Eating & Drinking

COMEDIC TIMING: Linden House’s Janet Uren talks about this year’s theatre production and what it takes to succeed

Linden House is growing up. Over the past six years, it has been lovingly nurtured, developing from one woman’s brainchild into a mature theatre company with a production team of 10. Ottawa Magazine’s Emma Paling caught up with mother-of-the-operation Janet Uren ahead of this year’s production, George Bernard Shaw’s You Never Can Tell.

You Never Can Tell runs Oct. 23 to 27, 28, 31, and Nov. 1 to 3. $25. Elmwood Theatre, 261 Buena Vista Rd., 613-842-4913,

Janet Uren is an "advanced" woman, while Danny McLeod is an impoverished dentist who has the bad luck to fall in love with her daughter in the October production of "You Never Can Tell" by George Bernard Shaw. Photo by Mike Heffernan.

Why did you start Linden House?
The most important reason was that an opportunity arose to perform on a stage — community, and even professional, theatre in Ottawa faces a shortage of stages.

I’m an alumna of Elmwood School, and they have a lovely auditorium and stage [that we could use], so I had a venue. I’d also encountered George Stonyk while working on another production, and he became our director, while I covered the business side and acted in the productions.

Another reason for starting Linden House is that I had a yen to do a particular type of comedy — the comedy of wit, an intelligent kind of humour. That tends to be British — American and Canadian humour is usually different.

How do you choose which plays to produce?
It’s agonizing! George and I both read plays and submit them to each other as possibilities. Then we blow each other out of the water and start again. We do just one play each season, though this year we also did a one-night reading in September. We don’t look for just a good play, but for a play with roles suited to the actors we have in our circle from Ottawa’s theatre community. We look for plays that are interesting, but also happy. It’s a difficult process that takes a long time. It’s a bit frightening too, because a good play is the first ingredient to success.

How does it feel to hit the six-year mark?
We’ve built an audience not just by presenting good plays and doing them well, but by presenting a whole theatrical experience. We focus on making people comfortable. The emphasis is on the experience — a wonderful evening. And it’s working! Every year our audience is bigger. This year the goal is to sell 800 tickets.

Daria Strachan (seated), Janet Uren, and David Holton in 2010’s "Blithe Spirit" by Noel Coward. Photo by Reda Sedki.

Is it difficult for you and George to control all aspects of production with just the two of you?
Well, although we take responsibility for all aspects, much of the actual work is being done more and more by team members. George and I did okay the first year, but it wasn’t sustainable. We needed people who’d take ownership.

Over the past few years, we’ve generated a terrific team of very committed people. We have a stage manager, lighting people, a set designer, a brilliant set decorator — and I mean brilliant.

You donate half of the profits — about $7,500 — to your “community allies,” such as Elmwood and other organizations. Why donate revenue from the plays to the community?
We’re a community theatre, but we’re not neighbourhood-based per se. We do have quite a draw from New Edinburgh, where I live, but we’re not a community theatre in the sense that the community created the company. So our way of saying that we belong to the larger community is by giving back. Also, our community allies help bring us audiences, so as long as we can cover our expenses, we’re happy to donate the rest.

You Never Can Tell runs Oct. 23 to 27, 28, 31, and Nov. 1 to 3. $25. Elmwood Theatre, 261 Buena Vista Rd., 613-842-4913,