By Alec Clayton
Coming to Olympia from New York and England by way of Hollywood, John Serembe and Lynette Charters Serembe have built a life that is wrapped up in art and family and community. John is an actor and a graphic artist, greatly admired for his performances with Harlequin Productions, Theater Artists Olympia, Animal Fire Theater and Olympia Family Theater. At the drop of a cue he can become anyone and anything. Lynette is a painter whose recent Missing Woman series is garnering national acclaim. In 2015 they opened the living and dining rooms in their Olympia home as Allsorts Gallery, showing works by Olympia’s best visual artists. Opening receptions at Allsorts quickly became one of the most anticipated events in Olympia’s arts community. It is where Olympia’s best and brightest gather to view art and engage in conversation and imbibe in a lavish snack spread.
“John is pure joy to work with. As both an actor and graphic designer he is always up for anything and, of course, Serembe cast parties are always fantastic,” says actor and Harlequin Marketing and Communications Director Helen Harvester.
“Lynette has a deep commitment to social justice. This informs her life and her art. Her Missing Women series makes its point beautifully. Women were and often are not seen for themselves and their accomplishments. Lynette is deeply committed to the local community. She is always ready to help. She and John have enriched our local art scene with their Allsorts Gallery. A place to get to know local artists and their work,” says sculptor Irene Osborn.
Lynette was born in England and spent a large part of her life on both sides of the pond working as an animator for Warner Brothers and Dreamworks and, incidentally, as an assistant to environmental sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. John has appeared in major productions all over the country and in favorite TV shows such as “Cheers” and “Scrubs,” and on local stages as, for instance, Dr. Cortner in Theater Artists Olympia’s “The Head That Wouldn’t Die” and as — astonishingly — 135 different characters in “The 39 Steps” at Harlequin.
TAO Director Pug Bujeaud says of him, “When I was auditioning ‘Head,’ John, who was new to the area, sent in his resume for an audition slot. Vanessa (Postil) brought it to me. I looked at it mouth agape and asked her, ‘Should we tell him who we are?’ Thinking he would really be slumming it with little ol’ TAO. Boy were we wrong. John is a consummate professional. He is amazingly flexible; he can be creepy one minute (Dr Cortner) then hysterically funny the next (Kevin the many limbed singing monster) in ‘Head’ then coldly terrifying (O’Brian) in ‘1984.’ I love working with John so much. When writing ‘The Culling,’ I wrote the part of Cal specifically for him. He is a font of great ideas and loves collaboration and I am always looking forward to seeing what he brings to whatever show he is in.”
Lynette’s “Missing Women” series is a continuing and growing series of copies of famous paintings of women on wood panels with backgrounds, settings, clothing fully painted but the women’s faces and bodies left as raw wood. She carefully chooses the panels with knotholes that are strategically located to depict eyes and/or nipples. The message of this work is that women are underappreciated in art, that they are painted as objects of desire but not recognized as artists or even as human. As the Guerilla Girls famously said, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”
Openings of the series exhibitions at Spaceworks’ 950 Gallery in Tacoma and at Lucy Gentry’s LGM Studios in Olympia were performance pieces with John playing docent Hansen Duane (a takeoff on sculptor Duane Hansen), their son Yuri playing a museum guard, and actor friends planted in the audience to ask leading questions.
John was born in Brooklyn and grew up in New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles. About equal parts in each. Growing up he spent summers on his mother’s family farm in the Adirondacks with his siblings, “Times that I greatly cherish,” he recalls.
“I was a bit of an outcast in school, mostly self-imposed.” In his junior year he wanted to take ceramics, but the class was full, so he had to take drama, the only elective still open. “Once in, I rather quickly discovered that as an actor I could be anyone,” he says.
After high school he hitch-hiked around the US and Europe for a few years picking up odd jobs such as pruning apple trees in Michigan, branding cattle in New Mexico, selling balloons at Disney World in Florida, being an elf at Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, NY., and many others.
After gigs with a couple of restaurants, he hooked up with Colony Foods, Inc. was briefly trained and shipped off to run a restaurant and bar in Modesto, Calif., eventually moving back down to LA, where he worked both as a chef and an actor. I did lots of local equity-waiver theatre as well as melodramas at Knott’s Birdcage Theatre. And then he bought a motorcycle and rode it out to do summer stock in Colorado, and he spent many summers in Las Vegas doing Shakespeare in the park.
John and Lynette met while he was acting in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Los Angeles. The director convinced Lynette to produce artwork for the set, which John says was “glorious and beautiful.” In that production, Lynette was also convinced to portray a silent fairy in Titania’s train. John was playing Bottom. He now says, “I found it impossible not to spend any available moment with this particular fairy. I have desired to remain doing so for the last 20 years.”
Downsized during the recession, the Serembes accepted an offer from John’s niece to come up to Olympia and stay with them until they figured out, and they figured out they could do it right here.
Lynette was born in a village called Embsay nestled in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, about a mile outside Skipton, England. Drawing came to her early and easily. She now remembers that one of her teachers called her work priceless. “I was heartily offended until my mum told me what she’d meant. I never really fit in in school. One of my first school reports said: ‘Lynette has a keen sense of humour, usually misplaced.’”
She attended Bradford and Ilkley Community College. The college encouraged experimentation and supported any ideas students had, “no matter how whacky.” After Bradford she earned a BFA at Cardiff in South Wales and was accepted into Chelsea College of Art and Design in London where she earned her masters degree.
After college she went to work as an animator.
“I realized that the only place in the whole world that I could live in one place and stay employed would be Los Angeles,” she says. “A position opened up to work on Warner Brothers’ ‘Space Jam.’ I had a curious mind and took the step.”
From Warner Brothers she went to work at Dreamworks and spent five years there, after which I spent another year back at WB. And now the Serembes are established and much loved as members of Olympia’s arts community.