Get A Wonderful Life at the Pasadena Playhouse
The Pasadena Playhouse makes an indelible mark on American theatre, presenting world premieres, sending productions to Broadway as well as major theatres throughout the country. Today, the theatre produces a year-round six-play season of 275 performances featuring over 100 artists, designers, directors and playwrights. More than 130,000 patrons visit each year, including over 12,000 subscribers who travel from 400 zip codes. The Pasadena Playhouse attracts a diverse audience by consistently presenting plays with themes that are relevant to the entire community.
Our History Taken from the video 80 Years in 8 Minutes: Pasadena Playhouse 1925-2005 It all begins with Gilmor Brown. By all accounts, Gilmor Brown is not a great actor. He is an ordinary actor with boyish good looks - who forgets his lines at least once every performance. He is not a great director, either; he’s good, but not great. But he is charming and witty and he has a rare and wonderful gift...he’s a visionary! In 1916 he turns 30 years old. Gilmor step off a Santa Fe train in a very warm Pasadena. By warm, we do not mean the welcome, either. It is August, there is no air conditioning and everyone is overdressed. Gilmor finds a building, an old burlesque house on North Fair Oaks; he names it the Savoy and sets about producing a season of plays. Everyone in town is invited to try out for productions. The theatre’s slogan is, “The hero may be your grocer!” There are audience sing-alongs at Intermission and on Election Night the voting results are announced throughout the evening. By the end of the first year, the Savoy Players have presented 63 productions. In May of 1925, a beautiful new theater, one of the first in southern California, is unveiled on South El Molino Avenue. Opening night is a magical evening, full of lights, and the scent of jasmine, celebrities, memories and, most of all, promise. Hanging wrought iron lamps softly illuminate the cool evening. Champagne did not flow from crystal glasses, because of that pesky Prohibition, but architect Elmer Grey’s jewel of a building takes center stage. By all accounts the new theatre is a tremendous success. The New York drama critic writes, “Pasadena has reason to be proud of its great civic organization, and of the directors and managers who have made this little theatre into one of the foremost in the English-speaking world.” British poet and playwright John Drinkwater remarks: “If you ever let an achievement like this slip through your fingers, you ought to move to some uncivilized place.” Gilmor has a vision. In 1928 he opens a theatre school drawing students from all over the world. In the 1930s the Playhouse becomes a showcase for Hollywood. As talkies replace silent films, studio actors flock to the Playhouse to learn how to actually speak. Randolph Scott’s Southern drawl distresses Gilmor so, he finally tells Randy to “go back to Virginia and raise horses.” Soon Hollywood itself becomes a regular audience presence, hoping to discover the next big film stars. In 1937 the state legislature designates the Playhouse as the official state theatre for bringing national and international renowned to California as a center for the theatrical arts. However, Sacramento does not actually fund the theatre but leaves that responsibility to the patrons. Throughout the 1940s, despite wartime curfews and blackouts, the school continues to thrive and produce some marvelous actors like Robert Preston, William Holden, Raymond Burr, Eve Arden, Gig Young, Charles Bronson, and Rue McLanahan. After the war, the GI bill brings a great influx of students to the school and the Playhouse complex buzzes with activity in playwriting, directing, fencing, voice, acting, scenic design and dance classes. Gilmor recognizes television as the next big thing and opens a tv studio at the Playhouse which trains directors, actors, writers, and technicians for this new medium. Disneyland, drive-in movies, Barbie dolls, gray flannel suits and poodle skirts mark the look and feel of the 1950s. At the Playhouse the productions range from Herman Wouk’s The Traitor, Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke, and Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday, to Billy Budd by Herman Melville, The Gondoliers by Gilbert & Sullivan, Picnic by William Inge, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet starring Margaret O’Brian and John Barrymore, Jr. But Gilmor’s health is beginning to fail. He no longer strides all over the complex with a police whistle around his neck. In 1960 he lies down for a nap after lunch in Palm Springs and never wakes up again. Unfortunately he leaves without a successor in place. In Pasadena the glory days of the school begins to fade. Universities across the country open theatre departments and the competition is stiff. The Playhouse still attracts tremendous talent in such artists as Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman and Elaine May but by 1969 the school succumbs to its financial burden and soon after, the theatre closes her heavy wooden doors. During the 1970s the Playhouse is threatened with demolition and remains dark but many community leaders continue to work tirelessly to revive the theatre. They successfully receive a designation on the National Register of Historic Places that saves the building from the wrecking ball. In 1979 the City of Pasadena steps in to help a local developer reopen the Playhouse. It takes a long time to rebuild and reconstruct the beauty of this treasured building after years of abandonment and neglect. 1986 marks the return of both Haley’s Comet -- and the Pasadena Playhouse. A team of strong artistic leaders in Susan Dietz and Steve Rothman make the boards come alive again with laughter and tears in productions presenting Rebecca De Mornay in Born Yesterday, Barbara Rush in Steel Magnolias, Gregory Harrison and Marilu Henner in Carnal Knowledge, Lea Thompson in Bus Stop, and Brian Stokes Mitchell from Mail. The 1990s hail the advent of the Internet, a booming economy, and as Bruce Springsteen sings about television, “there’s 500 channels and nothing to watch.” By the end of this decade the Playhouse introduces a new artistic director in Sheldon Epps who brings his unique vision to this great theatre. During the next eight years every season brims with productions by award winning writers such as Tom Stoppard, Neil Simon, Alan Ayckbourn, Christopher Hampton, Stephen Sondheim, David Hare, and Pulitzer Prize winners Nilo Cruz and John Patrick Shanley. The excitement is palpable as the dressing rooms buzz with the electric dramatic and comedic talent of artists like Linda Hunt, Hal Holbrook, Phylicia Rashad, Harry Groener, Carol Lawrence, Stacey Keach, Stephanie Zimbalist, Robert Picardo, JoAnne Worley, Conrad Bain, Mare Winningham, Bea Arthur, Paul Dooley, CCH Pounder, Brooke Adams, Shirley Knight, Diahann Carroll and Jonathan Cake among many many others. Today the vision for the Playhouse continues Gilmor Brown’s vision of 80 years ago: to be a center for the theatrical arts in southern California. In addition to the season productions there is something going on at the Playhouse in every available space and on any given day: student matinees, labs for new plays, programs for children, youth and families, auditions, rehearsals, tours, set construction, and maintenance, maintenance, and more maintenance. In 2004 the Balcony theatre at the Playhouse reopens and features the Furious Theatre Company, and a reading series called “Hothouse at the Playhouse” for the development of new work from diverse and emerging playwrights. Now, the Playhouse board and staff are announcing a major fundraising effort called the “Next Stage Campaign.” This campaign advances a vibrant vision for the future through restoration of this historic theatre, modernization of the Balcony theatre, expansion of the outreach and education programs, and creation of an endowment. As the building hums with activity, and as the community continues to support this cultural gem, there is still much work to be done, more money to raise, more renovation, more restoration, more programs, and most importantly, more stories to tell. Historic Tours of the Pasadena Playhouse can be arranged by calling Ellen Bailey at (626) 792-8672 ext. 214.Check out the comments for more California Theatres Or Click to Add your own recommendation