10 years at the Linden House Theatre Company
By Janet Uren
When I was a little girl, I used to read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and other such racy fare and pray earnestly for adventures of my own when I grew up. Well, I am not sure about having grown up but I have had a few adventures, the most recent and most surprising certainly being the Linden House Theatre Company. We are celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2016. And I have this to say about that: it is less wet than whitewater canoeing but just about as dangerous.
There was a kind of serendipity operating in the origins of Linden House. My first phone call in 2007 was to Elmwood School, where I had acted as a high school student at the dawn of time, to ask if I could rent their stage for a couple of weeks in the fall. To my surprise, they said yes. So there it was. I had a stage. And I had a play in mind. The Lady’s Not for Burning by Christopher Fry was something I had liked very much when I was 15, a verse play, God help us. I think, not sure, that I may have matured a bit since then. What I remember most fondly about the production was the absolutely splendid hat that I wore – a great medieval doughnut with a veil. How I loved that hat. Anyway, that play (or perhaps the hat) launched us. Everything we have done since has looked easy by comparison.
I never thought that Linden House would survive to be ten years old. As I recall my intention in 2007 was to “do a play.” Just one play, for the hell of it. I remember looking at George Stonyk, who agreed to direct that first play, with astonishment when he asked: “What shall we call the company?” “What company?” I asked, truly bewildered.
When he finally convinced me that any group that joins together in the mad venture of making theatre is a “company” by definition, we put our heads together and came up with a name, “Linden House.” The “Linden” part of it came from George, who has a towering linden tree in front of his house, which incidentally stands in the neighbourhood of “Lindenlea.” The “House” came from me and for no very good reason, except that I liked it better than “Productions,” which was the alternate suggestion. A house has a nice solid, human feeling to it.
That’s how it started. Sir Francis Drake, who knew a bit about adventure (and also about self-congratulation) wrote: “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but continuing on to the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.” While I hesitate to say that Linden House has achieved “true glory,” I do think we have succeeded in entertaining ourselves; and the fact that we have built an audience over the years means that we must be doing something right for our patrons as well. As to where we will end – who knows? Life isn’t a destination, as the wise ones say; it’s a journey.
I look back with wonder to 2007 when I first contemplated producing a play. It was a Saturday afternoon, I seem to remember, when the idea drifted into what I like to think of as my mind. I was lazing around with my dog, when I said this memorable thing to myself: “Producing a play? How hard can it be?”
Well, the answer, as I soon discovered, is very hard indeed. Fortunately, I wasn’t paying close attention so it took me a few years to discover just what a mad fool I had been. By that time, a team had grown up around George and me to share the burden. Theatre is, by definition, a group endeavour. Not only would it be impossible to produce plays all alone; it wouldn’t be much fun. So to the people who have come and gone at Linden House over the years – including a production team that has now grown to some 30 people – a number of them survivors of that first year – as well as 42 different actors, many returning more than once, and three directors, George Stonyk, Joe O’Brien and Robin Bowditch – my thanks.
I began this company with an idea that I wanted to do comedy and that I liked modern British comedy in particular for its lovely wit and irony. Put simply, I wanted to be happy and to create happiness. Hence the company motto: “Theatre for the joy of it.” Now, the production of a play is not always a cheerful business. Indeed, I have found it to be rather an anxious-making process on the whole. But I have also found that, by the time we give the play to the audience, it does become an act of joy. For me, there is absolutely no sound on earth more delightful than the laughter of an audience. We all have enough in our lives to grieve over; let us laugh together when we can.
I am very happy with most of the plays we have chosen over the years. However, the high points for me have been Lettice & Lovage by Peter Shaffer, Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward, The Circle by Somerset Maugham and Lloyd Janet Uren and George Stonyk, Lettice & Lovage, 2009
George Knew My Father by William Douglas-Hume – these are all comic classics
and a joy to act in. And last year’s Glorious! by Peter Quilter was the absolute
summit, though it might have been a bit hard on the audience, because it marked the only time that I will ever sing opera in public!
A sad fact about theatre, of course, is the need to pay bills; and to do that, we have to find an audience. But there’s more to an audience than money. Actors don’t want to talk endlessly to themselves, and theatre needs an audience if the conversation we begin in rehearsals is ever to come full circle and become a true exchange. And that means getting the word out and persuading people to come and share the work with us. That is probably the hardest and most worrying aspect of what we do every year. The fact that our audience has grown steadily over the past decade fills me with pride and gratitude, not to mention astonishment.
So far so good. Linden House has survived for ten years, and I hope it will survive for a while longer. I believe it will as long as we stay true to these principles: that the quality of the script and the acting is central to success; that we must strive for the highest production values we can manage in terms of set and costumes; but most importantly, that our business is to create “joy.” If we remember that, we may stagger on for a few years, and I believe – I hope – that the audience will stagger with us.
Janet Uren, Kurt Shantz and Geoff Gruson, rehearsing Imaginary Lines, 2016