Surprise! Surprise!

We just got tickets for “Dangerous Beauty” from the Pasadena Playhouse! I thought we wouldn’t be seeing tickets from them. Quoting from their letter:

“As a subscriber to the Playhouse, we have been working hard to repay our obligation to you and your patience over the last few months has been greatly appreciated. You were entitled to see six plays and by now have seen three of them: Camelot, FDR, and Uptown/Downtown. True to our word, we plan to fulfill our obligation to you. Dangerous Beauty will be your fourth show, and you will soon hear about our great production plans for the spring and summer.

For those of you who donated back some or all of your plays, we have decided as a way of thanking you for your support that we will offer you as well, the remaining plays in the current season as our guests. Our business plan allows for this and it is imperative that we continue regaining your trust and confidence, as we will need your help soon. This spring we will initiate a renewal subscription campaign for a season that will begin in September of 2011.”

This is quite interesting. Their summer musical sounds interesting. Will we renew? Surprisingly, our subscription plate is getting full, so it will really depend on prices and shows. We will certainly be watching.


A Leader for Troubled Times

I’m about to say something I didn’t think I would say back in February: This afternoon we went to the second show of the Pasadena Playhouse 2010 season: “FDR” starring Ed Asner. Before I start the actual review, a few words about the Playhouse itself.

Those who have been following my journal know about the travails with the Pasadena Playhouse. The organization went backrupt after their first 2010 production, “Camelot”. Although I knew they would be back, I didn’t expect it to be quickly, and we opted to donate the remainder of our subscription. Surprisingly, the Playhouse did come back after six months, and even more surprisingly, they provided tickets to the first two productions even to those that had donated their subscriptions. I think this is a strong good will gesture, and one that is appreciated. Will we renew when the next season is announced? I still don’t know: it depends on (a) what is in the season; (b) the pricing for the season; and (c) the payment options and timing. One problem that the Playhouse had was that their season was getting pricey: on the order of $400 for 6 shows per ticket. The Colony is on the order of $150 for 5 shows per ticket; REP East is $120 for 7 shows. So the jury is still out regarding subscription renewal, although we may opt to do Goldstar/LA Stage Tix instead.

That said, it was weird walking into the Playhouse after so long. The place felt different: we didn’t have our usual greeters, and the auditorium seemed different. My wife and daughter said that some of the extra speakers and lighting that were there had been removed. Perhaps. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it felt different. It wasn’t the P Playhouse of old—there was a perceptable change of vibe. Perhaps this was due to the nature of the product, so let’s turn to the review…

Unlike other productions that have graced the Pasadena Playhouse stage (for the most part), this wasn’t a Pasadena Playhouse production in the sense that it was cast and staged by the Playhouse. “FDR” is a one-man vehicle that Ed Asner is touring around the country at various venues; in fact, “FDR” was originally scheduled for earlier October to play at CSUN, but that production was postponed. This doesn’t make it a bad production, but could contribute to the odd Playhouse vibe.

FDR” is based on the play “Sunrise at Campobello” by Dore Schary. But whereas Campobello had multiple characters and focused on Roosevelt’s battle with polio, FDR uses the polio as a starting point for a one-man show about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s political career. It begins with FDR talking about how he triumphed over the polio and learned to stand, and continues throughout his presidency up until he leaves for his final visit to Warm Springs.

As a one-man show, the play consists solely of dialogue (Roosevelt was not known as a song and dance man, although he does sing one song about Alf Landon in the show). However, there are other characters, all unseen: either addressed offstage, supposedly in the office with FDR, or on the phone. Through this technique, there is dropping of all the famous names of the adminstration, from all the cabinet members, his opponents, military leaders, personalities of the day, etc. You might think this would be boring, but this is where the actor comes in.

Ed Asner is one of the most talented actors around. Best known for his numerous TV portrayals (the best known being the character Lou Grant) and his voiceover of Carl in “Up”. He is also committed to stage work—I saw him most recently as Karl Marx in the “Meeting of Minds” revival. In FDR, Asner becomes FDR. He mesmorizes you with his stage presence and style, just as the original FDR mesmerized the electorate. Watching Asner, you could see why FDR got to be who he was. It was just a great and a timeless performance. Asner’s performance just left you rivited in your seat for the almost two hour (no intermission) show.

Technically, there’s not much to credit. No technical credits were given in the program other than Kyle Ross as Sound Engineer. No director is listed, so presumably Asner self-directed. Ron Nash served as Production Supervisor/Production Stage Manager. “FDR” was producted by the Pasadena Playhouse in association with Campobello Theatre Productions and Gero Productions LLC.

“FDR” continues at the Pasadena Playhouse through November 7th. Tickets are available online or through the Pasadena Playhouse boxoffice. There do appear to be some discount offers: I’ve seen both 20% and the occasional 50%. The next production at the Pasadena Playhouse is “Uptown Downtown”, a one-woman life-story starring Leslie Uggams. February 2011 bring “Dangerous Beauty”, a new musical with book and verse by Jeannine Dominy, lyrics by Amanda McBroom, and music by Michele Brourman.

Upcoming Theatre and Dance. Next week brings Happy Days: The Musical” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 30; I’ll note that Cabrillo has dedicated their performances to the recently departed Tom Bosley. November starts with “Varney the Vampire” at Van Nuys High School on November 4, 5, and 6 (contact us for tickets; Erin has a leading role). The following week will see “Bell, Book, and Candle” at The Colony Theatre on November 13; Amadeus” at REP East (ticketed for November 21), and Randy Newman’s Harps and Angels” at the Mark Taper Forum (ticketed for November 27). December will bring Uptown, Downtown” starring Leslie Uggams at the Pasadena Playhouse on December 11, and Next to Normal” at the Ahmanson (November 23–January 2; Hottix on November 2; planned date December 18 or 19). It should also take Erin to West Side Story” at the Pantages Theatre, which is pending ticketing (sigh).

Looking briefly into 2011: January will bring Tom Paxton at McCabes on my birthday, January 21 (pending ticketing), and perhaps the first REP show of the season. February will bring The Marvellous Wonderettes” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on February 12; Rock of Ages” at the Pantages on February 19 or 20 (pending ticketing), and Moonlight and Magnolias at the Colony Theatre on February 26. Of course, I learn of interesting shows all the time, so expect additions to this schedule.

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review, and that I purchase my own tickets to the shows. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.


Doing Something Right

Those of you who actually read the “Upcoming Theatre” section in my theatre reviews may have noticed a reference to the Pasadena Playhouse. Yup, we’re going back there, at least for a few shows. This is because the Playhouse is doing something surprising.

Let me relate the history. As you recall, the Playhouse went into bankruptcy after the January show. After a series of poor communications with subscribers, we eventually donated our tickets. That’s where I expected things to stand—in a quasi-subscriber state until we were asked to subscribe again whenver they announced a new season.

But guess what? When I started to communicate with the Playhouse regarding tickets to their next production, “FDR”, I was told we were getting tickets for free to “FDR as well as “Uptown/Downtown”. I didn’t believe this, because I had received no communication from the Playhouse. However, taking a chance, I changed our dates for FDR and bought two extra tickets, figuring I would believe our subscription tickets when I saw them.

I saw them.

Today, in the mail, I received six tickets: four for FDR, and two for Uptown/Downtown. The accompanying letter stated:

For those of you who donated some or all of your plays back to us to aid in our successful financial reorganization please accept tehse tickest for free as a token of our profound gratitude for your generosity. We will need all of our subscribers help again in the near future as we continue our careful rebuilding. Your future dedication to us as subscribers and donors is essential as we chart a responsible course for our new operations

So, I say to the Playhouse: Well done! This is how you rebuild relations. Depending on the next season, I’ll consider subscribing, especially if you do as the Colony Theatre does and provide an option for splitting the subscription payment into reasonable chunks.


Pasadena Playhouse Update

I haven’t done a Pasadena Playhouse update in a bit, but an item in today’s news caught my eye and made me realize an update is appropriate. For a change, it is all good news.


Pasadena Playhouse Update: Out of Bankruptcy, but Subscriber Communications Still Suck

By now, you’ve probably read how the Pasadena Playhouse is out of bankruptcy. There have been articles in Playbill, the Los Angeles Times, Pasadena Now, Pasadena Star News, Broadway World, and other locations. The gist of the articles is that the Playhouse is emerging from bankruptcy clear from all debts, save those to their subscribers, that there is a matching gift from two anonymous donors of $1 million, and that they are going to start back slow, with a single show in the fall.

Note the little line about their subscribers. The LA Times article mentioned the subscribers twice. The first reference was when it referred to the reorganization plan: “The plan of reorganization that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Donovan approved Wednesday erases all the Playhouse’s debts except the obligation eventually to provide its 2010 subscribers with seats for the number of shows they had bought.” There was also a mention at the end of the article: “Documents in the bankruptcy showed that season subscribers — about 2,600 couples or individuals — were owed about $1.2 million. Walper [the pro-bono attorney] said many of them have agreed to return their tickets as a donation, or claim just two of the plays they are owed instead of all five.”

What have the subscribers been told about this? What about the promise I received from the Executive Director’s Administrative Assistant that “There was a great deal of acknowledgment that within the past couple of years, communication with the subscribers had not been well maintained. One of our prime goals in this reorganization is to mend that…”, and that these ways would include getting “all the online media back up and running properly” and that when the large announcements would be made “both to the general public and subscribers”.

Obviously, things didn’t change.

The press release went to major media outlets… but was not emailed to subscribers. It was not posted to the Pasadena Playhouse blog nor to their Facebook page. The Pasadena Playhouse web site was not updated in parallel with the press release. I dropped a note to the aforementioned Administrative Assistant about this… but there was no response.

This morning, long after the press release went out, their main web site was updated with large font text that is difficult to read, and their news site (which doesn’t have an RSS feed) was updated with a number of links. [ETA, 2hr later: The large print text is gone, replaced by a readable copy of the press release]. There has still been no email to subscribers.

I’m trying to give the Playhouse the benefit of the doubt. However, this seems to show the priority of the Playhouse is the general media newshounds, and not their relationship with their subscribers. It will be interesting to contrast the subscriber relationship this weekend, when we go to the first show of our new subscription at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, where we’ll be seeing “Grace & Glorie”.

P.S.: I’ll note that the Los Angeles Times appears to have a bug up its arse about the Playhouse. Yesterday, whilst doing my normal news reading, I discovered a piece of how the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura (a similar theatre in reputation to the Pasadena Playhouse) is having serious financial difficulties, and their main theatre space was about to be sold to the highest bidder on the Courthouse steps. Luckily, a deal was reached, but they aren’t out of the woods yet. I forwarded this article to the LA Times… so far I haven’t seen them pick up on it.


Pasadena Playhouse Update: Positive Movement

I’m pleased to report some positive news regarding the Pasadena Playhouse. I heard back from the Operations person today. She reported that the Playhouse Board had a long meeting addressing many of the issues that I have pointed out (although I don’t know if they included the suggestions from my last post). She indicated that there was a great deal of acknowledgment that within the past couple of years, communication with the subscribers had not been well maintained. She indicated that one of their prime goals in this reorganization is to mend that.

I am very pleased to hear that. The first step in fixing relations with the subscribers is to recognize the problem exists.

She indicated that she will personally do her best to get the online media back up and running properly, that they are bringing in a new ticketing and email system, and that (in my case) she has confirmed our information is in the database. She also hinted that, pending approval, they will have some big announcements in mid-July.

Again, I’m please to hear this. I do want the Playhouse to survive and thrive.

She also indicated that both the Executive Director and Artistic Director were willing to sit down and discuss the issues with me. I’ve deferred that for now—I want to see what they do in July, plus I want to have concrete suggestions to give her. I did suggest that she read my favorite producing blogs (The Producers Perspective, Live 2.0 (from the fellow behind Goldstar Events), and Confessions of an LA Theatre Producer). I also suggested that the Artistic Director should work his way onto Downstage Center the next time he’s in New York.

So, the big question: Will we resubscribe? I can’t answer that yet, which I guess is a good answer (and certainly a better answer than my earlier ones). I want to see what their recovery plan is; I want to see what productions they program; and most importantly, I want to see how the subscriptions are priced and how the payment plans (if they have one) work. I also want to see how things change for returning subscribers—what are they going to do to repair relations with the subscriber base. I don’t want to give up our good seats, but they were getting a bit pricey, and I might want to do single tickets for specific productions until I see how things stabilize.


Pasadena Playhouse Update

Today, while reading the Monster Mash at the LA Times, I got the urge to look at the Pasadena Playhouse website. Imagine my surprise when I saw a note about subscriber meetings, indicating that they were going to be held:

  • Monday, June 14th 7:00 – 8:30 pm
  • Tuesday, June 15th 2:30 – 4:00 pm
  • Wednesday, June 16th 11:00 am – 12:30

I should note that (as a subscriber) they never provided me with an announcement of these meetings: there was no mail (although they knew where to mail the bankruptcy paperwork); there was no phone call (even though they have my phone number); there was no email; and there wasn’t even a posting on their blog (to which I subscribe via RSS). Thus, although I would have been interested in attending, I found out too late, only by happenchance.

Given there was an email address for the Operations person, I dropped her a note as soon as I saw the page. Interestingly enough, she had called me at work early last week to talk, but I was in a meeting. I told her to call me back the next day… but she never did. I didn’t receive a response to my email, nor a call today. I’m writing this off as yet another example of the Playhouse’s problems with the care and nurturing of subscribers.

So, as she didn’t call, here are my suggestions about what the Playhouse should have done, subscriber-wise:

  • As soon as the closing was announced, created a mailing list for subscribers (this would be free at someplace like Yahoo). In their letter, provide an address for people to confirm they are on the mailing list.
  • They should also have created a special announcement blog just for subscribers. Again, easy to do.
  • They should have kept both lists updated regularly. Transparency of information is the best approach.
  • I understand that they could not provide confirmation of the bankruptcy filing before it was made public. But they could have indicated they were contemplating filing, and if they filed, what forms people would get and how to fill them out.
  • They should have passed on good-will offers from other organizations. Those wouldn’t have cost the Playhouse anything, and would have kept subscribers happy. More importantly, it would have created positive impressions and benefitted the entire theatre community.

Simple ideas. Ideas that would not cost the Playhouse anything, but would have indicated that the subscribers were part of the family. As for us, right now, I’ll keep watching what is happening. I want them to succeed and return, but I’m hesitant about resubscribing until I see a change in attitude. What I was buying there with my subscription dollar has bought an equivalent subscription elsewhere, plus left enought to fund attending a large number of productions around the Los Angeles area.


Large Envelopes and the Pasadena Playhouse

Now it’s time for another entry in the continuing saga of the Pasadena Playhouse. When last we spoke, I had received a love note from the Bankruptcy Court, as was informed I was a creditor. Since then, I dutifully filed the creditor paperwork.

Today, I received a letter from the Playhouse (evidently, they had also sent out another letter, which I never received). This letter indicates that they have finalized their recovery plan, and are waiting for court approval. The letter indicates that “If the play is confirmed by the Bankruptcy Court, the Playhouse will honor your outstanding 2010 season subscriptions by providing performances at the Playhouse over time.” However, they are offering is two additional treatment options: (1) to exchange the balance of our subscirption for tickets to the next two performances at the Playhouse, or to (2) donate the balance of the subscription to the Playhouse in return for a donation letter.

I’m torn on what to do. Originally, we were willing to go with the donation route. That’s a bird in the hand—a guaranteed sizable charitible deduction (some fixed percentage of almost $700). I think that roughly 40% of the would be the eventual tax credit, effectively paying for most of the Colony Theatre subscription that replaced the Playhouse subscription. I’m less sure about the “two performances” route, as there is no guarantee what they will be or what their quality will be (especially as the recovery plan indicates that they expect they would be joint performances with third parties). As for doing nothing, meaning they would fulfill our subscription if and when they recover, that’s rolling craps.

I guess I’m just really disappointed by how the Playhouse has treated their subscription base during all of this. They’ve just spent their goodwill with me, and I have no trust with them regarding future productions.

Still, I’d like your opinon. Facebook readers: just leave your opinion as a comment.

I’ll note that technically we have two subscriptions, but received only one letter. It is unclear how we fill out the letter if we go for Class 4(a).