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Pasadena Playhouse says it is receiving pledge dollars -- but is it enough?

February 3, 2010 | 12:50 pm

Bell

The Pasadena Playhouse said Wednesday that it has been receiving a number of monetary pledges since announcing last week that it would cease productions on its main stage on Feb. 7. But it remains unclear how substantial those offers are and whether they are enough to save the institution.

In its most recent blog post, the company stated that it has "been inundated with generous messages of support and many have offered to pledge money to help keep this venerable institution operational."

The company also said it would keep readers posted if there "are any fundraising events or pledge drives created officially by Pasadena Playhouse or one of our generous partners."

On Friday, the theater's executive director, Stephen Eich, said the playhouse was essentially out of cash and faced more than $500,000 in immediate bills, as well as payments on more than $1.5 million in bank loans and other debts. The company has also decided to lay off 37 workers.

Sheldon Epps, the theater's artistic director, said the amount of pledges the company has received could not be immediately quantified. "At this point, pledges are made through a variety of different methods and we can't identify an exact amount," he said. "We are grateful for them. The response has been very moving."

He said the company was looking for a way to better centralize its fundraising efforts.

Among the recent displays of support is a Facebook campaign titled "We CAN Save the Pasadena Playhouse!" which was created by Eric Andrist, who is not employed by or associated with the company. The page says it is accepting pledges in support of the theater.

A spokeswoman for the playhouse said the company can't do anything with pledged dollars "until we discuss the matter further with our attorneys."

The company said it was meeting with legal advisers as well as Pasadena city officials to determine the next course of action.

Epps released a statement to The Times on Wednesday in which he detailed his response to the company's current state of affairs. Here is his letter in its entirety:

I read a story once about the great painter Pablo Picasso. Apparently there were many times when, in the process of creating one of his great works of art, he would find himself frustrated, confused, overwhelmed, or somewhat defeated by what was in front of him as he painted.  This could happen either at the beginning of the process, or after many weeks or even months of work on a painting. At those moments he sometimes found that the best, though sometimes difficult choice was to toss the problematic canvass, and in his words, “Begin again.” Though this could be painful to do, it was by starting with a clean canvas that he was able to get past whatever the challenges were, get the painting that he wanted on to the new canvas, and as a result, create some of his most successful works of art.

Pasadena Playhouse is a great arts institution. We are fortunate to consistently create valuable works of theatrical art with such artistry and skill that -- when we are truly blessed -- our work can touch on greatness. The Playhouse is also a vital community service organization which trains young artists and new audiences, and opens the minds of thousands of young people to the power of the arts. Both of these tasks, creating great art and serving our community, are at the very heart of our mission, and we fulfill that mission with admirable expertise.

However, there are entanglements, obligations, and literal burdens that the theatre has been saddled with for many years that are the result not of what we do in the present, but of poor and misguided decisions in the past. While we have been able to move forward in spite of those challenges over the past decade and come out shining artistically, the fact is that a tsunami of events has now caused these challenges to feel insurmountable, and in fact impeded in a severe way our capacity to do what we do best. Our ability to function incredibly well as a theatre company attracts substantial resources from sales, from contributed income, and from government and foundation support (not to mention a high level of respect and admiration in our field). Unfortunately, far too often those resources must go to obligations created in that nefarious past, rather than to the support of the current art on our stage, and the valuable activities that make us vital right now.

The proposed reorganization will have its own set of challenges, questions, and complications to work through. But it is a way to “Begin again”!  This could well be a means for us to expunge the burdens of the past and move forward with a clean canvas.  If we can do this properly, with determination, with the pride and dignity that we deserve to display, this plan could well give us a valuable fresh start and allow us to focus our full energies on what we do best. It could give us the valuable opportunity to get back to the pure and valuable joy of creating theatrical art devoted to the promise of the present rather than the burdens of the past.  Imagine the possibilities.

-- Sheldon Epps

-- David Ng

Photo: An historic bell at the entrance of the Pasadena Playhouse. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times

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