Ready, willing, but unable

Though hopeful for a happy ending, mayor says the city is already doing as much as it can to help the now-closed Pasadena Playhouse

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 3/5/2010

Following the closing of the historic Pasadena Playhouse last month due to millions of dollars of debt inherited from the theater’s previous operator, Playhouse executives have turned to the city for help in saving the official State Theater of California. 
In a Feb. 11 letter to Mayor Bill Bogaard and the Pasadena City Council, Carla Walecka, president of the Playhouse District Association, urged the council and city staff to “do everything in your power to accomplish four things: 1) Bring a theater company back to the Playhouse as soon as possible, 2) Activate the theater space and patio in the interim, 3) Retain Furious Theatre [a separate company operating at the theater] within the Playhouse District, and 4) Promote the diverse and vibrant arts venues our district offers to Pasadenans and the region.”
Unfortunately, however, Bogaard said recently that there isn’t much more the city can do to help financially, explaining that over the years the city has been supportive, providing the lease on the building at $1 a year. “We’re not really able to allocate funds to nonprofit organizations,” added Bogaard, who along with the council is working to close a multimillion-dollar gap in the city’s finances. “That question frequently comes up, but we try in every way, short of direct cash subventions, to be supportive, cooperative and to facilitate good outcomes. And we’ll certainly continue to do that. That is our space there and it’s possible that in the future we’ll be able in some regular way to help with the upkeep of the building to ensure that that asset is protected.”
During curtain call for “Camelot,” the theater’s final performance on Feb. 7, Artistic Director Sheldon Epps called the Playhouse closing “intermission” and said bankruptcy was a viable alternative. On Jan. 29, executives, including Epps, Executive Director Stephen Eich and board Chair Michele Engemann, decided to cancel the 2010 season of plays, consider financial reorganization, including seeking advice from a lawyer about bankruptcy, and other options. Nearly 40 employees have since been laid off.
Since then, Playhouse executives have asked the city and donors for help, but so far they have not been able to acquire the nearly $6 million they say is needed to pay off their $2 million debt and continue production.
“My hope is that later this year they’ll be back in business,” said Bogaard. “But they’re obviously just at the beginning of this restructuring. We’re in direct communication with Stephen Eich and his transition team. City Hall strongly supports the effort that they’re engaged in to stabilize their financial picture. We stand ready to cooperate in their efforts.”
Founded in 1917, the Playhouse was named the State Theater of California in 1937.