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Ebony Repertory Theatre and Pasadena Playhouse unite to co-produce 'Crowns'

January 19, 2009 |  5:30 am

Wren_t_brown_of_ebony_repertory_the

Ebony Repertory Theatre, a newcomer to the Los Angeles theater scene dedicated to producing works by and for African Americans, will collaborate with Pasadena Playhouse as co-producers of the L.A. premiere of Regina Taylor's musical "Crowns," the two theaters announced today.

Founder Wren T. Brown called the partnership between his Ebony Repertory Theatre, which staged its first production in October, and the Playhouse, established in 1917, "a potential new model, certainly within this city and possibly in the nation," for collaborations between established and up-and-coming theaters in the same community.

Taylor's musical, subtitled "Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats," will begin at ERT in its 400-seat home at the Nate Holden Arts Center, May 8 to June 14. The show, adapted by Taylor from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, will move to Pasadena Playhouse for a July 10-to-Aug. 23 engagement.

Ebony Repertory had already announced its production of "Crowns" when Sheldon Epps, artistic director of Pasadena Playhouse, proposed that the two theaters collaborate. Epps said he made the call in December after seeing ERT's well-reviewed inaugural production, August Wilson's "Two Trains Running," directed by Israel Hicks, who will also stage "Crowns."

Sheldon_epps_at_the_pasadena_playho"I thought the work was just splendid," Epps said. "In addition, I have a long relationship with Wren and an even longer relationship with Israel." The two met when Epps was a sophomore and Hicks was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Collaborations between theaters may be crucial to the survival of the theater community during hard economic times, Epps said.

"We have to be smarter and more ingenious about the way we produce and keep ourselves alive and keep our institutions thriving -- but also more gracious and generous as we find ways to meet mutual goals," he said. "This is certainly something that we've discussed at the Playhouse for a long time -- this was the perfect opportunity to put the theory into practice."

Sharing resources may prove beneficial not only to smaller theaters but to the larger ones as well.

"Because we work under different [union] agreements, what we could deliver the show for -- fully produced -- could not be done at the Playhouse," Brown said.

"Crowns," which explores the lives of six Southern "hat queens," fit perfectly into the Playhouse's season celebrating women, Epps said. The popular show, winner of four Helen Hayes Awards, including best regional musical, "taps into aspects of sisterhood in general, but specifically sisterhood between African American women -- it taps into their faith, certainly their culture, and specifically into their sense of fashion."

"It means the world to me," Brown said, "as the producer and founder of a theater company ... to be able to give new people, and certainly those I've worked with for years, an opportunity for extended employment in their home city."

-- Diane Haithman

Photo (top): Wren T. Brown of Ebony Repertory Theatre. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

Photo (bottom): Sheldon Epps of Pasadena Playhouse. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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