Laguna Legends

As we celebrate our 100th year, we look back at the many legends that have made the Playhouse the world class theatre it is today. Thank you to the many who preceded us and thank you for the love you have shown to Laguna Beach and our arts community, this theatre, theatre in general. 

n 1966, pioneer of the arts and philanthropist Nellie Gail Moulton was a major benefactor to the Laguna Playhouse. Her gift helped fund the building of the current Laguna Playhouse Moulton Theatre on Laguna Canyon Road. One of the first female artists to join the Laguna Beach art colony in the early 1900s, Nellie Gail Moulton herself was a celebrated Plein-air artist, and instrumental in the development and funding of other local groups, such as LAM, LCAD and Chapman University. The Moulton family is committed to following her path and remains active participants in the current operations of the Playhouse.

Today we recognize Betsy and David Paul, who were deeply involved in the Playhouse’s growth. They both first appeared on stage in 1937, David in Whistling in the Dark, Betsy in Three Taps at Twelve and their first production together was in 1938 in Hotel Universe. In addition to being on stage, Betsy served on the Board of Directors, was a very successful fundraiser for the Playhouse, and even helped with costumes. The Pauls remained active in the Playhouse into the 1990s.

Howard “Hap” Graham served as Managing Director and Producer twice, from 1959 - 1964, and 1971-1975. Before joining the Playhouse, Hap appeared on Broadway in “State of the Union” (1945) and in "Two’s Company" (1945) with is friend Bette Davis, who he brought to the Playhouse. Hap is also known as the Festival of the Arts/Pageant of the Masters Festival Director to first stage The Last Supper.

Beloved actor Tom Shelton has been on our Playhouse stage more than any other actor! He has an impressive 15 shows at the Playhouse on his resume, most recently Harvey from our 98th season, with his first production being Bedroom Farce in 1993. Tom says he couldn’t possibly pick a favorite because they’re all so special to him. We love you, Tom!

Under the leadership of Executive Director Richard Stein (1990-2007), Laguna Playhouse grew from a local community theatre to a world recognized professional resident theatre, producing more than 100 plays. This included two national touring productions, “Copenhagen” and Julie Harris in “The Belle of Amherst,” which brought Laguna Playhouse to 40 U.S. cities. During his tenure, Stein also put his directorial stamp on many shows, among them world, American and West Coast premieres. Thank you Rick, for turning Laguna Playhouse into the world-wide recognized theatre it is today.

Karen Wood served as Laguna Playhouse Executive Director from 2008 - 2016. Under her leadership, the Playhouse expanded its board of directors, created local partnerships, and brought in some first-class legendary stars. Karen is also credited with keeping the Playhouse open during the great recession of 2007, earning a Spirit of Laguna/Best Business Award from the Chamber of Commerce. Thank you Karen!

Paul Singarella joined the Board of Trustees in 2009 and was elected chair in 2017, after serving as vice-chair for two years and co-chair for two years. A champion of arts since high school, Paul has been critical in the growth of the Playhouse, including the search that resulted in a multi-Tony award winning Executive Director and the Groundbreaking for the Playhouse renovation project.

On Friday, October 22, 1920, Annie Gayne Peake and Isabel Frost held a meeting with a group of 17 local thespians with the purpose of organizing the Laguna Beach Community Dramatic Club. This meeting lead to the creation of Laguna Playhouse. Their first play was “The Torchbearers,” which they performed to a select audience in a private home.

Managing and Artistic Director from 1964-1966, and again as Artistic Director from 1976-1991, Doug Rowe produced, directed and acted in more than 100 shows at the Playhouse. A familiar face in film and television, Rowe appeared in such films as the Incident and Appointment with Fear, and on TV in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Murder She Wrote,” "ER and "Northern Exposure." During his tenure at the Playhouse, Rowe grew the subscription audience to more than 8000 season subscribers.

A long devotee to the community and the arts in Laguna Beach, Pat Kollenda served on the Board of the Laguna Playhouse from 1985-1991, and as Chair from 1989-1991. Pat is no stranger to the stage, having appeared in a number of Playhouse productions including Music Man, Barnum, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 12 Angry Women and most recently Love, Lost and What I Wore. Today Pat remains committed to the Playhouse and continues to be involved with Playhouse activities.

The Founding Chairman of the Board of Directors for Visit Laguna Beach, Karyn Philippsen served on the Playhouse Board from 2008-2012, and was the 90th Anniversary Chair. Karyn was critical in developing the Laguna Beach Tourism Marketing District (formally the BID), which helps support Playhouse activities, as well as arts across Laguna Beach, through funding by the hospitality industry. Thank you Karyn, for your dedication to the Playhouse, the arts, and the hospitality industry in Laguna Beach.

What can we say about our wonderful Andy Barnicle! Andy served as artistic director of the Laguna Playhouse from 1991 through 2010, where he produced over 100 Playhouse shows and directed over 40 of them. But we didn't let Andy didn't get too far! Since 2010, he's come back to direct another seven shows, and acted in another two. He's also directing the reading of Suppressed Desires, which will celebrate the Playhouse's 100th birthday. Here's to many more shows with Andy!

With a record 16 live shows over a decade (and 3 virtual shows), today we recognize our friend, Hershey Felder. From the first time Hershey hit our stage in the 2009-2010 season, he's been a Playhouse favorite. Thank you Hershey for what you've brought to our stage, and also what you've brought into our homes during this time. We can't wait to get you back to Laguna!

Joe Hanauer joined the Playhouse Board in 2010 and served as Chair of the Board of Trustees from 2012 to 2018. During that time, Joe was not only crucial in assisting the organization achieve financial stability after the Great Recession, but also in the amazing renovation of the 52 year old building. Thank you, Joe!

Laguna Playhouse pays homage to the indigenous people and to the land on which the theatre is located. The Playhouse is located on the traditional territory of the Tongva. A hunter-gatherer society, the peaceful Tongva inhabited an area covering approximately 4,000 square miles and traded widely with neighboring tribes. in 1785, Tongva Chief Toypurina lead a rebellion to resist Spanish rule. We recognize her and the rest of the Tongva tribe as today’s Laguna Playhouse Legends.

Today we recognize the one, the only, Wally Ziegler. Wally started in 1990 when he was brought in as an usher and bartender.  Today, Wally serves the Playhouse as our Artist and Audience service manager. Over the years, Wally has been on stage six times, and has been directly involved as a company manager, prop master, casting director and so many other rolls in 334 productions to date. And according to Wally, “I’ve loved every minute of it!”  Well, Wally, we love you too!  (and we love your theatre pup, Tamzin!) Here’s hoping for 334 more.

William L. Pereira was the designer of the new playhouse building that Nellie Moulton's $100,000 gift made possible. William was an architect family friend who submitted a series of designs to the development committee. He was the master planner for the city of Irvine, California, San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid, and designer of the “Ziggurat” Chet Holifield Federal Building in Laguna Niguel. His work was honored as the featured September 1963 cover of Time Magazine.

A native Californian who spent her childhood in the Japanese internment camps, Miki Young went on to found The Young Engineers in 1963, a company specializing in the design and manufacturer of aircraft and aerospace hardware, which still thrives today in Lake Forest. A generous spirit to the very end, Ms Young turned her company over to her employees when she retired, and remembered Laguna Playhouse with a generous gift through her trust. Thank you Miki. You will be missed.

"Grand Duchess of Orange County Theater," Marthella Randall was a director, actor, costumer, set designer and a board member, serving on the Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors during the 60's when the Moulton Theatre was in the planning phase.

The Laguna Playhouse was Connie Morthland’s first love. Morthland edited the Playhouse newsletter, “Callboard,” for more than 40 years, reviewing every play and profiling visiting actors. She encouraged Nellie Gail Moulton to donate funds to build the theater next to the Festival of Arts. So today, we celebrate Connie!

Jody Upham Billings was a lifelong Lagunatic since the late 1920s until her passing in 2013. Passionate about great literature and arts, Jody devoted selfless time, energy and resources to community involvement all around town and, in particular The Playhouse. Jody was ever keen to remind us, "This life is not a Dress Rehearsal!" and wisely advised us, "NEVERTHELESS, the Show must go on!"