'Penny Pieces' - Dykema's Lauren London and her troupe to star in cabaret Jan. 29

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Ann Arbor attorney Lauren London, president of The Penny Seats Theatre Company, will take to the stage with her troupe of players at 7 p.m. on Saturday, January 29, in "Penny Pieces: A Cabaret."

The event features a three-course dinner and show at Mediterrano Restaurant, 2900 S. State St., in Ann Arbor.

Advance tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/142904 and cost $40 each or $75 per couple.

For more information, visit www.pennyseats.org.

This nonprofit troupe of lawyers, doctors, marketers, writers, strategic planners, interior designers, and media consultants, who in their spare time are playwrights, dancers, actors, singers, and directors, are looking to fill a niche for summer outdoor theatre in Ann Arbor.

They take their name from the cheap seats at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in Elizabethan England.

London, an attorney with Dykema Gossett, began acting professionally when she was 11 years old. She has done a lot of community theatre - mostly musicals - in the area and is a member of the Spotlight Players in Canton.

"We started this company seven months ago with very little indication as to whether we'd be able to run a sustainable small arts organization in a difficult economic climate," she says.

"We set very conservative initial financial goals, built a business model, planned our first season, wrote a silly theme song - "The Penny Seats Are Nothing But Trouble" - and began a tiny marketing campaign.

"We were looking - almost shyly - for an indication whether people were interested in donor-funded amateur theatre. Would they support live theatre on the front end to lower ticket prices and make performances more accessible?

"We didn't know whether it would work. Pessimistically, we almost expected it not to, and thought we'd be fund-raising well into the spring."

The troupe used an arts-focused website, Kickstarter, which allows organizations to set a financial goal and solicit donations over a certain period of time.

If a group does not meet its financial goal by the deadline, they get nothing. No potential backer is ever charged.

"We proceeded with a whole lot of caution," London says.

"What we found was nothing short of striking: we funded our inaugural season - with over 60 individual Kickstarter donors - in less than two weeks."

Non-Kickstarter donors also heard about the campaign and provided significant additional contributions.

"Needless to say, we were thrilled. Our inaugural campaign was extremely successful, and we couldn't be more grateful," London says.

"We have funds to prepare a wonderful summer show this year, and to begin building a foundation for years to come. To me, this indicates a community growing in confidence and ready to support creative projects.

"Now, we have the stamina to get to work and provide what we hope will be excellent, casual, accessible theatrical performance."

The Penny Pieces cabaret is a tribute to the donors and a celebration of the troupe's inaugural year, she says.

"We hope this will be a casual, getting-to-know-you event, and a jubilant way to celebrate."

Performers will present Broadway favorites from musicals such as "The Producers," "Guys and Dolls," "The Fantasticks," "Hair," "The Threepenny Opera," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "The Boy From Oz," and "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying."

"We'll even attempt to perform our six-part-harmony original song, 'The Penny Seats Are Nothing But Trouble,' live, for the very first time," London says.

"We think it'll be a blast.

The troupe also hopes to host a few more performance events, of varying genres, throughout the spring as it prepares for its inaugural production of Ann-Marie MacDonald's "Goodnight Desdemona" (Good Morning Juliet), at Ann Arbor's West Park Band Shell in August.

Matt Cameron, in his last semester at Wayne State University Law School, is vice president of the Penny Seats.

He participated in numerous main stage and black box shows at Kalamazoo College and was a member of its improv troupe, Monkapult.

"We started the Penny Seats because we wanted a creative outlet," he says.

"All the members have their respective day jobs, but we all felt like there was something missing.

"We decided to form our own theatre company that was capable of working with our busy schedules.

"The goal is to fill the niche between professional theatre and community productions.

"By producing high quality theatre, that's accessible to all members of the community, we hope to share our passion with our neighbors."

Published: Thu, Jan 20, 2011