Hidden away in a courtyard, the Santa Monica Playhouse is a local treasure, offering original productions as well as revivals. This year is the Playhouse’s “Year of the Glass Slipper,” celebrating the 25th anniversary of their production of Cinderella. The Playhouse’s own story is a bit of a Cinderella tale, as told to the Mirror by its longtime co-director Evelyn Rudie.
“The Playhouse was started in 1960 by Ted Roter,” says Rudie. “He was a Belgian refugee, an actor, who came to America. He had a couple of friends, [actor] James Arness, and Hans Gudegast who changed his name and is now Eric Braeden, one of the famous soap opera actors. Together, the three of them started the Playhouse as a place to work out and do plays.”
Rudie had been a child actress who appeared in numerous 1950s TV shows and had been picked from a nationwide search for the title role of “Eloise” in Playhouse 90’s adaptation of the popular children’s book. As a UCLA student, Rudie joined the Playhouse Company, where, a few years later, she met Chris DeCarlo, who had joined the company in 1964 but left to serve in Vietnam. “When he came back, the first night he was back, we met in the workshop here, started working together and fell in love and got married in 1970.”
A few years later, Rudie and DeCarlo learned that the founding director was planning to make films and had had an offer from someone “who would like to take over the place but not for theatre.” The thespian couple decided to keep the Playhouse going.
“We had a week and we went to every actor friend we had, my parents and his parents-everybody gave us a little bit of something. And those were our first patrons. We managed to raise the amount that we needed and so we took over. I became the artistic director in 1973.”
Rudie notes that Santa Monica Playhouse “has been the initiator of most of the theatrical movements in Los Angeles. It was the first intimate theatre to do full musical productions with a live band, the first local theatre to do Ionesco, the first local theatre to have its own professional company, the first to do classics for families-we like to call it ‘family theatre’ rather than children’s theatre because what we do is for all ages.”
It has been a struggle financially. “It’s always difficult and we’re always at the mercy of supporters and grants and foundations but we’ve always been proud of the fact that we are at least partially self-supporting. Through the kindness of our patrons and supporters we’ve managed to make up the difference and continue.”
Santa Monica Playhouse occasionally books productions by outside companies and to date, their biggest success by another company has been Made Me Nuclear, Charlie Lustman’s “cancer musical,” which opened last October and is still running on selected weekends. “We’re delighted that he and Chris were able to work together,” says Rudie. “Chris directed it and it was a Critic’s Choice in the LA Times.”
What’s coming up? On July 25, Santa Monica Playhouse, in honor of Cinderella, will hold the “Gala Grand Masquerade Ball –a dress up ball for everybody, with a costume contest, face painting, waltzing, a kissing the Prince contest and a sit down dinner-it’s a fund-raiser for our Education Foundation.” During the next year, the Playhouse will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a season of audience favorites.
If there is a secret to the Santa Monica Playhouse’s appeal, it may be in Rudie’s vision of Family Theatre. “We try to take whatever we do…. give them a different edge, something that will appeal to different audiences and in a way that they might not expect. Cinderella and the Prince….can be any age and any two people who haven’t found their soul mate and are looking.”