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THEATER

Pasadena theater may honor a kindred spirit

January 20, 2006|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

Carrie Hamilton had no direct connection to the Pasadena Playhouse. But it's increasingly likely that the name of the late writer and actress will be attached to the playhouse's small Balcony Theatre and to outreach and play development programs that will be headquartered there.

Spurred in part by a Dec. 16 appearance by Hamilton's mother, Carol Burnett, and playhouse board member Martha Williamson on "Larry King Live," nearly $500,000 has been raised in the campaign to honor Hamilton by contributing to the playhouse.

If the campaign reaches $1 million -- the level that had been established as the amount required for "naming privileges" for the space -- the Balcony Theatre will be renamed for Hamilton. And if the campaign reaches its goal of $2.5 million, most of the programs centered in the Carrie Hamilton Theatre, upstairs at the playhouse, also will be named after Hamilton.

"If Carrie were with us," Burnett said, "she would be on this so fast," referring to the playhouse's plans for filling the space with programs designed for new talent and young audiences.

Hamilton died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 38. After her death that year, a play that she and Burnett co-wrote about Burnett's early years, "Hollywood Arms," opened on Broadway.

"Her main thrust in the last three or four years was writing and directing," Burnett said. She said Hamilton was holding writing workshops every week at her home.

The Balcony Theatre is already in use for a developmental program for playwrights, as well as the productions of the Furious Theatre Company, which is made up primarily of actors in their 20s and 30s.

Williamson, a playhouse board member who produced the TV series "Touched by an Angel," started the Carrie Hamilton campaign. "I couldn't see calling it the Bank of America Theatre," she said. "If it was going to encourage new talent and celebrate exciting young artists, it needed to be named after someone who was all of that."

Williamson knew Burnett and Hamilton from guest appearances they'd made on "Touched by an Angel." When the series ended, the crew and staff of the series picked Hamilton as their favorite guest star, she said.

Burnett and Williamson already knew each other via their work with Kenny Solms, who was a writer and producer for several Burnett projects. Williamson's first job in Hollywood, in 1977, was working as "a schlepper" for Solms.

Williamson lived a couple of blocks from the Pasadena Playhouse at that time and volunteered her services in cleaning and restoring the property, which had gone through decades of neglect. She joined the board in 2003, after "Touched by an Angel" ended, and still lives only a few blocks from the playhouse.

Burnett and Williamson's appearance on Larry King's CNN show brought in nearly $100,000, said Brian Colburn, the playhouse's managing director. Rosie O'Donnell was the first person to respond, Williamson said. But many of the contributions arrived as small checks from people throughout the country.

The campaign organizers also are seeking bigger checks from Hollywood friends. A website devoted to the campaign features letters of support from Julie Andrews, Jim Nabors and Hal Prince, who directed "Hollywood Arms."

A group of potential donors to the project was wooed at a December luncheon at the playhouse. Members of the Furious Theatre Company performed a Williamson-written sketch about what the Carrie Hamilton Theatre would be like in 20 years.

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