Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Pasadena Playhouse

By now we are all aware that our solid old "always there" Pasadena Playhouse is on precarious footing. She's the grand dame of Pasadena culture. We are shocked and distressed to hear of her misfortune, even if we are not playgoers. How can we make sense of her decline, and is there anything that we ordinary friends or neighbors or even strangers can do to reverse it?

Last night I was at a dinner party with some far more cognizant of finances than I am. One suggested that the Playhouse renegotiate terms of its mortgage obligations, "skinny down" staff, and with the understanding that this recession may continue for another two to three years, work on revitalization. Someone else noted that significant fundraisers really can occur in a generous region like Pasadena. Another said bankruptcy is an option. I listened to all of this, but I admit I don't quite understand how we reached this point. Yet here we are.

I've always wanted to be a philanthropist. My primary obstacle is that I don't have any money. To compensate I suppose I think a lot about how to make things better. Now the Pasadena Playhouse has relocated right into the center of my thinking tank. Its occupation has become my preoccupation. On a human level, I have known Sheldon Epps, the artistic director, and his wife for nearly ten years. They are very understated, earnest, devoted contributors to the cultural scenes of Pasadena and Los Angeles. If anyone can suss out some solutions, I'd wager it will be Sheldon. Still, this is a painful time fraught with 37 job losses and the Playhouse's spectral possibility. I keep thinking about what else could help restore and reinvent the Pasadena Playhouse.

The other day in class a boy suggested, "Miss, if every man, lady, baby and kid in the US gave a penny, wouldn't that help the economy? Even the babies!" he emphasized. This did get me thinking, what if we shifted our view that instead of a getting-time, we now live in a giving-time? And it may need to be a giving-time for an indeterminate period? What if we imagined a new normal? What could that look like?

A new normal in Pasadena could steady the Playhouse. True, someone is going to have to lead the way in things monetary. But why couldn't the Playhouse broaden its applicability to the life of our city? Could it be used for filming? For music or speakers' series? Could its lovely courtyard be rented for private events as those in the oak garden behind Happy Trails Catering on Fair Oaks? Could a drama school be reintroduced? Could improv training like we find at Upright Citizens Brigade or Groundlings be offered? The Hamilton Theatre with its 86 seats is a great intimate space for performances and small-scale plays that itinerant companies like Buzzworks or Parson's Nose mount.

One other consideration is the life and livelihood of Elements, the restaurant which has just arrived and is adjacent to the Playhouse. In its first location, this kitchen has won raves all around town. We've long anticipated its El Molino destination. Elements could prove to be as familial as our beloved old Playhouse, given the chance.

Pasadena has been blessed with its architecture, its sense of history, its ability to craft a particular identity in southern California. There is room for all ages in our city. At some point the scenesters who hang out at the Paseo are going to grow up and start going to the Ice House, the Playhouse, the Gamble House. It's our challenge to link the past and the present, to mesh our getting-time with our giving-time, to continue to foster our vibrant city. The Pasadena Playhouse may be ready for its close-up, Mr. DeMille, but certainly not its close up.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Shopping in the House

Sunlight is pouring into my house after nearly a week's worth of rain. Tomorrow we have scheduled another open house, which is exactly what needs to occur until this place is sold. Of course, it's a tough time to have your house on the market. But the ever-readiness to show nudges my housekeeping chops to the mark. Albeit Me the Housekeeper felt more like Me the Slattern during the recent holiday season.

If you've raised a houseful of children, you know the pattern of their joyous returns and their flurries of exodus. The house stood still and expectant in early December, tidy, compliant from its series of open house showings. Then came all the prodigals--from Africa, Arizona, Washington, D.C., New York City. It was a happy jumble of car-sharing, birthdays, reunions with friends and family. And the house began to degrade inexorably. This is called "feeling at home." Th
at's when I remembered all the years of chore charts, exhortations, rewards, threats, piles: impressions spinning as endlessly as the washer did back when I still had collagen. But soon enough, everyone began packing and departing. This is where the story gets good.

Once everyone left, it took awhile to restore the house to order. From that point, and as far as I am concerned, into the future, I was able to resume my hobby, Shopping in the House. Shopping in the House is not an isolated phenomenon. If you've lived with anyone, surely there is detritus left behind once these anyones move on. It's one thing to clean up their messes. But it's far more delightful to stumble upon little unexpected treats, and this is the premise of Shopping in the House. It doesn't cost a thing (except that you have probably already paid for the stuff if your kids left it). Today for example, I was rummaging in the cupboard and I found two bags of authentic fry bread mix! You can make crepes from it, I discovered. When I was dusting a bookcase, I found a Frank Sinatra CD that I don't recall. It's got Frank phrasing words like "...groovy." Hmm.

My Shopping finds include beauty supplies that I would never buy for myself. I found a delicate bottle of Vera Wang perfume! Wow! I found a talisman necklace that I later learned was a good luck charm blessed by a tribal priest in Togo. That helped me through a challenging time at work. And what about those dramatic earrings that looked like a pair of small garbage can lids? Now those caused people to comment. I cannot recommend Shopping in the House highly enough. It turns dross into platinum, banality to beneficence. Poke around a little. You'll become a convert. There's treasure to be hunted in our very midst every day.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January 2010

January has finally assumed its rightful place as a month distinct from the Christmas-New Year's domination. But for those of us in Pasadena, the days leading up to the Rose Parade may include watching the Bandfest at Pasadena City College, navigating alternative streets to avoid the set-ups for the parade, or wondering how many more RVs can cram into the USMC-adjacent parking lot. On January 1, the Rose Bowl game causes traffic to tilt to the west side of town. After that, we'll host two more days of visitors who come to admire the just-retired floats on the east end near Pasadena High School. When the floats are towed off to Duarte or to their cities' storage points, when the trash is collected, and the Christmas trees are mulched, January can officially behave like any other month.

To celebrate that normalcy, last Saturday I took a drive to Cabazon. The little town about 90 minutes east of here was once best known for its giant dinosaur statues (i.e., "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure") and Hadley's Date Shakes. But nowadays the destination is Desert Hills Premium Outlets. I visit that shopping behemoth perhaps twice yearly. I plan my incursion with military precision because shopping is not that much fun when left to chance. Usually I check their website to look for promotions and to verify that stores open at 10:00 a.m. No sense in arriving too early. Yet the parking scene is Darwinian, so a 10:00 a.m. arrival is prime for finding a good spot. If you park in the West Wing, you are close to the customer service office. This office is destination #1. Show your AAA card, and the lady there will give you a killer coupon book that may set your heart pounding. At least for me the adrenaline surges as I chart my course for bargains and acquisitions.

I began at the Bass Shoe outlet and progressed to the Gap. Onward to J. Crew! Nine West! My own relentless Sherman's March of shopping, driven onwards, minus the destruction. This shopping center has three linked segments, but it's wisest not to move the car and risk losing a place. Instead, plan on making little sallies to drop your purchases in the car. You can get lots of walking in with this style of shopping. In fact, I brought a Trader Joe's salad along so I could fortify without having to enter the sensory-overloaded food court. I am happy to say I shopped feverishly for six hours. I think I found some relatively hip school clothes and a pair of sexy lace-up nun shoes. And now I won't have to go shopping until maybe August. I can continue other January pursuits, like turning my own mulch pile, finishing off semester 1, trimming roses, and oh--making credit card payments.