Jenny Hamilton didn’t waste much time heeding Horace Greeley’s advice to go West young.
She was just 14 days old when she arrived in Whitehorse with her parents from her Prince Edward Island birthplace.
A few years later, she attended in pre-school in a Porter Creek building that was not yet known as the Guild Hall. A few more years passed until she got bitten by the theatre bug in that same building.
“I think it was 1984, Mom brought me to my very first theatre production, which happened to be at the Guild,” she says.
The play was A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, whose title character is a child with severe cerebral palsy who spends the entire play in a wheelchair, immobile and speechless.
“I just remember Joe Egg in the chair, and when the show was over, she was standing at the dressing room door with tea in her hand. All that went through my brain was, ‘You’re allowed to pretend that’. I think it changed my life,” Hamilton laughs.
Flash forward several more years to November, 2004, and Jenny Hamilton’s first day as the Guild’s general manager.
“Day One, 8:00 o’clock, I show up and the fire alarm’s going off. It’s was a typical Guild welcome.”
For 45 minutes, as she searched for the proper phone number, the alarm continued to blare, but no fire trucks arrived.
“Day One, we made sure the fire stuff was fixed,” Hamilton says.
Of course, the path from pre-school student to general manager of the same building followed anything but a straight line.
In Grade 7, Hamilton fell in love with music and started playing the trumpet. Two years later, her school band became the first Northern group to sweep the national music festival championship.
During high, she was part of another national win, as stage manager-director of theatrical production by a student group affiliated with the Guild.
Then it was off to university in Alberta, where she planned to do a double major in music and English, then become a music teacher and play in a band at nights.
Unfortunately, her university career didn’t quite pan out, and she left after a year.
“Typical university stuff. I spent more time in the bar than I did in class,” Hamilton confesses. “Well, I never missed a music class, but I missed all the other ones.”
On academic suspension and out of money, Hamilton headed home and started working as a darkroom technician and studio assistant for her father, photographer Norm Hamilton.
“Oh, I was also a video store clerk. Then I hit the age of about 24 and realized, ‘OK, I’ve reached the peak with this. I can alphabetize with the best of them.’”
So, what does a trumpet-playing darkroom technician and video rental clerk do?
Naturally, she becomes an auto mechanic.
She took a two-year mechanics course through Yukon College, she also had a co-op placement with the territorial government.
“I was going to go into heavy equipment, but I figured I couldn’t pick up the wrenches. Plus, they work outside all the time, and up here that sucks big-time,” she laughs.
Next came an apprenticeship at Whitehorse Motors.
“The reason the service manager gave me a job was because he saw my performance at Skills Canada,” Hamilton says off-handedly.
Yes, more national competition. With two back-to-back bronze wins at the local level, she finally picked up a gold and went to the Canadian finals in Edmonton, where she finished fourth.
After completing her apprenticeship during two years at Canadian Tire, she moved to the parts counter at the Whitehorse NAPA outlet.
Which, of course, led her back to the Guild.
“It was my little brother who said, ‘Hey, now that you have nights, you should go help out at the Guild again.’ Because it had been 18 years since I’d been at the Guild.”
A few months she joined the Guild Society’s board, the general manager’s position came open.
“So I looked at the job and said, ‘Well, I like it here. The phone doesn’t ring every 13 seconds. People are happy to see you when you’re here.’ So that’s why I applied,” she says.
“I don’t know why they picked me. Maybe it was my past Guild stuff, or they knew I could lift furniture. Who knows?”
Hamilton has seen a lot of growth at the Guild, in both the artistic product and the building itself. A major renovation a few years back resulted in a bright new lobby, as well as much-needed upgrades to the washrooms, kitchen and bar areas.
And despite a workload that can often mean 12-16 hour days during pre-production, she doesn’t foresee moving on to another career anytime soon.
“There’s opportunities here you can’t get in a big city. I We’ve got a great arts community, and I get to see them every day. I like hanging out with these folks.”
And yes, Jenny the GM is the same Jenny Hamilton who is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the most audacious stand-up comics in town, and founder of Yukon Gold Comics, the local quartet that exported Yukon yuks to Australia last year.
But that Jenny is another story, which you can hear anytime at one of the Guild’s monthly comedy night fundraisers.
This is the first in a series profiling people in the Yukon arts scene whose jobs normally don’t put them into the spotlight.