About Us

The company of BABY IT'S YOU! Photo: Michael Lamont.

History

The Pasadena Playhouse has a rich and vibrant history dating back to 1917 when an itinerant acting troupe by the name of the Gilmor Brown Players settled in Pasadena - at the time a sleepy little town of farmers and wealthy vacationers. The town fell in love with the Players and before they had spent ten years here, locals donated the money to move the company out of the derelict old burlesque house they had been renting and into the newly constructed Pasadena Playhouse in 1924, originally known as the Pasadena Community Playhouse. At the time, The Playhouse was the largest and most technically advanced venue on this side of the Mississippi. Its community theatre beginnings and the tremendous amount of local support led George Bernard Shaw to dub Pasadena “the Athens of the West,” likening the enterprise to the ancient Festival Dionysia.

After having produced the entire canon of Shakespeare for the first time in America, California legislature voted to dedicate the Playhouse as official State Theatre in 1937. During this time, the theatre included a College of Theatre Arts (known as “The Star Factory”), which produced such notables as Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Raymond Burr and Sally Struthers. The theatre itself drew talent from across the country, premiering hundreds of new plays by writers like Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Noel Coward and many more.

The Playhouse was constantly abuzz with activity, having as many as five independent stages in operation at any given time, making it the single most prolific theatrical producing organization in the world. These varied staging capabilities led The Playhouse to become one of the first companies in history to experiment with new theatrical forms, such as theatre-in-the-round. This experimentation took on a new dimension when The Playhouse built and operated one of the first television stations in Southern California – KTTV, whose call letters still exist today as the local Fox affiliate. In addition to training the Air Force to use television and radio equipment, The Playhouse supplied the majority of Southern California’s early TV stations with the first trained technicians in the business.

Upon the death of founding director Gilmor Brown, changes in Actors Equity Association laws and the opening of drama departments in many schools and universities across the country, the theatre went bankrupt and closed its doors in 1969. During this dark period in Playhouse history, The Pasadena Playhouse Alumni & Associates continued their activities in honor of the institution, a handful of them working tirelessly for several years to keep the building from the wrecking ball.

Thanks to a monumental partnership between the Pasadena government, local businesses and our dedicated patrons and philanthropists, the theater reopened its doors in 1985. In recent years, The Playhouse has become instrumental in launching new works and landmark revivals for the American Theatre, while displaying a commitment to cultural and theatrical diversity, which is reflected in seasons featuring Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning plays and musicals.

Highlights since 2005 include the launch of the national tour of PURLIE (with the Goodman Theatre); LOOPED (starring Valerie Harper), which opened on Broadway in February 2009 and garnered a 2010 Tony Award nomination; Sister Act, The Musical, which played in the West End at the London Palladium Theatre and played on Broadway at the Broadway Theatre (Five 2011 Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical); and Baby It's You!, which played at Broadway's Broadhurst Theatre (2011 Tony Award nominee). The world premiere of Ray Charles Live!, now titled Unchain My Heart, The Ray Charles Musical, is scheduled to open on Broadway during the 2011-12 Season.

The Playhouse Archives
A collection of history in the form of programs, photographs and written material from 1916 to the present is housed in The Pasadena Playhouse Archives, funded by The Pasadena Playhouse Alumni & Associates, and our generous donors.

Visitors are welcome. Come see the busy workshop where the “past is prologue.” For more information, please email archives@pasadenaplayhouse.org.

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