Pasadena Playhouse Throws Community Party to Fete Its 100th Birthday Today

Join thousands of people in a celebration of arts and culture as Pasadena Playhouse celebrates its centennial anniversary with a free block party this Saturday

Published : Saturday, June 9, 2018 | 1:04 AM

As the curtain falls on a century of storied stagecraft at the Pasadena Playhouse, its leadership is looking forward to a future of groundbreaking art while staying faithful to the values of the Pasadenans who founded it so many years ago.

Since its humble beginnings in a repurposed burlesque house in 1917, the Playhouse has become a globally recognized institution.

But Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director Danny Feldman, who took charge of the theater following the retirement of longtime director Sheldon Epps in 2017, said moving forward, the Playhouse will refocus on its roots as a community organization.

To that end, the Playhouse decided to forego a black-tie gala or fundraising event to mark its 100th birthday, Feldman said. Instead, it’s hosting a block party showcasing tons of local talent.

“This theater is deeply entrenched in this community,” he said. “This community gave birth to this theater. They funded the theater. They bought the property for the building that we’re in now and built it in 1924-1925.”

“It still is on the international map as being one of the most important theaters in American history, and how do you celebrate that? How do you properly give due for that?” Feldman said.

“We wanted to just say ‘thank you’ and throw a party and invite the community. And that’s exactly what we’re doing on June 9th. It’s really exciting.”

The centennial block party bash is scheduled to run from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday near the Playhouse, at El Molino Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.

It will feature live music, performance by more than 20 groups on two stages, more than two-dozen interactive exhibits, games, a kids’ zone, tours of the Playhouse District and the Playhouse, food trucks, drinks and a formal ceremony mid-day.

In planning the coming years for the Pasadena Playhouse, Feldman said he drew inspiration from an antique Playhouse program from the 1920s. It includes the theater’s mission statement, which reads, in part: “The Playhouse is a living force in the community.”

“When the Playhouse was founded, community members were a part of the shows,” he said. From making costumes to singing in the chorus, “there was not really a line in the sand that we really have now between a professional actor and a community member.”

Times have changed, however, and the Playhouse is not planning on abandoning professional thespians, Feldman said.

“What’s the 2018 interpretation of an engaged community?” he said. “That really guided us to revise our mission statement at the Playhouse. And the mission now as it reads is the Playhouse exists to enrich the lives of our community.”

Thanks to a theater-supporting donor, the Playhouse was able to bring the Pasadena Unified School District’s entire 7th-grade class to a show this year. “And we’re going to do that again next year, we’re going to that again the year after,” Feldman said.

The Playhouse has added new classes, and plans to add more, catering to artists ranging from Broadway veterans to shower-singing amateurs hoping to try their hand on-stage, he said. “I think if you keep an eye on us over the coming months, you’re going to see a radical expansion in our learning programs at all ages.”

Like any good drama, the Playhouse’s history has been marked by both ups and downs. It’s trained world-famous actors and premiered popular plays. But it’s also seen its struggles, including a bankruptcy filing in 2010.

“Priority number one is restoring fiscal responsibility to the Pasadena Playhouse,” Feldman said. “Great art needs a great base.”

Through excellent art and solid decision-making, Feldman said he hoped to help restore the strong community backing the Playhouse has enjoyed in the past.

“I think that there are a lot of people in the community since I’ve been here who have been skeptical or who are deeply passionate about the Playhouse in many ways, whether they were an usher here a while ago or saw theater here as a kid,” he said.

“And what we want to tell the community is: Look at us again. We are at a turning point. We are at a moment of great growth and great transformation here. We are really changing a course and really doing it the right way and building the right team,” Feldman said.

“And we want our doors are open. We want people to come to our block party, come to “Bordertown Now” play, come to our family programming of “Jungle Book” over the summer,” he added. “This is our playhouse in the community of Pasadena and we want to tell everyone come join us.”

The party starts at 12 noon at 39 S. El Molino Avenue on Saturday, June 9, and continues until 10 p.m.

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