A Taste for Theatre
Profile by Jane Ledwell
When Glenda Landry came across a long-forgotten school yearbook, she eagerly peeked into its pages to learn what she had hoped and predicted for herself. Next to her picture, she read: “I want to go to theatre school in England or to culinary school.” Just past her 60th birthday, she now grins, “I’ve done both!”
Glenda is a sprightly and effervescent grande dame of the Charlottetown Festival, best known from her long run as Diana Barry in Anne and later as a Lady of Avonlea. She has only ever missed one summer season since the 1970s—and that was to have a baby.
Also a “foodie” since her childhood, she remembers, “When my children left home, my job—my big job—walked out the door. I cried for a year.” That’s when she made cooking a second career, studying at the Culinary Institute and becoming a professional cook.
This summer as part of the Charlottetown Festival, she says, “I get to take part in a marriage of two loves, two passions,” when she combines culinary and theatrical magic in the foodies’ farce The Kitchen Witches, in which she will be whipping up dessert live on-stage.
“It has to be fresh ingredients, the flavours have to be balanced, and it has to be beautiful presentation-wise—because someone really has to eat it!” Glenda says, referring to the judge who must decide between the play’s two sparring cooks. “With just two minutes to cook—it’s a real Iron Chef challenge.
“The fun,” she says, “is in the chaos.”
As an acting challenge, on-stage cookery is “food choreography,” Glenda laughs, “no different from learning a dance number.” Her experience in the kitchen has been a great help to ensuring realism of the food scenes. “Realism, truth, and emotion bring the story along,” she says. “It’s a tender story we’re trying to tell.”
As a cooking challenge, the recipe is key. “There can’t be a hot oven on stage,” she says, “so there seems to be a lot of whipping cream!” Her on-stage “Fabulous Fruity Fool” is not the same kind of cooking that she does in a professional kitchen. “When I’m making food at The Dunes,” she says, “it has to go through the window more quickly, and I have to check the flavour a lot… My hands represent the hands of Chef Emily Wells, not my hands. It has to be just right.”
All the drama and dicing of The Kitchen Witches will unfold in the Studio Theatre, where Glenda got her start in the Circus Tent children’s theatre in the 1960s. “Going back there is like going home,” she says. “Well, my dear…” she begins as though she could tell a tale or two, “in those days we had theatre school in the morning, a show in the afternoon, and worked front of house at night.” It was in the Circus Tent that she was discovered and got her chance to audition for the role of Diana.
“To be part of ‘Anne’ is to be part of the magic,” she says. But she was, even then, mixing acting and cooking—by scooting home to make jam between the matinee and evening performances.
A marriage of passions—like any marriage—is not only made up of pleasure. “Every day in not a joy on that Mainstage. Every day is not a joy in a professional kitchen,” she admits. “Every day is not perfect. Some days are a tough slog. And that’s okay.
“I think that when it is hard is when you are not perfect and you want to be perfect so badly—when you know you can do it, just not today. So you swallow that, cooking or performing, and say, well, today I was human.”
Brightening into a broad smile, she says, “It’s about staying in the moment. Acting and thinking, Oh, I’ve never heard her say that before! How interesting! Cooking and thinking, Mmm… I have made this soup, and who will be eating it today?” And with that, she has perked herself up—and brought sparkle back into the whole room, professional sharer of pleasure.