Our Laguna: Playhouse fundraiser a California dream

More than $100,000 was raised at the Laguna Playhouse California Dreamin’ fundraiser held Nov. 16 at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

Founded in 1920, the Playhouse may be one of the oldest continuously operating theaters on the West Coast, but it hasn’t lost any of its vitality. In 2011, the Playhouse was honored with the Laguna Spirit Award and the Chamber of Commerce Premier Business Award.

And the folks who attended the lively gala had a whale of a time.

About 300 Playhouse supporters, board members and staff duded up in Hobie Sports and Tight Assets beach-style casual outfits — never before were so many Reyn Spooners seen in the ballroom — for the surfing-themed gala. Flip-flops were de rigueur footwear, not political shenanigans.


“We were all able to relax and enjoy each other at this, our first casual surf culture-inspired event,” said Karen Wood, Playhouse executive director.

Guests were welcomed by Joe Hanauer, president of the board.

“When we refer to the Laguna Playhouse, it has two parts: one is the physical place on Laguna Canyon Road and the other is the team of people who scour the planet for scripts to bring the entertainment to the place, as well as collaborate with other organizations like Laguna Beach Live!, Laguna Beach Dance and the Laguna Community Band,” Hanauer said.

A seven-minute film about the Playhouse shown at the gala was the collaboration of Artistic Director Ann Wareham and Lauren Simon.


Laguna Beach businesswoman Heidi Miller and Playhouse development director and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson co-chaired the gala, which included dinner, a silent auction, a live auction, opportunities to win a trip to Kauai, a wine tower or a Daimler Benz smart car, and dancing to the music of Beach Boys-style band, Pappa Do Run Run.

Kristen and newly elected Councilman Bob Whalen, Mary and Whalen Election Committee treasurer Matt Lawson, the Laguna Beach Visitors & Conference Bureau’s Judy Bijlani, Dr. Gary and School Board member Betsy Jenkins, retired South Coast Water District Manager Mike Dunbar, Dave Sanford and Steven Dotorotos, Carolyn and Laguna Beach Clinic Director Dr. Thomas Bent, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kris Thalman and Patrick Quilter were among the throng of dancers.

Live auction items included a white South Sea Pearl Pendant, valued at $3,000, donated by King Plutaracho Inc.; a hand-signed Donovan Frankenreiter Dono St. Model Hobie surf board and an Explorer Stand Up paddleboard, compliments of Mark Christy, owner of Hobie Sport; and a homemade Gumbo dinner for eight cooked at the winner’s home and served by Peterson and Councilwoman Toni Iseman, a priceless treasure from Stu Saffer; and a decorative blown glass plate from Bill Kasper, valued at $3,000.

Ken Fischbeck donated a week in a beachfront private home in the small Baja village of El Cardonal on the Sea of Cortez in Baja. The Visitors Bureau put together a package that ranged from a John Barber blown glass starfish to two nights stay in the Casa del Camino Hotel and a $250 gift certificate for the Rooftop, not to mention a La Vida Laguna kayak or paddleboard tour for two, Soul Surfing School lessons, Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari for two, and a Surfing Heritage Foundation family membership — total value, $2,000.

Caterer Jock Stalker donated a dinner for 12 on stage at the Playhouse — maybe for the winner of the walk-on part in the theater’s holiday musical, “Plaid Tidings,” also an auction item.

“Sister” Marypat Donovan, Laguna Beach Arts Commissioner Pat Kollenda and Christy served as auctioneers.

The list of donors and sponsors was proof of the broad community support the Playhouse has mustered.

Henry and Deborah Mayhew were the Tidal Wave Presenting Sponsors. They congratulated the event committee and the Playhouse staff for a fabulous event on behalf of the “Big Kahuna” of theaters, which enriches thousands of lives through its mainstage and youth productions and programs.


Hobie Sport and Hotel Laguna were designated Trestles Sponsors. Waste Management of Orange County, Cody and Deborah Engle, and Joe and Jane Hanauer were dubbed Malibu sponsors. What no Brooks Street?

Capital Group Cos. Global, and Joe and Maryann Herrera were on board as the Hanalei Bay sponsors.

“We are happy to be supporters of California Dreamin’ and the Laguna Playhouse, which has enriched our lives and others through exceptional theater entertainment and its many educational and outreach programs,” was the testimonial from the couple in the event program.

Over the years, the Playhouse has received awards from the LA Drama Critics Circle, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, Backstage and OC Weekly. ArtsOC named the Playhouse the Best Arts Organization.

Among the notables who have performed at the Playhouse: Bette Davis, Harrison Ford, Julie Harris in “Belle of Amherst,” Charles Durning, Marlo Thomas, Roddy McDowell, Cloris Leachman, Sally Struthers and Rita Rudner.

Youth Theater Education and Outreach programs were recognized in 1989 as the Outstanding Children’s Theater by the American Alliance for Theater and Education. The touring production, TheatreReach brings books to life on stage for elementary school children throughout Southern California.

The Playhouse deserves a big hand for its commitment to the Youth Education Program, which has introduced live theater to about 5,000 young people, according to a Capital Group statement.

Pearson credited the success of the gala in large measure to the efforts of the volunteers, Playhouse staff and the gala committee: Michelle Bendetti, Diana Mondini, John Benecke, Justin Myers, Charlene Chase, Karyn Philippsen, Francine Scinto, Rona Gromet, Phil Serrins, Maggie Hempen-Stempf, Teryll Sindell, Maryann Herrera, Temre Vouga, Madeleine Peterson, Ilona Martin, Toni and Terry McDonald (responsible for the table décor), Robin Woods, Leslie Anne Mogul, Caroline Wright, Bijlani, Christy, Kollenda, Wareham and Wood, many of whom were also sponsors, along with Newport Beach Vineyards & Winery, Madison Square & Garden Café, Crevier Classic Cars, the Surfing Heritage Museum and Quilter.


OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4618 or email with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.