All the world's a stage

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Attorney Lauren London helped launch The Penny Seats last year, a nonprofit Ann Arbor-based repertory theatre company aiming to fill a niche for inexpensive outdoor theatre in the summertime.

The troupe, taking its name from the cheap seats at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in Elizabethan England, will perform its first play Friday, Aug. 5 to Sunday, Aug. 7 and then Aug. 11-14, at the West Park band shell in Ann Arbor.

The show, "Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet)," by Canadian playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald, is a comedic homage to Shakespeare, described by Penny Seats director Jacqui Robbins as "like a hilarious Wizard of Oz, with Shakespeare and swordfights and kissing."

London, who also serves as president of the troupe, plays graduate student Constance Ledbelly, who finds herself catapulted into the plots of two Shakespearean tragedies, "Romeo & Juliet" and "Othello."

"Production is in full swing, and as we move through the last few rehearsals, we're falling more and more in love with the play that is turning out to be both funny and smart in the extreme," she says. "There's physical, 'Three Stooges'-type slapstick mixed with linguistic turns of phrase, and frequent asides to the audience, that make the play bright, fresh, and energetic. We can't wait to share it with everyone!

"Rehearsals are intense, but in just about every single one, we've laughed so hard we've cried."

Constance is turning out to be a fantastic, lovable character, London says.

"She's that quirky, awkward, lifetime graduate student who doesn't quite know what she wants out of her own life. Nor does she value herself as much as she should. She's letting other people write her story for her, and tell her who to be and how to feel. She's being led around by people who have high opinions of themselves and one-sided viewpoints. But she's delightful, and smart, and funny, and circumspect.

"Constance slowly starts to realize that, for all their pomp and circumstance, big and powerful characters can be blind to the nuances of real life. She ends up not only believing more in herself but teaching some crazy characters to appreciate life's imperfections."

In scope, the role is the most challenging one London has faced in a while.

"The playwright, describes Constance as having more lines than Hamlet. And I believe it. But she uses them well -- she talks to the audience and brings them into the play, in a way that I hope will be intimate and engaging. It's been an honor to learn the part."

London, who has been performing for more than 20 years as an actress and cabaret singer, appeared with companies in Virginia, Maryland, and Wisconsin before coming to Michigan, where she has performed for the last six years. A member of the Spotlight Players in Canton, she has also performed with the Farmington Players.

While a theater background can lend a sense of comfort while speaking in public, the courtroom and theatrical stage are very different, she says.

"When you're arguing in court you have to both create and believe in every word you say! The scripts we use in theater are both a guide and a crutch, they give us something to cling to as we go through our public performance. They set up the plan and the roadmap, and prevent us from ever feeling uncertain about what to say.

"In a court argument you're presenting a judge, and the other side, with yourself - your true beliefs and your real arguments - and not those dictated by a script. The work is harder, but it's just as rewarding."

London started a new job this year that took her out of the courtroom almost entirely. At the end of March, she left private practice after 9 years, to become Assistant General Counsel at Robert Bosch LLC, in Farmington Hills.

"It was a huge transition for me, but it's been very rewarding," she says. "Full-time litigation work was exciting, challenging, and creative, but I wanted to broaden my horizons a bit. I wanted to see if I could prevent some of the problems I was seeing, and advise clients to avoid these problems before litigation, rather than coming in after the fact.

"Bosch is turning out to be a great place to do that. It's an exciting, multinational company, with people and businesses that cross the legal spectrum. The variety of work here is terrific, and the people are smart and thoughtful."

London is learning about the worlds of engineering and manufacturing, and how a truly global supply chain works.

"It's fascinating stuff," she says. "I negotiate, advise, debate, and yes, assist outside litigators on occasion. I find it very satisfying.

"Also, the company has also been very supportive of my theatrical pursuits, and I'm extremely grateful."

The Penny Seats troupe also includes Matt Cameron, a May graduate of Wayne State University School of Law who took his bar exam in mid July. Cameron will play Romeo and the Chorus.

"Matt has parsed his time extremely well this summer, studying during the day and rehearsing with us in the evenings," London says. "Perhaps the play provided a respite from his bar studies, but we've all been amazed at his level of dedication to everything he does."

Another Penny Seats actor is Roy Sexton, vice president, Marketing & Strategic Planning, Trott & Trott in Farmington Hills, who plays Professor Claude Night, Othello, Tybalt, and Juliet's Nurse.

Sexton, who holds a master's degree in theatre from Ohio State and an MBA from the University of Michigan, has had leading roles in numerous plays and musicals across Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. He has performed the national anthem for the Detroit Tigers, and was a finalist on Channel 7 WXYZ's "Cruisin' Idol" competition during the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Other cast members -- who will play several roles requiring fast costume changes -- include London's brother Russ Schwartz; Melynee Saunders Warren; and Sarah Leahy.

"Goodnight, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet)" will run at 7 p.m. Aug. 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, and 2 p.m. Aug. 6, 7, 13, 14, at the West Park band shell. Tickets are $10 (age 12 and under, $7) online and at the gate. Boxed lunches and dinners will be available for pre-order, catered by What's Cooking Ann Arbor. Tickets and information are available at or from Brown Paper Tickets, (800) 838-3006.

"I don't remember a production process ever having been this interactive and collaborative," London says. "With our burgeoning partnerships at Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation and What's Cooking, we really aim to make the audience have as much fun as we're having. And we're hoping the low ticket prices will deliver big value. We can't wait to set up at the park!

"Overall, putting together this inaugural Penny Seats show has been extremely satisfying and really, really fun. Now we're up and running, we can't wait to celebrate this amazing play, and to launch the company into a healthy second year."

Published: Thu, Jul 28, 2011