The playhouse is the thing

Executive director of iconic Pasadena stage moves on, but leaves it in much-improved shape.

February 10, 2012|By Lynne Heffley
  • Stephen Eich, the executive director of the Pasadena Playhouse, in the theater on Thursday, February 9, 2012. Eich announced to the board that he is leaving, after helping the theater survive a period of economic uncertainty. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
Stephen Eich, the executive director of the Pasadena…

When the Pasadena Playhouse filed for bankruptcy in 2010, closing its doors and some $2.3 million in debt, a leading player in its recovery and reopening later that year was Stephen Eich, the respected former managing director of both Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company and the Geffen Playhouse.

Eich took on the position of executive director at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2009 to help guide the venerable theater back to solvency. Now, less than three years later, he is leaving that position to pursue projects of his own, he said.

“I feel that I have accomplished what I needed to do here. The circumstances were pretty extraordinary — dire, if you will — when I arrived. I like to say that I’ve done a bunch of heavy lifting over the last 2½ years, and now we have the policies and procedures in place to make sure the playhouse is very healthy financially.”


Those “dire” circumstances were due in part to recent economic turbulence. The playhouse’s financial woes went back much further, however, to a heavy debt load that the theater absorbed when its then-operating company, Theatre Corp. of America, foundered into bankruptcy in 1995.

The playhouse’s not-for-profit organization reportedly assumed more than $1.5 million in bank loans and other debts at that time, enabling the theater to continue to operate in its historic venue, but setting the company up for a long-term financial struggle.

“Sometimes, it takes somebody new to the situation to come along and say, you don’t really have to live with this,” said Sheldon Epps, whose tenure at the playhouse as artistic director began in 1997. Eich’s arrival, he said, “brought fresh eyes to the situation.”

Addressing the company’s financial burden through bankruptcy and a major paring-down of the operation that included cutting most of its staff, “was brave and courageous and very difficult for everybody involved, but it was the right thing to do,” Epps said.

“It wasn’t just me,” Eich said. “It was a lot of people. Sheldon was great, and the board was extraordinary in being there morally and financially, and understanding that this was, once and for all, going to solve this problem. We just had a great team of people that were able to do it and get the playhouse back on its feet.”

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