Sunday, 22 May 2022

Being shy made me fall in love with the theatre

THE new general manager of the Kenton Theatre in Henley says the performing arts have

THE new general manager of the Kenton Theatre in Henley says the performing arts have made her the woman she is today.

Zsuzsi Lindsay, 34, was a shy girl growing up and regularly moved home and school in the UK and abroad.

She took to drama and acting at a young age and has used her passion as a way of meeting new people and making friends.

Ms Lindsay explains: “I was very shy growing up and incredibly nervous talking to anyone. The theatre helped me overcome this as it made me become a more outgoing person.

“Shyness can be very debilitating and acting made me grow as a person and this is why I fell in love with the theatre.”

She was born in Norfolk and is the eldest child of Roger, a retired vice-president of human resources for Timken, and Marianne, a housewife and seamstress.

Ms Lindsay has a younger brother, Scott, who works for the Canadian Standards Agency.

She moved to Maidenhead at the age of five and then France two years later when her father started working for the American company.

After three years, the family moved to Ohio and then Boston and she then went to Monkton Combe boarding school in Bath to take her GCSEs and A-levels.

Ms Lindsay says: “I did theatre right throughout my schooling — that’s how I made friends and that’s what I enjoyed.”

After her A-levels she spent a year in America and would join up with local university students to perform in shows.

Ms Lindsay recalls: “I performed in the Taming of the Shrew where I played Katherina, the shrew. I kept my British accent because I had a terrible American one but someone walked out of the audience complaining my English accent was terrible!”

As well as performing she did a bit of travelling and was able to pay for it by working part-time jobs. At one stage she worked as both a waitress in Pizza Hut and at a nightclub.

When she returned to the UK she studied for an MA in international relations at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and founded a production company.

Ms Lindsay says: “I was auditioning for lots of shows and I didn’t get any so I decided to start my own company. It wasn’t like I was looking for a lead role, anything would have done.

“Anyway, I wanted to be part of a group as it is one of my favourite ways of meeting people and I was very lucky really as two people who I knew quite well very kindly offered to help me get the company off the ground.

“In the next nine months I learnt quite a lot. It was my first real experience of directing people outside of school.”

Ms Lindsay staged six productions in four years, including Dangerous Liaisons, Our Country’s Good and Lord of the Flies and each was entirely self-funded.

She recalls: “When we did Our Country’s Good, each cast member was playing more than one character. Peter Ward was one character in one scene where he died but then unfortunately he stayed on stage by mistake. In the next scene he was supposed to come on stage as a live person.

“You could see in his face that he suddenly realised this and was deciding whether to quickly jump off stage and on again or slowly crawl off stage and come on again as if nothing happened. He decided to crawl off stage, which was hilarious.”

In her last year they did a full run at Edinburgh Fringe. “We didn’t have one day off,” Ms Lindsay recalls. “We started at midnight and finished at 4am. On the first and second show someone couldn’t be there so I had to take on their role and we didn’t get a chance to do a dress rehearsal.

“Unfortunately we got really lost and had no idea where we were in the play and everyone was staring at each other and we cut 30 to 45 minutes out by grasping at straws until we got to a point we all remembered. We had five to six people in the audience and they were as confused as we were.”

The performances, however, did pick up and although they weren’t invited back, they broke even and she enjoyed the experience. “There were 14 of us living in an old Victorian house which was made for 10 people for a month but it was like living as a real community.

“We had a rota for cooking and cleaning and we made friends with the other groups and invited them over for dinner. Being on so late we also got to see some of the more adult shows and hang out with the actors. We had a really great time.”

She left university having achieved a 2:1 and got a job with Allianz Insurance and worked her way up to business manager. While she was there Ms Lindsay, aged 26, met her ex-husband at a charity ball. The couple then both left their jobs to go travelling in China.

Ms Lindsay recalls: “My parents were living in Shanghai so we went to stay with them for 18 months. I got a job as a professor of business English.

“Most of the students had a good grasp of the language already. My role wasn’t so much teaching them English but what they would struggle with was confidence to use the language.

“I made them do lots of theatre games and although they hated it at first, it worked. I really loved that job.” She also worked at a migrant school teaching five- to eight-year-olds English. But she also found time to work in theatre and staged Shanghai’s first ever pantomime, Cinderella, which appealed to many of the ex-pats who lived there as they knew exactly what to expect.

However, not all her productions were well received by everybody.

Ms Lindsay recalls: “During a Pride event we performed the Laramie Project but the secret police tried to shut us down. It was really naughty but we changed the venue and did it anyway. We had three sold-out nights.”

The couple then came back to the UK in May/June 2009 to live in Reading town centre and they were getting married in the August.

Ms Lindsay initially struggled to find work and didn’t get a job until the Christmas when she started working as a project co-ordinator for Age UK.

But she ended up taking a short-term contact as she fell pregnant with her first son. Despite this, she was still performing and staging productions, including ’Allo ’Allo! and Blackadder, as well as pantomime where she played the wicked stepmother in Cinderella.

In 2012 she moved to Woodley and started the Reading Fringe performing arts festival, which she has organised for the last four years.

Ms Lindsay says: “Lots of theatre companies started popping up in Reading as there was a growing appetite for it. Reading theatre is really well supported and is really starting to grow with lots of young people wanting to try new stuff but there weren’t really any affordable platforms where they could try new material out.

“So I had some contacts and we got a small stage and a group of volunteers to manage it. There are now 19 to 24 shows across nine to 11 venues with between 35 and 40 different companies staging up to about 60 different performances.”

Last year she was nominated for a Queen’s award for voluntary service and in the October became producer for the Reading Year of Culture, which will end in December.

Ms Lindsay, who is engaged to Daniel Page, a project manager, was told that managing director Wendy Bowsher was to leave the Kenton after 15 years and was asked if she wanted to apply.

“General manager roles do not come up very often,” she says. “I met the trustees and had to prepare a five-minute presentation about how my experience fits with the job description.”

Ms Lindsay says she “fell in love” with the theatre after seeing a show there last year.

She says: “To have kept a theatre running this long on people’s goodwill is fantastic and is something that people should be really proud of.

“I am really honoured to be able to take on the role. You can’t please everyone all of the time but I hope to please the majority of the people all the time.”

Ms Lindsay hopes to attract more funding for the theatre and bring in more productions. “I think we can progress,” she says. “There is so much opportunity. It is a fantastic building with a great reputation and there are lots of people who really want to perform at the Kenton.

“I would like to attract some more funding as it is also a heritage site, not just for Henley but for the country with a view to bringing in more productions. Whether they are more amateur or professional, I will work to see which is the right way to go. It has to be right for the theatre and the community.”

She adds: “Wendy has done a fantastic job and me coming is a huge change for everyone. No one likes change but I want to make sure that everyone is happy while at the same taking the Kenton forward as far as possible.”

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