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The Pasadena Playhouse

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What happened to the Pasadena Playhouse?

Philippa Lane (CableMuse.com)

by Philippa Lane

Pasadena, CA - The Pasadena Playhouse is an historical theatre that is situated in the heart of Pasadena, California.  The Playhouse had its beginning in 1917 when Gilmor Brown, a director and actor, started developing some theatrical performances at an old theatre that he affectionately called the Savoy. 

Pasadena Playhouse (CableMuse.com) Philippa Lane
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From small beginnings, the Playhouse quickly grew in popularity.  In 1925, Pasadena’s inhabitants raised enough money to build an elaborate theatre in the center of the city, which for several years was called the Pasadena Community Playhouse and for more than forty years, it was the most exciting playhouse in Southern California.

The Playhouse was designed by an accomplished builder named Elmer Grey and over the years of the theatre’s existence, it has attracted the attention of the entire country and has hosted notable authors such as William Saroyan, Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Eugene O’Neill.   

Pasadena Playhouse (CableMuse.com) Philippa Lane

In the late 1920’s, a theatre arts school was established that became a licensed college by 1937.  Many famous people, such as, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Victor Mature Raymond Burr, Sally Struthers, Charles Bronson, Mako, Jamie Farr, and others were trained there. The Playhouse was always busy during the school years, with as many as five different stages operating at a time.  The Pasadena Playhouse became the most prolific theatrical making establishment in the United States and the world. 

The Playhouse became one of the first companies in history to try out new theatrical forms such as “theatre-in-the-round”, because of the variety of staging capabilities extended by its five venues.  As a result of extensive experimenting, The Playhouse constructed and ran one of the first television stations in Southern California, trained the Air Force to use radio equipment, television, supplied the bulk of Southern California’s early Television stations with some of the first trained technicians in the industry.

State Theater of California (CableMuse.com) Philippa Lane

In 1937, the Playhouse was officially announced as the State Theater of California after performing the entire Shakespeare collection on one stage for the first time in the United States and was known as one of the best community theatres in the country. 

On a regular basis, the Playhouse showcased new dramas by relatively unknown playwrights and led a successful and acclaimed acting school.  Many outstanding productions were performed at the theatre, including Lazarus Laughed in 1928 by Eugene O’Neill.

When the founding manager Gilmor Brown died and other changes began to occur, such as the opening of drama departments in many schools and universities across the country and changes in Actors Equity Association laws, the theatre became bankrupt in1969.  The property was auctioned off in 1970 and for more than a decade, the theatre was closed, but in 1986, to the delight of many, it reopened, became prominent again,  and continued to present plays in its 672‐seat theatre, until February 7, 2010 after its final showing of the musical Camelot, because of financial hardship.  With more than $2 million in debt, the 85 year old historical playhouse closed in February and filed for bankruptcy in May 2010, but there is good news, a judge sanctioned the theater's reorganization plan in July 2010.  

At present, the Pasadena Playhouse is being directed by Sheldon Epps.  A man whose goal of theatrical and ethnic diversity has added new life to the theatre, the result has been reflected in broad outreach programming and performance seasons.

Pasadena Playhouse (CableMuse.com) Philippa Lane
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The Playhouse is a nonprofit theatre and produces six plays annually on its main stage. The theatre continues to serve the Pasadena community through partnerships with social service organizations and schools in the local area, offering performances and workshops.

The Pasadena Playhouse plans to present a musical in January 2011 and in December of 2010, they will have some companies and their productions generate new audiences and revenue for the theatre.

Pasadena Playhouse (CableMuse.com) Philippa Lane
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I remember when I was a little girl, my mother would take my siblings and I to see a few plays at the Pasadena Playhouse. I remember the quaint and nostalgic look of the building and the warm atmosphere. After every performance, my mother would take us to meet the cast members at the front of the Playhouse. The cast members were always friendly and would sign autographs for us. This made a lasting impression on me and I will forever remember my experience. My hope is that the Pasadena Playhouse will remain in operation for future generations to enjoy.

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