Shakespeare’s First Folio, for which he later became quite celebrated. My classmates and I were lucky enough to be invited into the inner-circle of his rumination and experimentation — a sort of Shakespeare salon — where we read many of the plays aloud, watched the BBC Playing Shakespeare series together as a group, and indulged in hours of excited discussion. It was a privilege to be part of something so charged with passion and intellectual rigour. Under Neil’s leadership we debated and dissected and celebrated the work, looking at the text from new angles, and falling in love with the elongated spellings and odd punctuation. Not only did this experience give me rich tools as an actor, but it helped cultivate my life-long interest in classical and heightened text.

4. Is there a way you incorporate a particular aspect of your theatre training in your current work?

Something we all heard loud and often in theatre school was “be specific”. At first I found it frustrating… because of course I was young and deluded enough to believe I was offering the most specific choices ever made by a young actor… but of course I wasn’t. Later, as I learned more about what acting actually is, I became quite fascinated by the idea of what an actor hears when something like “be specific” is said to her. It became my mission to investigate the nature of communications between actors and directors/teachers. It has led me to develop a specific teaching approach geared to opening up the channels of communication between teacher and student, so that we can hear each other better.

Portia and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice, with David McCann and Jeannette Lambermont-Morey.
Portia and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice, with David McCann and Jeannette Lambermont-Morey.