Pasadena Playhouse is ready to act

Pasadena Playhouse had a rough 2010, but executives with the venerable theater group have shed long-standing financial burdens and are looking ahead to the launch of the 2011-12 season Sept. 16.

In February 2010, the 94-year-old organization closed its theater doors after staging just one of its planned productions. In May, the playhouse filed for bankruptcy. It had $102,000 in cash and savings, but owed more than $2.3 million to creditors.

The company planned to restructure and emerge from bankruptcy within two months. But a bankruptcy judge imposed on playhouse directors an unexpected mandate: Give 2010 season-ticket subscribers the five plays they had paid for.

Quickly, an anonymous donor pledged $1 million on the condition that the theater match it. Four months later, Pasadena Playhouse had the match courtesy of other donors, and finished the season.

Now, the playhouse has emerged from bankruptcy and next month will launch a full season of performances — debt-free — with the world premiere of the musical “South Street.”

“It’s very comfortable to go into a year without having the kinds of obligations that this place had for many, many years,” Executive Director Stephen Eich said.

To remain solvent, the playhouse is proceeding with caution. Like any theater company, ticket sales and donations are key to keeping afloat. That, said Artistic Director Sheldon Epps, “and prudent spending.”

The playhouse’s new season includes five productions, bookended by “South Street” and a musical adaptation of the film “Sleepless in Seattle.” Other shows include the provocative international hit “Art” as well as “The Heiress” and “Blues for an Alabama Sky.”

“Our aspiration really is to thank the audience for its loyalty by producing good theater, and also to continue attracting new audiences,” Epps said.

Along with a fresh start, the Pasadena Playhouse will have a new neighbor this fall. In October, classical repertory theater company A Noise Within, long based in Glendale, will mount its first season in its new Pasadena home.

“They’re a very good theater company,” Epps said, adding that he welcomes another troupe. “A healthy theater community with a lot to choose from is good for every theater company.”

A Noise Within co-founder Geoff Elliott agrees.


FOR THE RECORD: This corrects an earlier version that mispelled Geoff Elliot's name.


“There is a synergy that is created when a number of arts organizations are located within a community,” he said.

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