Patrick Davies photo Jenny McPhee as Beatrice comforts a fellow actress in the role of Hero during a rehearsal of Much Ado About Nothing.

CASUAL COUNTRY 2019: Sense of belonging draws young actress home

Jennifer McPhee is a well-known face around Williams Lake for her acting and dancing skills

Everyone in Williams Lake has a different reason for calling the lakecity home.

For Jennifer McPhee, it’s a sense of community that led her back home to Williams Lake. The friendly and homey atmosphere is one she’s come to love for its simplicity and familiarity.

McPhee, 30, was born and raised in Williams Lake and works today as a jeweller at Woodland Jewellers, a family owned mainstay of the downtown Williams Lake business community for four generations.

When not working at the shop, McPhee loves getting active in the surrounding area and flexing her considerable thespian skills at the Williams Lake Studio Theatre.

As a child, McPhee got to go to everything due to her mother, Wendy McPhee, working for the Tribune at the time which gave her a real sense of all that Williams Lake had and has to offer.

“It was a good place to grow up. I’m glad I moved away when I did but I’m also a lot happier here than I was anywhere else,” McPhee said.

Growing up, McPhee learned to dance first at Maureen Saunders School of Dance and later with Corine Stromsten when she renamed the space Dance in Common.

Read More: Dancing in the spotlight

Both Saunders and Stromsten were wonderful teachers, McPhee recalled, with a clear passion for dance they were able to easily pass on to their students, without using competition in the process. For students like McPhee, rather than push a professional career upon them, both women ensured there was a love for dance first within their students and nurtured it.

Dancing has been a part of her life ever since and is one of the things McPhee loves to do more than anything else in the world.

While she may have stopped doing it professionally after a knee injury due to “falling down Mount Timothy” where she tore her ACL a few years back, it’s something she still would like to do and plans to return to in a professional capacity when her knee regains its strength.

“I think what I like the most about dance is that it’s something that relies completely on yourself. It’s all self-correction and self-reliance and you know when it’s good, it’s completely something you do in your own head and body that when it feels good, it’s right,” McPhee said. “It’s all you.”

Feminism and an active interest in politics are another big part of McPhee’s identity, passions her mother and father, Tom McPhee, were integral parts of forming due to their involvement in politics and unions.

Growing up in that environment made learning more about workers’ and women’s rights a natural path for McPhee later in life.

Learning about how women have helped shape North America, Canada and even British Columbia is fascinating to her and something she feels the public doesn’t learn about often enough.

“If we can make the voices of the most marginalized in our world heard, it’ll make the world a better place for everybody,” McPhee said.

A big part of the reason McPhee returned to Williams Lake was that both her parents still lived in the lakecity and McPhee missed her mom in particular.

Looking back, she said it’s funny how you start to hate that every single person in town knows you and you know them yet once it’s absent, you start to miss it.

“I missed belonging somewhere and I think in Williams Lake I knew exactly where my place was,” McPhee said.

After doing some temporary work around town, McPhee applied for a job at Woodland Jewellers, first as a salesperson and later as a jeweller under the wing of Geoff Bourdon.

From Bourdon she learned goldsmithing, jewellery repair and how to create pieces which, while there has been a huge learning curve, is something McPhee said has gone very well.

Personally, McPhee loves the technical and scientific angle of her work which she said mastering allows for the expression of the artistry of jewelling.

Repairing and making “old things new again” is particularly rewarding for her especially when she sees customers’ faces light up at the finished piece.

Helping to uphold such a respected and revered familial business in Williams Lake is also an enjoyable part of what she does.

Another big part of McPhee’s life has been her love of theatre, which she went to school for at Capilano University, studying acting for the screen and stage.

She went on to enjoy a brief stint as a stage actress in Vancouver before deciding she didn’t care for the big city, for personal reasons.

After returning to Williams Lake, she became involved with the Williams Lake Studio Theatre Society where she’s been an active member ever since.

Once again that sense of belonging somewhere is a big part of what has attracted her to the theatre, which expands beyond the theatre’s walls and whatever role you may play in a production, on or off stage.

Finding camaraderie within a theatre community is something she was looking for and couldn’t find in Vancouver, but knew that she could find here in Williams Lake.

“It shines here for sure. Everyone is so passionate about each and every production and it’s just what theatre should be,” McPhee said. “They’re the best.”

Her most recent performance was in the Studio Theatre’s recent production of Much Ado About Nothing, the group’s first foray into Shakespeare in years.

A big ensemble cast featuring dozens of talented lakecity actors, McPhee shone as the energetic, independent firebrand that is Beatrice.

Read More: Williams Lake Studio Theatre presents Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

From the beginning, she brought infectious energy and life to both her character and her performance, drawing on personal emotions to make her character more authentic and visceral.

In addition to acting, she helped choreograph the play’s dance scenes and helped teach her castmates how to dance properly. Her enthusiasm and patience made the process a fun one for all who attended her practices.

McPhee has acted in four productions with the Studio Theatre including Sense and Sensibility in 2014, which went on to the Mainstage provincial drama festival where she won best youth actress under 25 for her role as Marianne Dashwood.

She has also helped with six other productions in various roles on top of them. It’s something she intends to continue to do, well into the future and something she encourages others to give a try.

Looking to the future, McPhee said she has no real plans beyond taking in everything Williams Lake has to offer on a yearly basis.

“I think that there is something for everybody if you want to look for it here, you just have to find it,” McPhee said.

“Even though we’re small, Williams Lake has something for everybody.”

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Patrick Davies photo Jenny McPhee is a warm, friendly and vibrant member of the lakecity community and said it was a feeling of belonging that attracted her back to Williams Lake, where she has settled in as a jeweller and actress with the Williams Lake Studio Theatre.

Jennifer McPhee as Beatrice laughs in the face of her dance partner Stuart Wright in the role of Benedick during a masquerade scene in the Williams Lake Studio Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. Monica Lamb-Yorski Photos.

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