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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Pasadena Independent / The Pasadena Playhouse’s Community Organizer Summer Internship

The Pasadena Playhouse’s Community Organizer Summer Internship

by Pasadena Independent
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The Pasadena Playhouse from without. – Courtesy Photo

The Pasadena Playhouse from without. – Courtesy Photo

By May S. Ruiz

As summer internships come, the one offered by the Pasadena Playhouse is by far one of the most challenging and exciting! This year’s program was made possible through a grant from the Los Angeles National Arts Council, a first for the Playhouse.

The posted job description for this intern is that he or she will report to Seema Sueko, Associate Artistic Director, to activate the Playhouse’s Consensus Organizing for Theatre Methodology and represent the Playhouse through interactions with community leaders and members of the public. If that doesn’t sound daunting enough, the list of duties should give anyone pause.

Some of the intern’s duties include: conducting a dramaturgical examination of the plays in the 2015-2016 season; supporting the CO work by consolidating information, data and spreadsheets from the 2014-2015 season of CO work; brainstorming and activating Consensus Organizing partnership; and participating in the rehearsal prep work for the first show of the 2015-2016 season, among others things.

The responsibilities are major and varied, requiring this individual to be a self-starter with a tremendous drive and creativity. He or she needs to have a passion for theatre and its community-building possibilities.

The successful candidate would be chosen based on his or her application letter that includes a one-page Community Organizer’s Statement telling Ms. Sueko his or her core values as an Organizer and/or personal mission.

A consistent theme in this entire internship program is that of the Consensus Organizer – a concept originated by Seema Sueko when she founded the Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company in San Diego. She based this methodology on Mike Eichler’s principles of consensus organizing for civic environment. When applied in theatre, this means getting involved in several pockets of the community and inspiring them to get involved back. If successful, this Consensus Organizing method should result in ticket sales and funding opportunities, and a more meaningful connection between the theatre and the community.

It is apt that Ms. Sueko is advocating this concept in an environment that is open to such a notion. The Playhouse’s history is steeped in community participation and involvement. When its founding director, Gilmore Brown, died in 1969 and the theatre closed its doors, The Pasadena Playhouse Alumni & Associates continued working.

In 1985, it reopened as a result of a partnership between local government, businesses, patrons and various philanthropists. The Playhouse went on to inaugurate new works and significant reproduction of American theater. Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning plays and musicals of cultural and theatrical diversity have been featured on the Playhouse stage.

Artistic Director Sheldon Epps. – Photo by Terry Miller

Artistic Director Sheldon Epps. – Photo by Terry Miller

Sheldon Epps, who became Artistic Director in 1997, organized the Theatrical Diversity Program in 2005 that gave youths from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to experience theatre through free student performances and arts education events. In 2013, it supported exploratory outreach initiatives to further engage the Hispanic and Asian/Pacific communities.

Under Mr. Epps’ helm, the Playhouse launched the national tour of Purlie in coordination with the Goodman Theatre; Sister Act: The Musical, which played at the London Palladium in the West End and at the Broadway Theatre on Broadway; and Baby, It’s You, which was presented at Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway. He also oversaw the production of A Night with Janis Joplin; Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Story, Can Can: The Musical, and Ray Charles Live. Other performances staged at the Playhouse include: Fences, starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett, with Sheldon Epps directing; The Heiress, featuring Richard Chamberlain; Citizen Kane, with Val Kilmer; Above the Fold, starring Taraji P. Henson; Stoneface, with French Stewart; and Kiss Me, Kate, starring Wayne Brady, and once more directed by Sheldon Epps.

The addition of Seema Sueko to the Playhouse staff in January underlines Mr. Epps’s conviction that diversity and engagement with the community are founding principles of this venerable institution. In a January feature story in American Theatre, Ms. Sueko explains consensus organizing for theatre. “A mutual stake is built by surfacing mutual self-interests. The theatre knows what its self-interests are, and it initiates mindful conversations with community members and businesses to bring their self-interests to the fore. Where things align, that’s where the organizing happens – we organize around that.”

The Playhouse has come full circle from its early beginnings as the Pasadena Community Playhouse, when the tremendous local support moved George Bernard Shaw into giving it the sobriquet “the Athens of the West.”

It is into this scene the Playhouse’s summer intern will enter. For Sheldon Epps, the success of “consensus organizing for theatre” would be a defining moment for The Pasadena Playhouse and solidify its place in history as the State Theatre of California.

The Pasadena Playhouse Courtyard. - Courtesy Photo

The Pasadena Playhouse Courtyard. – Courtesy Photo

 

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