The Sierra Madre Playhouse is turning 100 and is preparing to become an artistic center featuring many different types of art.
By Jordan Lynn
There will be something for everyone if the new Artistic and Executive Director Matt Cook has anything to say about it. The Sierra Madre Playhouse has an intriguing past and a bright future within the community.
I’d like to know what motivated you to take this role and to lead the Playhouse into its 100th year anniversary?
So, I’m an artist myself and have worked in many genres of performing arts. I’m a musician and then I led an opera company and I’ve led chamber music and dance companies. I’ve kind of always been interested in telling stories through multiple tools. So, it’s very hard to, you know, use just opera to connect to a large community, right? That’s one section of it. Now with the Performing Arts Center, we have many different people that we can reach at many different economic levels and different cultures and, you know, leisurely interests. It’s like a movie theater, right? Just because you didn’t like one movie that you saw at the theater doesn’t mean that you don’t like going to the cinemas.
I think that that’s what we’re able to experiment with now. So that’s why I was excited to join. The board had this vision even before they hired me. They kind of decided last year to turn this into a performing arts venue. And that’s when they sought me out, you know, with some of my skill sets and multiple jobs to do it.
So I’m excited.
That makes a lot of sense. The next question I had kind of leads into that in that I wanted to know about how they plan to evolve the Playhouse and your role in that as you support the arts in the region. As you mentioned, you’re making it into more of a performing arts center, so I’d like to know more about that.
That’s right. So, you know, it’s been many things over the last 100 years, starting with the silent cinema, and then in the 80s, I think, turned into just a theater. It started as a community theater, and turned into a professional theater about a decade ago. COVID presented many challenges with that, along with various other employment laws that made it very hard for 99-seat theaters to operate.
They were looking for more. More energy, more people that we could reach that might like more than theater. So we’re presenting comedy, we’re doing eight family shows, we’re doing an extinct jazz series with, you know, some of the A list jazz artists that’s going to be extremely unique.
And we’re still doing plays. We’re doing musicals. We’ll do 30 performances of The Last Five Years. So we’re kind of hitting, multiple genres. Oh, also historical music, like Baroque music and classical music. And I’m lucky that I have friends in all of these areas that were able to actually pull in A-list artists, like multiple Grammy winners, multiple people that have a significant touring platform to our little theater.
I think that’s kind of our unique position. It’s like low cost, but high quality art making that really is not comparable to any building of our size.
The Playhouse has a very rich history that spans one hundred years next month. How do you guys envision preserving that heritage as you introduce all these new elements to make this broader experience for local people looking for theater and local community?
Yeah, I think that’s the fun part. It’s like, you’re bringing a new vision and a new community to a historic place.
If you’re from the area, you kind of know Sierra Madre. We’re known for bears that get into hot tubs. Yes. Um, and Wisteria Festival and the Playhouse. We’re an iconic landmark in the community. So we want to keep those ties. We have an extensive volunteer network: local people, some of whom have been volunteers at the Playhouse for 30 years.
Lots of history that we are not leaving behind. We’re still doing plays, but we also want to start doing many more silent films. We’re going to experiment this year with doing three festival weekends with multiple shows. All with live piano, which kind of makes it unique. There are not many opportunities in Los Angeles to see live piano with silent film.
Because we’re one of the very few existing playhouses that was originally a silent cinema, I think having that tie is going to be really important, to holding on to our roots as we grow.
That’s true. Always highlighting the fact that it used to be a silent cinema, on top of the fact that it’s now much, much more than that.
Exactly. And we want them to feel both. We want everyone to come in and maybe see a stand-up comedy show, but feel like it’s a venue that has its place in the community. It’s not just the building, you know.
You’re reaching out to more people and bringing them into the experience of coming to the Playhouse. Maybe not just for a play, but for a movie, or for comedy, or for a show. Which is good. It means you’re going to reach many, many people.
I wanted to ask about how you plan to reach those people. Will you be using a digital format? Or will it be through things like Colorado Boulevard print media? Do you guys have a plan for that? Like how you’re going to reach more people?
Definitely segmenting markets, and creating marketing partnerships in each of the genres. The comedy patrons are going to be extremely different from the family patrons. Even though there is some overlap, there are different marketing strategies with each group.
But we’ll do postcard and physical mailings. We’ll do posters Madre, Monrovia, Pasadena, Arcadia. We’ll have our own physical material on the buildings, lightboxes, programs, banners. We’re going to do print advertisements in magazines, other Performing arts centers programs, and newspaper purchases.
Also digital social media ads, Google ads, and email marketing partner swaps. So that’s, you know, very common in the performing arts. We’ll, you know, advertise for Pasadena Playhouse, and Pasadena Playhouse advertises for us. In the Boston Court, and Elizabethan, East West Players, like the other performing arts centers in the region.
We might experiment with West Side venues as well, because there’s no true Performing Arts Center in our part of town that does what we do. But there are others in Long Bay. Like the Broad Stage, the Sorayan North Music Center downtown. So there are others. We’re going to explore those. But we’re going to start regionally first.
That makes sense.
This region first, but 10 percent of our audience is from Long Beach already, so it’s not unheard of for us to reach out to the west side. But as you know, we’re still small and growing, and we only have limited resources, so how do we use them?
That’s making the most of what we have to get the maximum outcome, right?
Exactly. And it’s a trial and error. I think we’ll grow, and crossover will happen. Someone that comes to see a play might enjoy a stand-up comedy or maybe they have grandkids and they bring them to one of the family shows.
I think it’ll happen. It’s just going to take a couple of years.
Sierra Madre Playhouse Centennial Celebration February 3
The last question I have is, how can the community come together to actively participate and celebrate in the 100th year anniversary of the Playhouse?
This whole Playhouse season is dubbed as the centennial.
We’re trying to reach out to all of our local Sierra Madre partners like the library, the civic groups, the Rotary Club. To get all the community groups in Sierra Madre to attend these events. And the birthday kind of celebration on February 3rd. It’s part of it.
What we’re hoping to do in the summer months is an actual birthday party, outdoors. We’d like to do it across the street from the Playhouse. Our goal is to feature artists from this season, but also to reach out to the artistic directors that have been here over the last 50 years and try to have some kind of community tie to our past.
We want to celebrate everything going on and everything changing.
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