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Playhouse Kicks Off its 90th Year

The sun gave a command performance and the curtain rose on a new addition to Laguna Beach’s public art works, this one marking the 90th anniversary of the Laguna Playhouse and its original location, now known as the Peppertree Parking Lot between Forest and Ocean Avenues.

The marker with the legend “Here by the Pepper Tree stood the old Laguna Playhouse, 1924-1996,” is a replica of the original actors’ call board that graced the green room of a theater that seated roughly 150 spectators and was built for $5000.

(Actors sign in on the call board at performance time and where they can check announcements pertinent to their roles.)

At a celebratory party last Friday, Oct. 22, a former Laguna Playhouse artistic director explained the marker’s symbolism, saying the masks represent comedy and tragedy and while the lyre, swag, and urn denote  ancient Greek poets. Beneath them is an abbreviated quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which outlines qualities required of a good actor, which still meet the job description 400 years later.

The tree itself remains. saved from the axe by Irma Nofziger, “for the people of Laguna as a monument of things past.”

Members of the Laguna Beach arts community, (Pat Kollenda, Sian Poeschl, Lisa Mansour, Sharbie Higuchi, Wayne Baglin, Jody Gates, Bolton Colburn and Bree Burgess Rosen among others) and council members (Mayor Elizabeth Pearson and Toni Iseman) turned out to celebrate an institution whose history unwound in three acts.

Act one took place in the 1920s when the playhouse was a community theater, according to managing director Karen Wood. During WWII, the theater hosted USO dances and also served as a barracks.

Act II began when the new Moulton Theatre was built on Broadway Street in 1969 and community-based amateurs were replaced with professional actors and crew 18 years ago.

Act III takes place in the present, with the theatre broadening its purpose by hosting other performing organizations. She the theatre is now operating debt free.  “It’s art and entertainment at its finest in your own back yard,” she said.

Laguna artist Mike Tauber recreated the old wooden call board with hand painted and fired tiles. “This is a permanent monument and I am honored to have created it for Laguna’s history,” he said. While the old board has deteriorated beyond repair, the original frame has been saved and put into storage, he said.

Also on hand was Harry Lawrence, 97, a retired former antiques dealer who helped launch the new Playhouse by securing a loan for the Moulton Theatre building from his own pocket.

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