Entertainment meets education

Pasadena boasts a bounty of entertainment options, but only one offers the opportunity to spend an evening picking some of the most interesting brains in art, science, politics and entertainment.

This high-minded cultural event is the Distinguished Speakers Series of Southern California, and one of its venues is the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. This seven-month, seven-speaker program kicks off its 16th season there on Monday night with a talk by finance expert Suze Orman.

Founded in 1997, the series has hosted such esteemed figures as Walter Cronkite, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Robert Redford. This year’s lineup is just as impressive, with Orman, famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer, Hollywood legend Betty White, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal, National Geographic contributor and happiness expert Dan Buettner and David Axelrod, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama, all appearing this season.

This diverse lineup reflects the interests of the event’s audience, as speakers were chosen based on a poll of the series’ regular subscribers.

“We put a survey of 400 names in categories like politics, science, entertainment and let people vote on what categories they’re most interested in,” says series owner and co-founder Kathy Winterhalder. “We try to give subscribers the people they want to see.

“What came out of our survey is that people are worried about their money,” Winterhalder continues. “There was a lot of interest in Suze Orman, so we’re thrilled that she’s kicking off our series next week. With the 2012 presidential campaign gearing up and after several past seasons that were heavy in political speakers, the audience also seemed to want a lighter year. We went after a couple of speakers that aren’t normally on the speaking circuit. That’s the case with Betty White and Yo-Yo Ma.”

Attendees can look forward to intimate evenings in the 3,000 person capacity Civic Auditorium, as series organizers attempt to create an atmosphere that feels like the audience is sitting down in their own living room to chat with each speaker. The audience does in fact get a chance to interact with the speaker through the question-and-answer portion that ends each lecture.

“We started in Pasadena because we thought the San Gabriel Valley was an educated area that would support something like this,” Winterhalder says. “It’s been a wonderful community for us.” The series also brings the same seven speakers to venues in Thousand Oaks and Redondo Beach.

Tickets for the Distinguished Speakers Series are sold exclusively as subscriptions, and buyers can either purchase the entire season (prices run between $280 and $392), or design their own four-event miniseries for $230. The fact that 80% of subscribers return year after year is a testament to the quality of the programming.

“We’re really grateful,” Winterhalder says, “that in this economy our subscribers aren’t giving up the opportunity to have a personal night with each speaker. We try to make it educational entertainment. It’s more than just going to a show.”

For more information, visit speakersla.com.


Distinguished Speaker Series 2011-12

Pasadena Civic Auditorium

Monday, Oct. 3: Suze Orman

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Betty White

Wednesday, Jan. 11: David Axelrod

Tuesday, Feb. 21: Charles Krauthammer

Wednesday, March 14: Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Wednesday, April 4: Yo-Yo Ma

Tuesday, May 22: Dan Buettner

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