Saturday, January 30, 2010


Today the LA TIMES' front page told us that the Pasadena Playhouse will be closing on Feb. 7 after a final performance of "Camelot." There is hope that a benefactor will step forward, as happened with the Museum of Contemporary Art, and pull them back from oblivion; they are looking into the advisability of filing for bankruptcy. The theater opened in 1917 and has been at its present location on South El Molino since 1925. Its school trained some of Hollywood's great actors; following World War II, the GI Bill paid tuition there for scores of servicemen. It is an institution in my home town, a claim to international note along with the Jet Propulsion Lab and Caltech and the Tournament of Roses and a place where one of my early dreams was spun.

As a young teenager, I attended every Main Stage opening night with my mother, my dad's newspaper column having the family name on a permanent list for aisle seats no further back than the third row. He preferred staying home. Some of the titles we saw stay with me; for years I kept every playbill but so many moves and transitions and shifting winds sent them...out of my life. I can remember plays of wide-ranging vintage - "The Girls in 509," "The Desperate Hours," "Richard III," "Of Thee I Sing." I suppose the quality of each production depended on the skill of its actors, though I cannot remember ever leaving the building's front courtyard with anything less than a sense of magic witnessed, participated in almost like being called on stage to take part in an illusion. Such a familiar and intimate space - and the simple matter of it being live theater - created a connection between cast and audience that lingered; it rode home in the car with us and could be conjured repeatedly by paging through the program.

Those Friday nights, the raising of the curtain, enticed the part of me that fashioned cards and puppets and shadowboxes with paper, that meticulously cut out paper doll clothes and attemped to put on money-raising productions with my next-door neighbor when we were both in elementary school. When Career Day was announced and we had to chose an expert in our chosen vocation to interview and follow, I was nervous and giddy to spend my day with the Playhouse's principle set designer.

At the time it seemed so possible, viewing his miniature preliminary samples; I had painted backdrops for the junior high talent show; I knew I had what seemed adequate skill and I knew I could learn. Just those hours of being backstage, in the prop and costume storage rooms, of being treated with attention and respect, made me even more certain this would be my future. I've long forgotten the name of my guide/teacher/host that day but back in school and comparing experiences with friends, I knew my day was vastly more rich than most of theirs. I'd completely ignored how recently my destiny had been tied, also to Broadway, but as a dancer, the product of years studying ballet, auditioning for and being accepted to the city's dance troupe. The musical stage seemed within reach. Fickle was not a notion that I entertained.

I not so much know people who were clear about their lives and careers from a young age as I know OF them. One reads of unwavering paths that led to an existence seemingly pre-ordained, of focus and determination, doors flying open, no wishy-washy thoughts or feelings, an early and enduring knowing of direction. Such is not exactly my story. By high school I had chosen journalism over art, no longer had time for dance lessons and, by what can only be called a divine hand following a very early marriage and a scant, single semester of junior college which made me glad I'd become a good typist so I could find work, I was one day hired by a daily newspaper. It was in the era of hot type, copy paper and pencils, Underwood upright typewriters and proofreading in the composing room with the smell of lead and ink replacing visions of cityscape backdrops or painted English countrysides.

Life continues to present us with opportunities to change our minds, change our hearts. It also removes the tangible and replaces it with memories. We have the choice to mourn the losses, either short or long-term, or take our grief over countless passings and accept it as the lens through which we may once again see ourselves and our dreams in the light of those long-ago moments, with affection, gratitude and relief at confusion resolved.

1 comment:

Erin in Morro Bay said...

Ah, "proof-reading"! What a shmae that that seems to be a dying art form.
The playhouse will be missed.