Party thanks donors who rescued ailing institution

Pasadena Playhouse patrons spent April Fool’s night above the seats rather than in them. A mainstage extended over the auditorium hosted a ballroom gala as a lavish private thank you to more than 300 donors, whose “sweat equity,” in the words of artistic director Sheldon Epps, brought the institution back from the dead.

Mired in Chapter 11 only a year ago, the Playhouse has skedded a five-play 2011-2012 season including three world premieres.

“We’ve gone through the fire, and come out hotter than ever on the other side,” said Epps, arriving from Gotham where two Playhouse-born tuners — “Sister Act” and his co-directed “Baby, It’s You” — are in previews.

William Petersen (“CSI”), Chicago friend of exec director Stephen Eich, shared insights gleaned from the robust Steppenwolf Theater.

“You have to invite the community in,” Petersen said. “The people have to love your theater and its mission, even if they don’t always love the plays you put on.”

Board member Martha Williamson recalled a Sacramento encounter with a skeptical state legislator. “I reminded him we’re the official state theater of California, and he scoffed, ‘So what? We have a state bird, too.’ Yes, you do, I told him. And you protect that state bird, don’t you?”

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