arts & entertainment
Penny Seats Theatre Company
Secretary Jacqui Robbins,
kneeling, directs the actors in
For The Price Of
A Movie Ticket
Penny Seats, Ann Arbor's newest repertory stage company,
takes dinner theater to a fresh venue outdoors.
he Penny Seats Theatre Company,
debuting its first production dur-
ing August at the bandshell in
the city's West Park, has partnered with
What's Cooking!, a provider of fresh and
healthy dining options, so that made-to-
order meals are available before its eve-
Ticket prices, which include the provi-
sion of a chair in the open-air space, were
set to attract audiences who might other-
wise choose films for budget reasons. The
price of each meal will be the same as that
of the ticket.
Goodnight, Desdemona (Good Morning,
Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald — a
comedy based on Shakespearean tragedy
— launches what is hoped to be a venture
for many summers to come.
"The play is about a graduate student,
Constance Ledbelly, who is writing her
thesis on Shakespeare," says Lauren
London, 35, Penny Seats president, who
seems to have an eye toward what might
be of particular interest in a college town.
"Her idea is that the two tragedies of
Othello and Romeo and Juliet were, in fact,
comedies that Shakespeare stole and did a
bad job of turning into tragedies.
"As the student tries to prove her theory,
she meets with disaster, has an other-
July 28 • 2011
worldly experience placing her inside the
two plays and ends up with a lesson about
The play, with London in the lead role,
will be performed 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday,
Aug. 5-7, and Thursday-Saturday, Aug.
11-13. Matinees begin 2 p.m. Saturday-
Sunday, Aug. 6-7 and 13-14.
"This play is really a lot of fun',' says
London, who started Penny Seats about a
year ago with six friends, all with theater
backgrounds. "There's a lot of slapstick."
The group raised funds with the help
of Kickstarter, a website that serves as a
funding platform for the arts.
"I have been acting since I was 10,
appearing with dinner theaters and com-
munity theaters around Washington, D.C.:'
London recalls. "After high school, I took a
break from performing to concentrate on
my studies. In law school at the University
of Wisconsin-Madison, I started to get
back into theater."
Since moving to Michigan with her hus-
band, Zachary, and two children, London
has appeared with the Farmington Players
and the Spotlight Players in Canton.
Active with Beth Israel Congregation in
Ann Arbor, she serves on the board of
826michigan, which supports students in
"One of the first initiatives we did as
Penny Seats was an evening of performanc-
es of student-written plays representing
826michigan," London says. "We're going to
do another program in November.
"This was a nice way to raise our profile
while having a tremendous amount of fun
performing beautifully written work by
students:' she says.
Jacqui Robbins, secretary of Penny Seats
and also on the board of 826michigan, is
directing the first production.
"I like this play because it's both smart
and hilarious with really touching, authen-
tic moments:' says Robbins, 39. "There
also are open areas for adding music and
"While the play takes off from the work
of Shakespeare, it has a thoroughly modern
sense of humor. I also like that the moral of
the play has to do with the idea that we all
have to write our own stories in life.
"The moral seems great for our first pro-
duction. It captures what we've done in put-
ting the play together. The company is some-
thing we wanted to do, and were writing our
own story as we move ahead with it:'
Robbins built a career in directing and
teaching before starting her family 10 years
ago. With experience directing plays in
high school and studying directing at Yale
University, she first directed theater aimed at
children and then directed children on stage.
Experiences with young people motivated
her to become an early-elementary school-
teacher and author of children's books, Two
of a Kind and The New Girl and Me.
Robbins, her husband (Jim Dowling) and
their two children have been living in Ann
Arbor since 2005. They belong to Temple
"There's such a Jewish tradition of getting
people together and delving into a text to try
to understand it completely,' Robbins says.
"For me, that's what directing is all about."
Russ Schwartz, treasurer of the company,
is being directed by Robbins as he takes
three roles: Iago, Ghost and Juliet's Nurse.
"I like acting because I can move outside
of myself' says Schwartz, 28, who appeared
in Sonia Flew and The Diary of Anne Frank
for Jewish Ensemble Theatre. "I like creat-
ing a role and the collaborative effort of art-
ists working together. It feels like a family."
Schwartz's interest in theater draws from
actual family: London, his sister.
"When Lauren was in high school, she
was directing Much Ado About Nothing
and needed kids to play in the garden',' he
recalls. "She thought it would be fun to have
a few 12-year-olds running around and
asked me and a few of my friends.
"I proceeded on my own after that, and
I started writing. I majored in theater
and psychology at Hampshire College in
Massachusetts and did an apprenticeship
at Performance Network Theatre" in Ann
Arbor, having moved there in 2008.
Schwartz, who is single, earns his living
writing corporate newsletters.
"We think the theater company is in a
good place for actors who want to gain
more experience Schwartz says. "We all
switch hats from acting to working behind
the scenes." 1
Real-life siblings, Penny Seats Treasurer
Russ Schwartz and President Lauren
London rehearse for Goodnight,
Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet).
The Penny Seats Theatre Company
presents Goodnight, Desdemona
(Good Morning, Juliet) Aug. 5-7
and 11-14 at the West Park Band
Shell, 215 Chapin St., Ann Arbor.
Performances are 7 p.m. Friday-
Sunday, Aug. 5-7, and Thursday-
Saturday, Aug. 11-13. Matinees are 2
p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 6-7 and
13-14. $10. Each boxed picnic dinner,
to be available at 5:30 p.m., can be
ordered for $10. (800) 838-3006;