By Sara Smola, Photos by Courtesy of the Pasadena Playhouse Archives
The Pasadena Playhouse is an icon of not only Pasadena but also the entire theater community, known for its groundbreaking and courageous works. This year, the Playhouse celebrates 100 years of achievements: having commissioned more than 550 new works, produced upward of 1,200 shows, spearheaded more than 500 world premieres, developed several shows that went on to Broadway, and welcomed 1 million audience members.
In 2017, Danny Feldman took the metaphorical stage as the Playhouse’s producing artistic director, a unique position that combines the artistic job with the business-side role of executive director. While Feldman is no stranger to the Playhouse, having grown up in the San Fernando Valley, it wasn’t until he was contacted about the potential job that he started researching its expansive history. “I started going down the rabbit hole of the history of the organization,” he says. “I discovered everything from the early origins from Martha Graham being the first person on stage, Tennessee Williams being here and working on new plays … I started realizing that this was one of the most important theaters in American history [but] not everyone knows that. As a theater person, my job is to tell stories and I thought, It’s time to actually tell the story of the Playhouse.”
Feldman is off to a solid start, charting a course for the Playhouse’s next 100 years. Inclusion is a huge goal, as he recognizes the weight of the Playhouse being named the official State Theater of California (an honor bestowed in 1937). “When we look at what are the values of the state of California, as a theater and a state theater, we are trying to align with that. We think of California as adventurous. Well, we’re trying to be adventurous with our programming; when we think of the diversity of the state of California, it’s [one of the most] diverse places on the planet and so how does our theater respond to that? And when it comes to accessibility, we want to make sure the people in our seats look like people in our community.”
One of the first things Feldman did in his role was to restructure ticket costs, pricing orchestra seats at a mere $25. He explains, “The point of that was saying, ‘For $25 you can get a great seat to see any play that we do here.’ When you ask people [in surveys], they say [theater] costs too much and ‘It’s not for me.’ We’re trying to show with our actions that, one … for $25 you get a great seat, and two, it is for you. The stories we’re telling are really inclusive.”
Additionally, the Playhouse launched a program called Community@Play with the goal of providing greater access to its programming. This year, 3,000 people saw plays for free at the Pasadena Playhouse—including the entire seventh grade of the Pasadena Unified School District, who saw The Pirates of Penzance over the course of its run.
“That’s part of what my vision and my goal is,” Feldman says, “… to make sure there’s different things for different people but also that our doors are open wider to audience members, whether it’s through accessible prices, programs like Community@Play, giving free tickets, or our sensory-friendly performances that broaden our reach.”