All the world's a stage - Attorney heads up new nonprofit theatre company

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When attorney Lauren London isn’t in the spotlight in court, she’s in a different spotlight—onstage in community theatre.

A member of the Spotlight Players in Canton and the Farmington Players in Farmington, London is now president of The Penny Seats Theatre Company, a new nonprofit theatre company in Ann Arbor performing outdoor summer theatre in repertory format. The name comes from the cheap penny seats—often the rowdy, noisy section—for Elizabethan theater-goers enjoying Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe Theatre in London, England.

“The Penny Seats was very much a ‘right time, right place’ sort of thing for me,” London says.

“I had a bunch of friends who had a wealth of theatre experience. All of us had been involved in theatre at various levels—as professionals, in the community, or at school.

“We were frustrated by the lack of high-caliber, challenging opportunities for folks with significant theatrical experience, but who also held down relatively non-theatrical day jobs.  So, we decided to create an opportunity for ourselves, to do some high-quality productions in a creative, agile, and, we hope, fun format.”

London and her friends also saw an opportunity to fill a niche for inexpensive, summer outdoor theatre in Ann Arbor. 

“Don’t get me wrong. There’s a very rich and exciting theatre community here. But apart from Shakespeare, not much is done outside,” she says. “I’ve always been attracted to the idea of venturing out on a warm summer evening with a picnic dinner and maybe a bottle of wine, to see some quality outdoor theatre in a relaxed environment. I had that experience in Wisconsin at a fabulous place called American Players Theatre, and I wanted to bring that kind of experience to Ann Arbor.”

The new troupe hopes to use the West Park band shell in Ann Arbor for their stage—a wonderful and underused space that many residents don’t always know or think about as a theatrical venue, London says.

“That park is getting a facelift and we thought it would be fun to start there, if they’ll have us. It seems a great place for a comfortable, outdoor theatre experience,” she says. 

The Penny Seats hope to launch their inaugural season next August, with a production of the 1988 award-winning play, “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet),” by Canadian playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald.

“It’s a brilliant, hilarious, and thoughtful piece,” London says. 

The troupe also sees a long-term opportunity for the challenge of repertory theatre.

“We aren’t quite there yet, but that’s our vision,” London says. “We’d like to perform a variety of types of shows in rotating sequence, to give audiences a choice in their experience. Look for that format from us in a few years.”

London’s friends in the venture are her husband Zach London, her brother Russ Schwartz, as well as Roy Sexton, Matt Cameron, Victoria Gilbert, and Jacqui Robbins. All are from the greater Ann Arbor area. 

They are playwrights, dancers, actors, singers, and directors—who by day are lawyers, doctors, marketers, writers, strategic planners, interior designers, and media consultants.

“It’s refreshing and exciting to see our hobbies and our professional lives merge in this way,” London says. “When we meet to discuss this company, we bring our daily lives and professional experience to our favorite pastime, in really cool, interesting, and surprising ways, and I think the company is better for it.

“Too often it seems like theatre companies are run by people who are so steeped in the art that the business side of things gets a little lost. We’re trying hard to keep ourselves balanced.”

As a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the troupe is presently seeking donors to fund its inaugural summer season. Members will conduct fund-raising activities throughout the winter, from live cabaret shows to online giving campaigns, to yard sales. 

The venture is also a family affair.  London’s parents have been huge patrons of the arts and instilled a great love and appreciation for them in both her and her brother—the two were practically weaned on theatre, opera, dance, and movies. 

“Our parents have a fervent, genuine interest in our thoughts and a real love of the arts—and they got us hooked,” she says.

And it shows. Her brother was featured recently in Performance Network’s production of “Sonia Flew” in Ann Arbor; her husband is a gifted and prolific composer and musician. Her mother actually designed the logo for the Penny Seats; and her father (also an attorney) is a musician and musicologist who just executive-produced his second jazz album.

And perchance the Londons will pass on their talents to their own children.  “Our 5-year-old daughter Scarlett loves to sing and our son Malcolm…well, he’s only 2….we’ll see,” she says.

London, who also is a board member of the nonprofit 826 Michigan in Ann Arbor, began acting professionally when she was 11 years old.

In recent years, she has done a wealth of community theatre—mostly musicals—in the Ann Arbor and Greater Detroit area. When she’s not treading the boards, London enjoys her work as a lawyer at Dykema Gossett in Ann Arbor, and credits Zach, her spouse, for helping her juggle her roles as a lawyer, a mom, “and a theatre nut.”

“I have an incredibly supportive husband,” she says. “He is, of course, involved in the Penny Seats group as well. I’m so proud of all we do, and I have an incredible support network of family and friends who help create balance and an integrated life.”

London, who received a bachelor’s degree with honors in psychology from Brown University, earned her law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School then worked at Feeney, Kellett, Wienner, & Bush in Bloomfield Hills before joining Dykema in 2003.

During 2008-09, she took a one-year break to clerk for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Raymond M. Kethledge, Sixth Circuit. 

“That clerkship experience was invaluable,” she says. “It made me into a more dynamic legal writer and, I hope, a stronger advocate in general.

“I’m now an appellate specialist at the firm, and I very much enjoy tackling the complex legal questions that civil appeals present.”

London, who moves daily between the worlds of law and theatre, sees little conflict between them. In fact, she says, they match.

“Theatre and litigation often present similar challenges. You’re on your toes much of the time, expectations are often high, and you need to think creatively to get the result you want. For me, they’re natural partners.”

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