From its Pasadena office, China’s Alibaba Pictures is quietly making incursions into Hollywood.

Alibaba Pictures, somewhat hidden in the Pasadena Playhouse Plaza, presents itself with a modesty at odds with Tinseltown’s tendency for hyperbole. In fact, relatively little fanfare accompanied the arrival of this film unit of China’s multinational technology behemoth, Alibaba Group (ranked among the world’s 10 most valuable and successful brands by the brand equity database BrandZ for the first time this year). Alibaba Pictures opened up shop in a 22,000-square-foot office in Pasadena in 2016. 

Since its landing in metro Hollywood, Alibaba Pictures has been working on a handful of deals, investing in a few film productions and distributions, and keeping, at least by in-your-face American standards, a rather low profile. The Pasadena office didn’t respond to interview requests.

But in an interview with Pasadena-based East West Bank, Alibaba Pictures President Wei Zhang describes the client company’s mission here. “We see ourselves as a platform company,” she said. “Our goal in entertainment is not just to make a few movies. We’re not here to create another traditional movie studio…We are a new movie infrastructure company with Internet DNA; we use technology, data and our ecosystem to bring more efficiency and transparency to the filmmaking process.” Zhang describes her goal as growing Alibaba’s role as a gateway between Hollywood and China by developing appropriate content for Chinese movie audiences. And those audiences are expected to grow into the world’s largest, in light of China’s 1.4 billion population. Alibaba Pictures’ parent company has been reshaping the Chinese entertainment industry with an aggressive acquisition strategy since 2014.

Formed in 1999, Alibaba is the brainchild of one of China’s most beloved businessmen — Jack Ma. He’s been called the Steve Jobs of China because of his business savvy, his inspirational leadership and his intimate understanding of the American and Hollywood cultures. An e-commerce company at its core, Alibaba leverages entertainment ventures (film production investments, movie and live events ticketing apps, video-streaming platforms, mobile content browsers and others) to cross-promote interests in a multifaceted business ecosystem.

For example, Alibaba invested in Amblin Partner’s 2017 film A Dog’s Purpose (starring Dennis Quaid and Josh Gad) and helmed marketing the flick in China. Overall, the movie raked in only $64 million in the U.S., but it made $88 million in China with the help of Alibaba’s online movie ticketing app, Tao Piao Piao — in China more than 80 percent of movie tickets are bought online using apps.

From its Pasadena offices, Alibaba continues the Amblin partnership with the sequel, A Dog’s Journey, slated for a May 2019 release. Alibaba’s other successful movie investments include big-budget action flicks such as Dunkirk, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Star Trek Beyond and Mission Impossible — Fallout.

Earlier this year, Alibaba Pictures announced it was partnering with STX Entertainment on the Robert Zemeckis–produced Steel Soldiers, an original sci-fi action movie set in a futuristic world where humans and androids battle side-by-side. Also this year, Alibaba threw its hat into the ring with other studios (21st Century Fox, Disney, NBCUniversal, etc.) to fund Jeffrey Katzenberg’s streaming video startup, NewTV, which is creating short content for small screens.

For the younger set, Alibaba is producing a full-length adaption of the hit children’s TV series Peppa Pig, based on a beloved series of animated characters that premiered in the U.K. in 2004. (The movie will be a combination of animation and live action.)  It’s scheduled to be released during Chinese New Year 2019, which will usher in the Year of (what else?) the Pig.

So what can we make of this Chinese entertainment company that invests in American big-action films, heartwarming family flicks and charming children’s fare?

“I predict that Alibaba will be a good neighbor and a good company in the Southland, but I don’t think it will be a game-changer for the Southland,” says Tom Nunan, an international cinema expert, lecturer at UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television and partner in Bulls’ Eye Entertainment, a mid-size independent film and television production company.

Nunan remembers the ChinaHollywood lovefest of a few years ago that seized the imagination of producers, financiers and investors, eager to partner up with a new foreign market, foreign talent and foreign money. The hope was that such a move would herald development of a China-L.A. synergy, especially since Northern California — with its emerging technology in software and AI — has had a longstanding relationship with Beijing.

In 2015, leading Chinese investment and entertainment companies, such as Fosun International, LeTV, Dalian Wanda and, of course, Alibaba, were all going Hollywood; Wanda had just bought the AMC Theatre chain, and the STX production company was doing a deal with China’s Huayi Brothers Media Group. “All of us in entertainment had stars in our eyes, thinking, Wow! China’s investment in us will pump up the volume in Hollywood financially, content-wise, across the board,” Nunan continues. “We have all sobered up since then.”

Indeed, part of the sobering reality is that the Chinese government limits and restricts the type of entertainment that can be distributed. China doesn’t have a motion picture rating system; all films must be approved by Chinese censors who officially promote Confucian morality, political stability and social harmony. For all practical purposes, these are PG films — which are the least frequently produced films in Hollywood.

“Think of it this way: The Chinese government is acting the way the FCC acted in the ’70s,” explains Nunan. “They are really, really, really strict about the kind of content they want their citizenry to be exposed to. Also, don’t forget, there is no free Internet in China. Very few countries in the world restrict the freedom to surf the web. That’s not to say you can’t do business with China. There are opportunities, but it can be complicated.”

It addition to content, since 1994 Beijing has been restricting the number of American films that can be shown in Chinese theaters. The quota started at 10, increasing to 34 films per year in 2012 with the proviso that at least 14 be in 3D or IMAX format.

Of course, Hollywood would like to raise that quota, writes Michael Dresden at ChinaLawBlog.com. “But the on-again, off-again U.S.– China trade war has thrown those negotiations for a loop and effectively given China the ability to take whatever position it likes, from slapping a huge tariff on all U.S. films to conceding on all of Hollywood’s deal points,” Dresden writes. “But China is in no hurry to agree to anything. Why should it be? They’re fine with the status quo.”

Still, China’s Alibaba is here in the Southland to be a player, and it’s also a
resource for filmmakers and studios here, contends Nunan. Of course, setting up shop in Pasadena may have surprised many, considering that the prime entertainment hubs are in Burbank, Hollywood or the West Side. Says Nunan: “I think the strategy of the move was to announce that ‘We are a Chinese company. Most of the influential Chinese folk live right here in the Pasadena area and this is where we feel most comfortable.’ It’s wonderful that they are unabashedly embracing the neighborhood. Why shouldn’t Alibaba reward them by locating here? This is where their heartbeat is.” 

Personal Tech

Just when you thought technology couldn’t make our lives any easier, smart gadgets are getting smarter, more stylish and more powerful. Here are some new tech standouts that can make your life better.

Play Impossible Gameball

What could be more analog than a simple bouncing sphere? As the basis for countless sports, the ball gets a digital upgrade with Play Impossible Gameball, which has embedded sensor-technology that connects to a smartphone app…and that’s where the fun begins. Challenge your buddies to see who can throw the small soccer-like ball the farthest, highest or fastest. Kick it up a notch with digital games that can be played solo or with friends. There’s a virtual version of water-balloon toss and a “keep-away” game that encourages critical thinking along with brute force. Recommended for ages 4 and up.

$99.99, playimpossible.com

Movi Smartphone

Don’t want to watch a movie on your phone? Who can blame you? Movi, an Android smartphone, features an integrated projector that can enlarge 720p images up to more than 16 feet in size diagonally. Nearby walls or ceilings become screens so everyone can share the latest YouTube video, installment of your fave Netflix show or any digital content. The sleek phone’s battery can last up to four hours when the projector is turned on; the projector is launched via an app and switches to landscape mode when you hold your phone horizontally.

$599, moviphones.com

Ovie Smarterware

Leftovers? We always have such high hopes for them, but then time (and mold) sets in. Enter Ovie Smarterware, an easy-to-understand system that tracks how long you have until your food reaches critical spore and ooze level. The Smarterware is a Bluetooth button that is affixed to existing food containers. (You can also purchase Ovie’s bag clips and plastic containers.) Connect with your smart assistant — Alexa, for example — and tell your speaker what’s in the container. Alexa and Google will load the information into the cloud, which has a database of the life span of common foods in the fridge. Ovie, which starts shipping early next year, tracks that food and changes the button colors from green to red, signaling time to reheat or toss.

$95 and up, ovie.life

ZeTime

As the first hybrid smartwatch, the recently upgraded ZeTime combines mechanical hands with a round AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) touchscreen — all crafted with Swiss know-how. Activated for voice recognition, the regular (1.3-inch screen) and petite (1.05-inch screen) models display incoming calls, emails, texts, social media and calendar events. The water-resistant watch can also track your daily activity, sleep patterns and heart rate. If you’ve been a couch potato too long, it gives you a gentle reminder. Compatible with both iOS and Android, ZeTime’s battery typically lasts about four days in either smartwatch and 60 days in analog mode.

$299 and up, mykronoz.com

Kodak Scanza

Baby boomers will have more options for posting pix on Throwback Thursday with this handy device that scans old-school negatives and slides and transforms them into digital form. This film-to-JPEG converter from Kodak quickly digitizes 35mm, 126 and 110 negatives and slides as well as images from Super 8 and 8mm negatives and can transfer them into optimized 14-megapixel or interpolated 22-megapixel files. Images are contained on a simple SD card (not included). You can enhance the quality of the film and adjust the colors and brightness to your liking. You can even scan in gallery mode and display a slideshow as you relive those ancient memories.

$169.99, amazon.com

Cyber Body slimmer

Bringing new meaning to the phrase “shake it off,” the Dr. Fuji Cyber Body Slimmer offers a workout on a self-vibrating platform. Activating many muscle groups at the same time, the fitness machine can produce an effective training session in a mere 10 minutes. And performing exercises on the shaking metal platform can increase blood flow which, in turn, can help users improve balance, strength, flexibility and weight loss. The device runs on 90 watts of power and can vibrate 550 times a minute.

$3,300, cyberbodyslimmer.com

Landroid

It’s a jungle out there, but your lawn doesn’t have to be part of it. The Worx Landroid M is a robotic lawn mower that does the job for you. It tackles your grassy landscaped areas using the power of artificial-intelligence algorithms, sensing and avoiding obstacles and mowing in a best-practices pattern of efficiency, all with minimal noise output. Designed for smaller lawns (less than a quarter of an acre) and customizable for continuous manicure service, the device also “knows” when it’s raining and will return to its docking/charging station. Before you send your unit outside, you’ll need to install perimeter wire that will keep the automated mower contained. If the droid saunters outside the perimeter, you’ll be alerted on your smartphone.

$999, worx.com

Neutrogena Skin360 Skin Scanner

Get ready for your extreme close-up with Neutrogena’s Skin360, which gives you a snapshot of the health and condition of your facial skin. Affix the scanning device — which consists of 12 LED lights, a 30x magnifier and a moisture detector — to the edge of your smartphone camera. Download an app, snap a selfie and then place the scanner on your forehead, chin and cheeks. You’ll see deeply detailed images of pores and wrinkles (“Gasp! Me? What??”) along with a skin-hydration-level score and overall facial analysis that compares your skin to that of other folks your age. Sure, there will be recommendations for Neutrogena products, but you’ll be armed with skin knowledge that can inform your next skin-care purchases.

$50, neutrogena.com

Array Solar Smart Lock

Like the idea of a smart deadbolt, but not the worry about failing batteries that could leave you locked outside of your own home? The Array has your back. This stylish smart lock is powered by an integrated solar panel that continually trickle-charges its onboard battery. The lock should last around 10 months on a charge when it’s in direct sunlight, 30 to 90 days in indirect sunlight. It connects to your overall smart home via Wi-Fi with a wireless router, so there’s no extra tech to buy. You can open it with your smartphone by entering preset codes into its hidden metal keypad (think e-keys) or with a conventional key. The product comes with a second battery and USB charging cradle so there’s always a backup handy. 

$299, acehardware.com

Eveline Smart Ovulation Test

Planning for a bundle of joy? Consider turning your smartphone into a fertility coach. The Eveline Smart Fertility System is an ovulation prediction kit that employs a fertility tracking app with patented technology for near-pinpoint planning. Moms-wanting-to-be use a front-facing smartphone camera and light to measure the color of ovulation test strips; with a 99 percent accuracy rate, results are then recorded in your phone. (The system comes with 10 strips.) Using that data, the system can predict upcoming fertile days with a push notification. Another feature allows you to share your fertile status with your partner — which could mean a candlelight dinner and roses when you return home that evening.

$49.99, amazon

 

Visitors can witness art conservation in action in Project Blue Boy

For decades, the handsome young boy with rosy red cheeks decked out in a fashionable blue satin outfit with knee breeches has delighted guests in the Thornton Portrait Gallery at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. Painted around 1770 by prominent English landscape and portrait artist Thomas Gainsborough, The Blue Boy has an endearing charm reflected in a careful composition that reveals the master’s fine strokes, using a shimmering blue hue created with numerous tints.

Now visitors will have a different view of the relaxed young lad as he poses in the English countryside — a close-up so extreme it can be microscopic. The Huntington’s new show Project Blue Boy offers gallery visitors a behind-the-scenes experience of the extensive two-year-long conservation process that will restore and stabilize Gainsborough’s classic work as much as possible.

This is the first time the Huntington is putting a conservation project on display for the public to observe; it’s a rare opportunity to witness both the art and science of conservation in action. “We’ve known for a while that the painting needed attention,” explains Melinda McCurdy, exhibit cocurator and associate curator for British art. The original colors have turned hazy and dull. Paint is starting to lift and flake off in certain areas. Too many layers of added varnish have served as temporary bandages to keep the almost life-size painting intact. Likewise, the painting’s lining (added as another
attempt at restoration) has been separating. The Blue Boy needed a serious tune-up.

Earlier this year, the painting was subjected to a three-month-long examination. High-tech methods — infrared reflectography, ultraviolet illumination and a scanning electron microscope — helped conservators chart a course of action.

At the helm of Project Blue Boy is Christina O’Connell, the Huntington’s senior painting conservator and exhibit’s other cocurator. She has set up shop in the Thornton Portrait Gallery inside a special satellite studio, complete with work table, easel, conservation lights and exhaust units. A half wall separates her from the crowds, but the public can watch on a display monitor as she performs the deft and precise work of stabilizing the paint, cleaning the surface and removing the non-original varnish and overpaint. (Her satellite work schedule will be posted on the Huntington website.)

The plan is for O’Connell to work three to four months in the satellite studio. The Blue Boy will then go off view for another three to four months while she strengthens the canvas structure and applies new varnish with special equipment that can’t be moved into the gallery. After that’s completed, the painting will once again return to the satellite studio where visitors can continue to watch as O’Connell takes the artwork closer to perfection in anticipation of The Blue Boy’s return to gallery walls in early 2020.

Among the paraphernalia in O’Connell’s toolbox is an impressive 6-foot-tall surgical microscope. This state-of-the-art device has a long moveable arm and optics that can magnify up to 25 times; especially helpful when she applies special adhesives to areas where paint is lifting off the canvas. 

Near the satellite studio, there’s an educational exhibit with an iPad describing the science of conservation and a display of typical conservator hand tools; they’re on hand to help guests gain a deeper appreciation for the conservator’s skilled artistry.

Visitors will also be able to see what lurks underneath The Blue Boy; an interactive light box will show digital x-rays of the artwork, revealing that the it was painted on a used canvas: The artist had originally begun a portrait of a man, before opting for a younger model. McCurdy hopes the current conservation process may unearth more clues to the earlier model’s identity. Perhaps just as interesting is that other x-rays show that at one time Gainsborough placed a small white dog next to the boy’s bowed shoes. For whatever reason, the hound didn’t make the cut and was eventually transformed into a pile of rocks.

Information will be posted on the artist and painting, which has called San Marino home since Henry Huntington purchased it in 1921 for a whopping $728,000 — the largest sum paid at that time for any artwork. “The Blue Boy is iconic for a reason… it’s a really good painting,” McCurdy says, adding that it is as much a study of the look and feel of period apparel as it is a character study of its young subject.

Look closely at the intricate details of the clothes, she says. “Gainsborough’s great skill was as a master painter, using vigorous slashes of unmodulated color to mimic the look and texture of smooth satin in the boy’s costume, for instance.” The illustrious costume was inspired by the work of 17th-century Flemish painter Sir Anthony Van Dyck, who often incorporated fashion in his work. (Note the blue coat worn by the young subject of Portrait of Charles, Lord Strange.)

While his portraits are masterful in capturing the essence of their models, Gainsborough preferred the peaceful beauty of landscapes. He once said, in third person: “He painted portraits for money and landscapes because he loved them.”

There remains a lure of unsolved mystery surrounding The Blue Boy. As famous as it was back then and is today, no one knows for sure just who this fair-faced boy was. Many art historians originally thought it was a portrait of a younger Jonathan Buttall, the painting’s first owner. “There is no documentary evidence to support that,” explains McCurdy.

Susan Sloman, a London-based art historian, thinks she might have unraveled the mystery. “She proposes that the model for The Blue Boy is Gainsborough Dupont, Thomas Gainsborough’s nephew, who lived with the artist’s family and later served as his uncle’s studio assistant,” she says. This young, readily available model could have been in the right place at the right time — never imagining that his likeness would live on forever the world over.

Originally titled A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, the painting received high acclaim from fellow artists when it first appeared in public in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1770. Somewhere along the line, its nickname, The Blue Boy, seemed more appropriate and became its official name. Fame grew for The Blue Boy; for years, the painting traveled around Great Britain, endearing itself to the masses, and public outcry in Britain was loud when Henry Huntington (an American!) acquired the British treasure. Huntington wanted to show off his prize and enlisted art dealer Joseph Duveen to stage an international publicity blitz around the painting’s journey from London to Los Angeles. It was briefly put on display at the National Gallery of Art in London where it was viewed by 90,000 people. “They really hyped it up,” says McCurdy. “These limited engagement exhibitions and newspaper articles really transformed The Blue Boy into a well-known and recognizable icon of the times.” 

It wasn’t until the late 1920s that The Blue Boy was introduced to another icon-to-be, one that would be forever visually associated with the Gainsborough masterpiece. In 1926, Huntington purchased Pinkie (1794) painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence. The young girl dramatically posing on a high cliff, a breeze jostling her dress and pink hat ribbons, became The Blue Boy’s eternal partner on the Huntington Art Gallery’s walls and in our culture’s collective consciousness. A bit of irony: There is neither historical nor costume connection between them. No matter; they have been the Huntington’s power couple for decades, a visitor favorite and tourist must-see.

But for now, guests will have to wait for their reunion as The Blue Boy’s imperfections and cracks vanish, his colors are revitalized and the magic of conservation is complete — a signal that the young man in his glistening smooth blue costume is ready to resume his rightful place on gallery walls.

Christina O’Connell, senior painting conservator, works in public view Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 to 4 p.m.; she also appears the first Sunday of each month from 2 to 4 p.m. through January. Visit the website for details about the second in-gallery session next year. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino. Visit huntington.org.

Longtime Pasadena philanthropists Bill and Judy Opel share fundraising tips and insights into the past, present and future of charitable giving.

sk Bill and Judy Opel about what they think is the most effective fundraising technique in these days of customizable analytics, sophisticated online tracking programs and upscale black-tie charity events. Scratch ’em all, they say. Just put on the coffee pot.
“Sitting down with someone personally and sharing a cup of coffee can be one of the most effective fundraising events and you don’t have to spend much money,” says Bill, a lifelong Pasadena resident with a career that spans more than five decades in both medical research and executive nonprofit administration. “Just sit and have coffee and talk. Maybe follow that up with a phone call and stay in touch.” That personalized, no-frills attention can make all the difference in landing a big donor or, on the flip side, finding an organization that will make you, a potential benefactor, feel proud to support it, says Bill.
Bill and wife Judy have witnessed how the landscape of charitable giving (financial donations and volunteering) has evolved over the years. Bill has seen philanthropy as both grant-maker and grant-taker, having served at Huntington Medical Research Institutes (HMRI) for 53 years as president/CEO (and previously, executive director) in addition to his first 10 years as a lab researcher.
Back in 1982, Bill was instrumental in unifying the Pasadena Foundation for Medical Research (PFMR) with the Huntington Institutes of Applied Medical Research to create HMRI. During his tenure, Bill oversaw donations of tens of millions of dollars to fund research. He recently retired from HMRI and is currently active in several local nonprofits.
Likewise, Judy, in addition to being a teacher, has been active in charitable endeavors for decades, and because of her social networking is fondly known as “the first lady” of HMRI. She also served as president of the Altadena Guild of Huntington Memorial Hospital and volunteered regularly there. She was instrumental in fundraising for the L.A. County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, chairing the annual Baldwin Bonanza plant sale in 1976. Today, she still gets her hands dirty with The Arboretum’s Compulsive Gardeners group.
Perhaps the biggest change the Opels have observed in philanthropy over the years is in its sheer scale — how big and international it has become, with organizations raising money 24/7. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million nonprofits are registered in the U.S. and there are millions more worldwide.
Giving USA reports that for the first time ever, charitable giving exceeded $400 billion in 2017, relecting an impressive $14.27 billion increase in individual giving (topping $286 billion) along with substantial gains in bequests and donations by foundations and corporations.
Gone are the days when Judy would enlist surgeons’ wives to cook casseroles for a casual sit-down dinner with potential donors at a medical researcher’s house. “It was all pretty amateur by today’s standards,” says Bill. “We didn’t have an event coordinator or use a caterer, and we didn’t have a high-priced development director,” adds Judy, noting how the professionalization of fundraising has elevated the causal event into a highly curated experience.
Indeed, directed by well-compensated development executives, today’s nonprofits are vying for donor dollars by reaching across many platforms to advertise their differences from other organizations. But the multitude of choices can be daunting for donors — it’s now a bigger challenge to decide what and where to contribute.
An informative website is a good first step, says Bill (“I always look at the scientific publications and reports they have done”), stressing that numbers can be deceiving, especially client numbers. “The fact that you cared for or served so many is just a head count — that’s pretty objective,” he says. “Everyone can tell you that they are doing great stuff, but where is the evidence? Where’s the meat?”
The Opels appreciate how some unbiased websites, like GuideStar and Charity Navigator, rate nonprofits but say that potential donors still need to dig deeper to find out how truly effective an organization is. “With a lot of charities, you go to a social event and often don’t see the people they are helping,” says Bill. “The events I really love are when there is an open house and you can see the faces and hear personal stories.”
Consider community colleges, continues Bill, where many incoming students arrive academically struggling but leave renewed. “The fact that your school turned them into accomplished learners who can achieve is more impressive than a high-end selective university that already gets great kids enrolling,” explains Bill.
Some entities are more transparent than others. Support the Pasadena Symphony or the Sierra Madre Playhouse, and it will be easy to see where your money is going — it’s right there on the stage. But other causes’ activities can be more opaque. Explaining HMRI’s complicated science and research needs to benefactors was a challenge for Bill, who learned early the benefits of telling a human story.
In the 1960s, Bill was a cell biologist working in the El Molino Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PMRI) facility, one of the first research centers to grow human cell and tissue cultures to study cancers. Researchers received small and directed National Institutes of Health grants. “The main discretionary money we got was from grateful patients,” he says, launching into the story of a life insurance salesman stricken with neck and jaw cancer from smoking cigars. Using radiation techniques developed at PFMR, the man recovered and, despite losing half a tongue, was as loquacious as ever and able to continue his high-pressure career. He became a big donor to the lab.
Examine an organization’s newsletters and publications, question other donors and research what that nonprofit has done to “move the needle,” says Bill. “My objective at HMRI was to make meaningful improvements in how medicine is practiced. I can show you how that improved every year.”
Above all, long-lasting nonprofits have to communicate a message that addresses the brain and the heart: “Will my money be well spent?” and “Is this donation the right thing to do?”

Baby Boomers Passing On Wealth
Pressure on the giving community will be compounded in the coming years, when Baby Boomers pass on their inheritance to their children. “It will be the biggest transference of wealth in the nation’s history,” says Bill. A new generation can change the direction of charitable giving, especially when it comes to assuming leadership of family foundations. New generations may have completely different interests from the relative who started the charity decades ago. “It’s not a given that the kids will continue down the path,” says Bill, who sees current social issues such as homelessness and mental health getting more play in the philanthropic spotlight.
Volunteering has also evolved. In the early 1960s, charitable women’s clubs were the main social outlet for many stay-at-home wives/moms. Judy recalls daylong club meetings that often involved lunch, card games and socializing. Today’s volunteers want a more active engagement with the people they help, she says. “My daughter started doing volunteer work in high school, and said, ‘I don’t want to do those social things,’” she says. “In law school she volunteered for a group that delivered meals to AIDS patients. She wanted her volunteering to be directly meaningful.”
While many old-school clubs have faded away, some — like the Altadena Guild — have stayed relevant. Judy credits forward-thinking leadership that re-prioritized to attract working women by changing meeting hours and providing more opportunities for hands-on volunteering.
Even philanthropic products have changed over the decades. You used to send in a check and get a little memorial gift — a card or your name in the newsletter. Now donors can choose from a myriad of ways to financially support an organization, through planned giving, family foundations or a trust gift annuity, to name just a few.
Endowments have also changed the landscape for nonprofits. “HMRI didn’t have an endowment when it was started and by the time I left, there was $40 million in the endowment reserve fund,” says Bill. Today many large medical organizations, including hospitals, have solid endowments (in the past, they didn’t need to compete for dollars to fill funding gaps then covered by operating revenue and government grants).
On a smaller scale, the Opels are creating their own endowment legacy. Bill and Judy launched one of 117 unrestricted endowment family funds managed by the Pasadena Community Foundation (PCF), an entity that also has also seen dramatic philanthropic changes in the last five decades. “When I arrived 15 years ago, the PCF had $16 in assets. Today, we have $80 million,” says President and CEO Jennifer DeVoll, adding that PCF started with 40 to 55 funds. Today it has 350.
While community foundations that pool funds have been around for 100 years, DeVoll says there has been an upsurge of interest and participation, especially in unrestricted endowments that rely on careful management to assist worthy local start-ups and businesses. The Opels are happy their fund can support organizations for today’s needs, as well as for groups and causes yet to emerge. “After we have passed away, our fund can still be making donations in our name,” says Judy.
While old-school philanthropy may seem quaint by today’s standards, the Opels think that people working together for a common cause fuels giving. In the 1950s, the genesis of the PFMR took place at a Pasadena cocktail party where friends were commiserating about the loss of a buddy from cancer. “Let’s do something about it!” they said between martinis. Then someone mentioned a guy they knew doing research — and the rest is history.
“It was formed because there was a group of people that wanted to address a problem,” says Bill. “You and your friends could be regulars at the 35er [Bar in Pasadena], and what if your bartender got sick? You would all work together to do something about it, to help that person you cared about. You’re mobilizing for a cause, for a noble purpose. The cocktail party is only the beginning.”

The Rose Bowl’s dynamic landscaping duo talk turf

It may be only 2½ acres, but to Will Schnell and Miguel Yepez, the Rose Bowl is a constant obsession. Tending this plot of land is a never-ending cycle of checking embedded soil sensors, monitoring hot spots, repairing damage, aggressive weeding and meticulous trimming, not to mention late-night worries and early-morning visits. But in the end, their attention to detail produces a joy that farmers and gardeners revel in: a thriving plant.
Schnell and Yepez’s plant, however, is a mega-collection of green blades that make up the famed Rose Bowl turf, the kind of immaculate lawn that would spark envy in any residential neighborhood.
These two longtime turf pros share a love of sports, plants and working outside. Schnell, 55, has been the Bowl’s stadium superintendent for more than 18 years; Yepez, 41, has been his assistant for 16. With the help of a small team, they cultivate and maintain the verdant field at this 96-year-old athletic stadium which hosts an almost nonstop schedule of football games, soccer tournaments, location filming, concerts and other big events. It’s used about 300 days in any given year. There is no off-season.
At this time of extreme drought, when many lawns are being removed and replaced with xeriscaping, this field is a reminder that there’s splendor in the grass. The Rose Bowl’s identity is so intertwined with its emerald lawn that it would be anathema to do anything but present the real deal. “I remember how pristine it was,” 1981 Rose Bowl MVP Butch Woolfolk said of playing on the famed field. “You didn’t want to mess it up when you fell down, and when your cleat dug out some, you’d want to replace the divot.”
“We’d usually do a walk-through at the stadium the day before,” said 2013 Rose Bowl defensive MVP Usua Amanam. “Guys were on the ground smelling the grass and picking up pieces of the grass and lying on the grass.”
Some sporting fields are landscaped with artificial turf, and Schnell acknowledges that there are good reasons for that. “I truly believe there is a place for synthetics,” he said. “If you have guys running on a [grass] field 10 hours a day, that’s not going to be successful. That’s the last place you want to invest in a real grass field. You have to understand the limitations of grass.” The Rose Bowl doesn’t experience constant wear and tear, so it doesn’t need the durability of artificial turf, and real grass looks better on camera.
Schnell has understood the complex nature of grass since his days growing up on his family’s 1,200-acre farm in Missouri. At a young age, he was raising plants and operating big machinery, activities he still does today. While attending high school he played sports and began maintaining athletic fields; by the time he graduated he had racked up three years’ experience — and an athlete’s appreciation of what makes a good playable field.
Armed with a degree in turf grass management from Central Missouri State University, Schnell worked at sporting venues around the country, starting with minor league baseball and eventually landing gigs with the Cleveland Browns, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He arrived in Pasadena in 2001. “I’ve worked the longest here at the Rose Bowl,” he says with a laugh. “They haven’t kicked me out yet.”
Two years after he started, Schnell brought on board Yepez, a Pasadena kid who went to work for American Golf, a national network of public courses, right after graduating from Blair High School. Yepez worked as a turf mechanic at Brookside Golf Club for six years before meeting his partner-in-turf, Schnell, and landing his Rose Bowl gig.
When it comes to big events and games (about three a year), the field is completely redone, and it typically takes the Rose Bowl staff and 20 workers from four to eight days to replace. Machines rip the grass up to its roots, soil is prepared with strengthening conditioners, a sand base is laid down and irrigation is positioned — and all that happens before the new sod even arrives. A fleet of 17 semi trucks hauls 3,000 pounds of it to Pasadena from the Bowl’s sod farm in Palm Springs, where sunshine and heat quickly mature grass. The cost averages about $250,000 a pop. Schnell regularly visits the desert facility to see how the grass is growing. Over the years, he experimented with grass cultivars until he settled on a mixture of bluegrass and rye grass. “It’s an aggressive turf,” he says.
Through the years, the two have learned various subtle tricks of the trade. “We talk about smoke and mirrors, how to divert people’s attention when there is a problem out there we can’t address in time,” says Schnell. Maybe there’s an unsightly sod seam, so a unique mowing pattern may redirect people’s eyes. “Sometimes you’ll have to do that and people will never know the difference,” he says.
One innovative way the team controls costs and time is by employing erasable paint on team logos on the field, a practice Yepez spearheaded many years ago. “We used so much paint we’d kill the grass,” he explains.
In their time on the turf, the duo has weathered many storms, tight turnaround schedules and everyday emergencies. Their devotion to the Rose Bowl field and what it represents is fierce and heartfelt. “People ask me to come and look at their yard and I say, ‘If it doesn’t have a goal post or bases, I don’t do it,’” says Schnell with a twinkle in his eye. “This right here is mine. I get to farm some of the most visible turf in the world. I’m so grateful every day. This is a big enough yard for me.”
Likewise, Yepez describes an almost mystical connection between gardener and plant. “I’m a sports fanatic and so being around a stadium is exciting,” says Yepez. “All these people are here to see these players, but they are also here to see my field. I love that I’m part of the game itself.”

The Salastina Music Society is breaking down the walls between classical music and skeptical audiences

“I often wonder how many hipsters would come to our concerts if we advertised them as artisanal music-making with 300-year-old handcrafted violins?” jokes Maia Jaspar White about the Salastina Music Society, a chamber music ensemble based in Pasadena. The accomplished Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra violinist and Colburn School instructor co-directs the group with her music partner, fellow violinist Kevin Kumar, who has appeared as a soloist with the L.A. Philharmonic. Their quest is to make chamber music more user-friendly, satisfy their own artistic goals and have fun with fellow musicians playing the music they love.

Kumar and Jaspar White, who also directs Caltech’s chamber music program, have been performing for decades in renowned orchestras/ensembles here and abroad, as well as in the entertainment business; hear them both in the new Star Wars: The Last Jedi soundtrack, among countless other motion picture and television projects.

The pair met in the violin section of the now-defunct Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, where they struck up a friendship and shared musical goals. In 2011 they pooled their talents, contacted musician friends and created a program series under the Salastina banner to put the musical genre back into the must-hear category for any music lover. “We put ourselves in the audience’s shoes and then designed our concerts from that perspective,” says Kumar. “We both love playing chamber music. But we saw that the music was always being presented in the same old way. We started Salastina because we thought we had something unique to offer.” The name Salastina is an amalgamation of two names the pair don’t typically use — Kevin’s ancestral name, Salatia, and Maia’s middle name, Kristine.

Indeed, Salastina is breathing new life into a rich musical form that is artistically demanding, musically complex and unflinchingly intimate. Without a conductor to lead, chamber musicians rely heavily on one another during performances, working together and communicating with raised eyebrows, slight nods and an uncanny sixth sense. So often, however, chamber music concerts are straightforward and simple: Artists walk onstage, artists play music, artists leave. Jaspar White and Kumar have turned the conventional chamber music concert into part in-depth conversation, part performance, to offer a deeper and more satisfying musical presentation.

The format is applauded by both newbies and music connoisseurs. “I totally believe in this format; it takes the mysticism out of the experience and we have fun with it,” says KUSC radio host Brian Lauritzen, who has been Salastina’s resident host almost since the group’s formation; he hosts Salastina’s popular Sounds Genius series, which employs the immersive preconcert discussion to analyze the program.

But don’t call it a lecture or didactic examination, says Lauritzen. “We talk history, dissect the musical elements, pick the piece apart and then put it all back together,” he says of the casual talk that remains true to the music and its message. “By the end of the performance, everyone is a bit of an expert.”

“When you take the microscope and approach music from the intellectual, emotional and personal perspective, you create a more compelling context for people to latch onto when they are listening to the complete piece all the way through,” explains Jaspar White. “Any art, especially classical music, is appreciating what human beings are capable of creating. Beethoven was a genius; not everyone can do what Beethoven did, but everyone is capable of knowing a genius when they see or hear it.” Kumar agrees, adding; “At the end of the evening we want people to have made friends with the music, so it’s not just something to admire from afar, but they have had an engaged experience with it.”

While a preshow conversation with a host isn’t totally new to the chamber music landscape, Salastina has, over the years, taken that structure to heart, carefully integrating the format into its own signature style. “Salastina is really the best of the bunch when it comes to chamber music groups, technically and musically,” says Stephen Unwin, a JPL astronomer and self-described classical music junkie, who scours websites and calendars to catch performances whenever he can. “There are a lot of really fine musicians in Los Angeles, so it’s not hard to find professionals playing on any given night somewhere.”

Reaching out to people across the L.A. area, Salastina typically performs at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music’s Barrett Hall and small locations on the Westside. Unwin, who has attended Salastina concerts for the past five years, says he loves the small venues (“I went to one performance that was in a condo that held only 20 people. It was spectacular.”) and the social receptions that take place afterward. “So many times, after a concert, the musicians pack up and go home,” he says. “I enjoy that the musicians stay around to chat; I think they enjoy meeting us as much as we love talking with them, too.”

“Salastina audiences are very thoughtful, interested and always engaging,” says Meridith Crawford, Salastina’s resident violist, who has performed with the group for more than three years. “They love to ask questions and pick our brains. It’s fun for us as musicians when people are curious about the music.”

Seeing the audience react positively is rewarding to Salastina’s musicians and host Lauritzen. One of the group’s recurring Sounds Genius concerts is Mendelssohn’s Octet, written by the 17th-century German when he was only 16 years old. Lauritzen enjoys describing how the young Mendelssohn incorporated bits of well-known works by famous composers from his past into his octet. During the discussion, musicians play quick excerpts to demonstrate. “When the piece is finally played in its entirety and those musical moments come up, I love to see the light bulbs go off in the audience,” says Lauritzen. “I live for seeing these kinds of happy discoveries.”

On Feb. 17, Lauritzen unveils his collaboration with Salastina on Brian’s Playlist: Hope, Faith, Life, Love, a Feb. 17 concert at the Pasadena Conservatory featuring classical selections inspired by the content and structure of a moving E.E. Cummings poem. Salastina also partners with other organizations, musicians and performers for unique musical evenings. In December, the group joined Pasadena’s Red Hen Press in presenting a concert of new music by composer Eric Whitacre set to poetry by California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia and Elise Paschen, performed by soprano Hila Plitmann.  In a quite different vein, comedian/actor Seth Rogen has read Ferdinand the Bull while Salastina performed Jaspar White’s original composition based on the children’s classic in downtown L.A.

Overall, the group’s repertoire is as varied as its program offerings, Sounds Genius notwithstanding. Debuting last year, the Sounds Promising series involves up-and-coming teen musicians who not only sit side-by-side with professionals at rehearsals and concerts, but also learn about the day-to-day business of being a professional musician. “Private lessons and classes improve their skills, but it’s critically important that young people have more exposure to what kinds of career possibilities are in front of them,” says Jaspar.

The Sounds Delicious program is Salastina’s take on the salon tradition where culinary courses are paired with appropriate musical selections, treating audiences to a feast for both ears and taste buds. Recently, Salastina teamed up with Chef Becky Reams under the theme “Beautifully California”; prior to that was “The Music of India’s Cuisine” with Un-Curry, an organic Indian catering company.

Also on the calendar this year are the complete piano trios of Robert and Clara Schumann and the Second Class Citizens program, which examines why some composers, such as Zoltan Kodaly and Fanny Mendelssohn, didn’t get the fame and glory of their contemporaries.

Finally, Salastina embraces modern composers through its Annual Composers of Los Angeles series, which spotlights contemporary classical chamber music that Jaspar White contends is “accessible and listener-friendly.

“This is what also makes us different from other organizations and is the benefit of being a small company,” she says, explaining that larger organizations often feel obliged to champion modern compositions that are cacophonous, atonal and avant-garde. “We don’t think so,” she says, pointing to American Mirror, written for Salastina by L.A.–based composer Derrick Spiva. The group has performed American Mirror twice and made a recording of it this past December; the performance will be part of Salastina’s first podcast episode this month.

Jaspar White is adamant that “listener-friendly” not be considered verboten in classical music, an attitude that corresponds to the overarching mission of Salastina. “Why does listener-friendly mean simplistic and lacking in depth? That it’s not good or intellectual enough?” she says. “Just because you understand something doesn’t mean it’s less sophisticated. Classical music is not just wallpaper. It’s something that we hope people can latch onto and connect with throughout their lives.” 

For a concert schedule and tickets, visit salastina.org.

An Autry exhibition highlights the cultural and historical connections of that essential (and fun) building block of childhood development.

•A toddler uses a toy vacuum in a pint-size midcentury modern playhouse, complete with a Kit-Kat Clock, starburst mirror and an old-fashioned rotary phone. Not far away, older kids explore a cave as they heap squishy rocks and faux logs on top of each other; one child attempts to hug a ginormous teddy bear. “This is awesome!” shouts another kid as he dives into the pile.
• In a nearby darkened room, a summer-camp chaperone takes on opponents for a vigorous game of Pong; she’s unstoppable and a crowd forms. “I have a little more experience than these young kids,” she says with a laugh.
• On a wall display of favorite games from different eras and regions, two adults discuss the merits of Drop the Handkerchief and other games, comparing the activities as if they were cultural anthropologists. “See how the games change compared to the regional climate?” one suggests. “Look at how the girls’ play is different from the boys.” “Aha! Here is when basketball was invented!”
• Around a corner, a mom shows her young daughter a View-Master from the 1970s. “When I was a kid I had one just like this!” she explains to a wide-eyed girl who studies the toy as if it were an ancient artifact.
These interactions were spotted amid the many artifacts, discussions and discoveries at the Play! exhibition at the Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park, which runs through Jan. 7, 2018. The family-focused show is more than just a clever display of 200-plus toys and games throughout the centuries. Beyond the fun and nostalgia in each exhibit case and interactive display, Play! offers adult visitors a chance to deeply examine the role of toys and games across culture and time — and the human connections play can inspire.
“Play is a universal language,” says Yolanda Carlos, core faculty at Pacific Oaks College’s School of Education in Pasadena. “It’s innate in us.” Carlos explains that for all its fun, goofiness, physical challenges and mimicry, play is serious stuff. “It’s the way children learn about the environment, the world, social interactions and a way to build social communication skills. No matter the era, human development follows predictable patterns, and play is instrumental.”
Carlos shares a story from her time as executive director of a school for military families: Since many students came from different countries, they didn’t have a shared language. “Even though they couldn’t speak to each other at first, play united them,” she explains. “Before you knew it, they were connecting through play and, after a while, they began to understand each other.”
Play has evolved, Carlos says, and now too much emphasis is placed on structured play, especially activities like sports, with rules created by adults. “What you really want are toys and games that inspire a child’s imagination and allow them that open-ended play,” she says, adding that toys don’t need to be complex. Things as simple as a rock, a sibling, a pet or an invisible friend will do.
Besides its developmental importance, play also reflects cultural values and historical significance, says Autry Curator Carolyn Brucken. “This exhibition is not just a history of toy innovation in the West — although we have… the skateboard, Mattel’s Barbie and others — but rather how play has connected humans to each other and continues to do so.”
The whimsical exhibit for all ages is a welcome addition to the Autry’s schedule of exhibitions, which often examine heavier topics like the Standing Rock protests, the focus of a concurrent show of art and objects through Feb. 18, 2018. Play! sprang from the 2015 closing of the Autry’s Family Discovery Center, which necessitated a new strategy to facilitate families’ interactions with the museum’s diverse collections, says Brucken.
Visitors entering the exhibition step into a darkened room where a passage from Shel Silverstein’s poem “Invitation” sets the tone:
If you are a dreamer, come in
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!
The exhibition is thematically divided into four sections, and the charming cacophony of item mash-ups, interactive displays and play areas can be overwhelming. Adult visitors may miss some of the details, especially if they are chasing after youngsters eager to explore. Carlos suggests both young and old try to step inside the shoes of the child who interacted with whatever toy they’re observing. “Engage in a little pretend play,” she says. “Think about and ask, what do you suppose they were doing with this toy? How do you think they played with it? How did they talk about this toy? How would you play with it?”
When parents discover a favorite toy from their past, their delight can spill over onto their incredulous children (“Mom was once a kid?!” “Dad played with toys?”) and also connect them to contemporaries who shared the same toy joy. Forget bonding over sports teams — sharing Hot Wheels glory stories or what you baked in your Suzy Homemaker oven are the ultimate ice-breakers.
Of course, not all toys from the recent past are in the exhibition. “A lot of things simply didn’t make it,” Brucken says, noting that some adults were distraught that their favorite toys were not represented. “There was so much to consider and there were hard decisions to make.”
Before they exit, guests are encouraged to write down their thoughts on how play will evolve 10 and 100 years from now. Collecting these written ideas has been enlightening, says Brucken, rattling off a few typical entries: “We’ll be playing with aliens,” “There will be real-live super heroes” and “Everything will be electronic.” “I think my favorite one has been ‘There will still be balls and sticks,’” she says. “You can’t get any more universal than playing with a ball and stick.”
Play! runs through until Jan. 7, 2018, at the Autry Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Griffith Park. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission costs $14, $10 for seniors (60+) and students and $6 for children 3 to 12; members and children under 3 are admitted free. Call (323) 667-2000 or visit theautry.org.

South Pasadenan Joe Davis brings his own sports spin to play-by-play announcing for the L.A. Dodgers.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are taking a new direction that goes beyond reconfigured player lineups, coaching assignments and concession stand offerings. With the official retirement of legendary sports announcer Vin Scully, the team is introducing fans to a young announcer who is fiercely determined not to step into Scully’s shoes – his goal is to make his own mark on the heavily competitive sports scene. “You don’t replace someone like Vin,” says sports commentator Joe Davis, 29, who moved from Michigan to South Pasadena with his family in January. “I don’t kid myself. I know that I’ll always be considered the guy who followed Vin. When someone says to me, ‘Well, you’re no Vin Scully,’ I tell them, ‘You are absolutely right. No one is.’”

While Davis called his first Dodgers home game in April, he has been serving up his play-by-play on the road since last season, while Scully continued home game duties. For 50 televised road games, Davis was joined by former Dodgers-turned-analyst-announcers Orel Hershiser and/or Nomar Garciaparra.

During that season,  fans got a taste of post-Vin Dodgers life, adjusting to the rhythm of new voices and personality combinations. After all, Scully’s signature solo style has permeated the team’s essence for 67 years (he joined the team way back in Brooklyn in 1950). His mastery of the English language fused with his limitless knowledge of sports anecdotes to elevate the profession far beyond the clipped, old-time radio cadence of most broadcasters. “[Vin] is the greatest ever and all us broadcasters have learned so much from watching him through the years,” says Davis, adding that if he considered the pressure of the mantle every time he stepped into the Dodgers’ press box, “it would be overwhelming. Right from the start, I made a decision to be as mentally comfortable and tough as I could be — and a big part was to realize that I am not replacing Vin and no one was ever going to replace him. I have to try to be myself, lean on my analysts and hope, over time, I can be someone that people can tolerate.”

Fortunately, that was exactly what the team was looking for. “We looked at a lot of candidates for almost two years — listening to people, watching them — and Joe just bubbled up to the top,” says Lon Rose, Dodgers executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “He has a great enthusiasm, a love of the game. He offers that unique combination of a fresh perspective while respecting the past.”

Davis’ humble attitude, his genuine love for the game and his respect for Scully’s legacy are earning him high praise from Dodgers fans who have a right to be picky about the voice that accompanies a Joc Pederson grand slam or a Clayton Kershaw no-hitter. “You have a very tough role of stepping in the biggest shoes ever left to fill; I think you did an exceptional job last year,” one fan commented to Davis when he recently hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) Reddit conversation. “Your first year broadcasting with us was terrific, you have already earned a spot in the hearts of a ton of Dodgers fans,” wrote another. “Excited to hear you call Dodgers games for the next 50 years or so,” gushed another.

Fans’ applause reflects Davis’ adoption of Scully’s treasured advice to him. “He called me the night before my hiring was announced and he passed along advice which was given to him when he started in 1950 from another Hall of Fame  broadcaster, Red Barber. ‘You bring one thing to the booth that one else can – and that is yourself. To steer away from that would be a disservice to the people listening and to yourself, too.’”

Providing fans with just the right amount of statistics, emotion and stories – and knowing when to be quiet – is a lot harder than it seems, explains Davis, who says he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a professional sports announcer. Growing up in a small town in Michigan (“There were 70 kids in my graduating class”), Davis was heavily influenced by his dad, Paul Davis, who was a Michigan High School Hall of Fame football coach. “I have always been around sports,” says the longtime Cubs fan. “Going to practices or playing football and baseball, it’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember.”

Davis attended Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he played football and announced its baseball games in football’s off-season. Later, he assumed play-by-play duties for men’s and women’s basketball on local radio and television. He graduated in 2010.

While his collegiate career introduced him to the craft, Davis credits the three years he spent broadcasting minor league baseball on the radio as the real educational foundation for his career. “Anyone who asks me advice on how to get into the business, I tell them to do minor league baseball,” he says. “There is no better way to call games on a low-pressure level where you can make those mistakes and find yourself. It takes time to be yourself on air because we all think we are supposed to sound a certain way — like Mr. Broadcaster. Over the course of three seasons there were 400 games, which meant 400 opportunities to get better.”

Davis broke into television with a 2012 ESPN gig at the ripe old age of 24. He served as announcer for college baseball, basketball, football, hockey and softball and also appeared in spot duty for Major League Baseball on ESPN radio. In 2014, he was tapped by Fox Sports for national coverage of college football and basketball, and he continues to pursue that while with the Dodgers.

These days, Davis is enjoying life as a Southern California resident as he pursues the never ending world of research and preparation for the next game. “There’s a saying that to prepare to call a baseball game, you prepare your entire life,” he says. “You draw on stories you read 10 years ago, things you learned from playing baseball as a kid or umpiring when I was in high school. When it’s in season, there is a game every day to watch and learn. I am reading all the time or picking up as much firsthand stuff as I can from the players, managers and coaches in the clubhouse or batting cages. The access that I have is something that people at home don’t have, so it’s my job to take the fans behind the curtain.”

Davis, his wife, Libby, and their 10-month-old daughter, Charlotte, have settled comfortably in the warmth of South Pasadena.

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There are regular strolls to Eddie Park, workouts at the South Pasadena/San Marino YMCA, breakfasts at Julian’s and maybe lunch at the Bristol Farms deli. The family picked the area because it had a Midwestern small-town feel to it — but with a big difference. “We walk every day and that’s something we definitely weren’t doing in the winters in Michigan,” Davis says with a laugh. He says he still has moments of disbelief that he landed the job and his new life in Southern California.

Says Davis: “Walking into the press box is an incredible office to walk into every day,” he says. “Yes, I’m still pinching myself.”

Taking the Medical Mountain to Mohammed

Glendale tested a pilot program bringing paramedics’ emergency care into people’s homes.

For seven years, paramedic Gil Mejia was accustomed to the fast-paced action of emergency care: the quick response, the swift assessment of a patient in need, the near-immediate transport to a hospital or care center. When offered a chance to spend more one-on-one quality time with patients — especially seniors — Mejia raised his hand in a flash.

“When you are responding to 911 calls, there is no time to be personable. We are trained to follow certain steps in certain situations,” says Mejia. The Glendale paramedic participated in a statewide pilot program last year that could change the landscape for emergency care by expanding from ambulances and hospitals into patients’ homes. “So many of the people I met over the year made me feel like part of their family, offering me coffee and lunch,” says Mejia. “They would tell me, ‘No one has ever spent this much time with me.’ They were very grateful for the program. It was a very humbling experience for me.”

Called “community paramedicine,” the program expands the role of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers to use their life-saving skills in deeper and more extensive interactions with the public. That could be especially helpful for seniors, invested in their own or a loved one’s medical care, who may have great difficulty getting to a hospital. Across the country, community paramedicine has been embraced by many states as a way to provide better care while avoiding boosting the already sky-high costs of insurance and hospitalizations. In 2014, the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians identified more than 100 community paramedicine services in the country. That number has grown to more than 260 today.

Working with other social-welfare providers, community paramedics can target a variety of health issues; they can help “repeat callers” with chronic conditions that prompt them to dial 911 time and time again, avoiding visits to the already crowded (and pricey) emergency room. Projects elsewhere in California focus on alternative destinations, with paramedics transporting patients to locations other than hospital ERs, such as urgent care clinics, behavioral health facilities or sobering centers.

These new projects allow California to dip its collective toes in the water, testing how a new approach by paramedics would work in the state’s diverse communities, from densely urban to vastly rural. “There is a national movement to transition to expand the role of EMS providers,” says Harold Backer, director of the state Emergency Medical Services Authority. “California is not in the forefront, since we have more restrictive status for paramedics that limit the scope of their work to the scene of the emergency, in transit and at the hospital. But we have outlets to test new roles, and that’s what these pilot projects are all about.”

California’s pilot programs (funded with individual cities’ budgets) have varied in focus, but the goal has been the same: Dispatch paramedics – those friendly, welcoming faces – to prevent a medical crisis rather than respond to one. “Think about it,” says Backer. “Paramedics are perfectly suited to bridge the gap. They go everywhere, are on 24/7 and are trained to deal with anyone – homeless people, substance abusers, etc. It makes sense to use them and their expertise and have them collaborating with existing services.”

California pilot programs ran the gamut from targeting frequent 911 callers and offering alternative destinations to collaborating with hospice nurses for home care and working with public health officials to help monitor tuberculous patients. “Community paramedicine may be a more effective use of our time and resources,” says Glendale Fire Chief Greg Fish. In 2016, his department received 19,446 calls, of which about 86 percent were medical in nature, Fish says, adding, “This idea also lets the patients hold their own health in their hands – and we are there to coach them along.”

The City of Glendale sponsored two pilot projects that ran from September 2015 to September 2016. The one involving alternative destinations enrolled only 12 patients; officials suspect the paperwork load turned off more potential participants. The other project, however, was more successful, enrolling 154 patients with congestive heart failure for home follow-up care after their discharge from Glendale Adventist Hospital. Since these patients typically have high readmission rates, paramedics like Mejia made home visits within three days of the patient’s discharge to make sure they were following doctors’ recommendations and that their lifestyle and home environment were fostering recovery. Follow-up care after congestive heart failure is critical, says Mejia, adding that after a hospital stay, people are often confused and/or weak and “don’t  take their medications properly, don’t make follow-up appointments or revert back to unhealthy eating habits. Some don’t have the support system they need at home to help them make the changes they need to make.”

Mejia first met the patients – most between 70 and 78 years old – in the hospital, told them about the program and got their consent to participate. He spent time visiting them in the hospital, so when they met later in patients’ homes, he would be a familiar face. Bilingual in Spanish and English, Mejia also had an Armenian translator with him when necessary.

His home visits were a stark contrast to his typical emergency response workload. Instead of rushing against the clock, Mejia would spend on average two hours at patients’ homes. “Each patient had a different set of needs and you had to tailor your visits to their needs and their mental stability,” he says.

Mejia monitored vital signs and checked for any possible complications that might require a return trip to either doctor or hospital. He examined the discharge papers, making sure the patient had the correct prescriptions and doses; if not, he made arrangements with the local pharmacy, doctor and insurance company. And he organized the medications (“That was always a huge endeavor”), and confirmed that patients had not only scheduled their follow-up doctor visit but, if necessary, arranged transportation. Mejia also assessed patients’ physical environments: Could they easily get around? Do they have a family to support them? Do they live alone? Is there a neighbor who helps out? Regular home health-care visit? What’s in their kitchen? Are they eating the right kinds of food?

“I would show them how to read a label, especially pointing out sodium levels,” says Mejia. “A lot of them were surprised to realize what they were eating had a lot of sodium in it. As with their medication, once you explained what each one did physically for them, you could see the light bulb go off when they made a connection. Doctors often don’t have time to get down to the details with patients.”

This kind of personalized attention to detail is what will make paramedicine even more effective, says Sandra Shewry of the California Health Care Foundation, which funded the final evaluations of California’s pilot projects. “I think this is the next wave of the future,” she says. “The secret sauce here is using trusted health professionals, especially when seniors want to stay longer in their own homes these days.”

UC San Francisco researchers’ evaluations of last year’s projects show promising successes; the data is expected to be used to develop two state bills, currently in their early stages, that would expand the kinds of services paramedics may provide. Both AB 820, introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson), and AB 1650, proposed by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego), are what are known as “spot bills” – they indicate the author’s interest and intent to make a proposal on a topic but do not contain all the details.

Maienschein explains why community paramedicine could be an important advance, especially when it comes to seniors’ health. “AB 1650 will help increase access to care, while also reducing the overall cost of healthcare — two issues that especially affect the senior population,” he says. “By preventing excess trips to the emergency room and pairing patients with a health care advocate, community paramedicine will protect and promote the well-being of seniors throughout the community.”

But not everyone agrees: Legislators may face pushback from medical organizations that have historically objected to community paramedicine expansion, arguing it may be detrimental to patient care. “We oppose expanding the role of paramedics beyond their current scope of practice because it potentially endangers public health,” says Don Nielsen, Government Relations Director of the California Nurses Association. “The pilot projects for community paramedicine were unnecessary public health experiments that allowed paramedics to undertake care currently performed by physicians, RNs and social workers, without the additional training to acquire the level of expertise and skill needed.”

Elena Lopez-Gusman, executive director of the California Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians (CALACEP), says she doesn’t object to paramedics offering services to patients in their homes soon after they’re released from the hospital. “That’s additional care and we aren’t opposed to that,” she says. “But we look at risk assessment and the concept of taking those with mental illness or who are chronically inebriated to facilities other than an ER. They deserve the same care as other patients and shouldn’t be singled out.”

Most medical groups will not take a definitive position – pro or con – until the bills’ details are in print, probably this summer.

Paramedicine for civilians is actually a relatively new idea. Emergency medical services originated in war; in ancient Rome, aging centurions were tasked with removing the wounded from the battlefield and tending to them. Fast forward to the makeshift field hospitals of the Civil War, where triage was introduced; likewise, helicopters (medivacs) were used in World War II and the Korean War to evacuate injured soldiers.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that mobile medical care was provided to the general public; initially, nurses accompanied other medical professionals in the field. Following the passage of the Wedsworth-Townsend Act in 1970, Los Angeles County and City established the country’s first paramedic programs, followed by cities, states and countries around the world.

The concept got a big boost from the fictional 1970s television series Emergency! which followed paramedics on the job in L.A. County. When the show first aired in 1972 there were only six paramedic units operating in three pilot programs; by the time the show ended in 1979, paramedical teams operated in all 50 states.

These days, paramedicine may be poised for a new paradigm shift – and paramedics like Mejia are eagerly awaiting their prospective new duties. “I see the need and how we can make a difference for our patients, many who are senior citizens,” he says. Mejia shares the story of one home visit with a patient who needed to vent considerable frustration for about 20 minutes before getting down to business. “He knew I wasn’t there for that, but he looked me in the eye afterward and said, ‘Thank you for listening. You took the time to hear me and I appreciate it.’ That to me says it all.”

Dotson and Tennessee

Dotson Rader’s play about close friend Tennessee Williams has its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse, with Al Pacino starring as the brilliant, tormented playwright.

To kick off its new development program, PlayWorks, the Pasadena Playhouse is setting the bar high with its inaugural production of Dotson Rader’s God Looked Away, starring Oscar- and Tony-winner Al Pacino. The acclaimed actor portrays Southern playwright Tennessee Williams in a turbulent period of his life, following years of fame sparked by the critical success of The Glass Menagerie in 1944 and a string of other plays now part of the American theatrical lexicon: A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on A Hot Tin Roof (1955), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959) and more.

Joining Pacino on the boards is Judith Light (Transparent), a two-time Tony-winner, as Williams’ close friend Estelle, and Miles Gaston Villanueva (Jane the Virgin) as Baby. Directed by Robert Allen Ackerman, the production runs until March 19.

Williams’ work is no stranger to The Pasadena Playhouse, which served as the backdrop for three of his world premieres in the 1940s: You Touched Me in 1943 (co-written with Donald Windham), The Purification (1944) and Stairs to the Roof in 1947. More than 20 years later, writer and novelist Rader befriended Williams and later wrote a memoir about their close friendship: Tennessee, Cry of the Heart (1982). Both were gay men — never romantically linked — from different eras, who bonded at a time when taboos against homosexuality were beginning to be challenged in America.

Rader started writing a play about Williams after the playwright’s death in 1983 but later shelved it. He resurrected the project about a year ago, workshopping the play with Pacino. who, according to Rader, has uncannily captured Williams’ humor, pride and stubbornness as well as his unyielding defense of people living on the fringes of society.

Arroyo Monthly: You’ve written fiction, nonfiction and even a memoir about Tennessee. Why write a play, something you’ve never done?

Dotson Rader: Well, he was a playwright! I started working on this six months after he died because I was afraid of losing him. I’m aware that memory corrodes and memory revises itself and memory becomes unreliable. I wanted to get it all down. I also started to see things being written about him that were just not true and they were sanitizing his life. This happens all the time. They were making him acceptable — and part of his brilliance was his willingness to write about things that were unacceptable, about the outcasts and the broken, the disconsolate, the rejected of life, the wretched — all qualities that, in ways, you could apply to him.

This is the first play in the PlayWorks program. What are you looking forward to?

The live audience is like a second writer on the project. We are trying to get this play where it needs to be. We’ve had table readings, roundtables and workshops, but when you put it in front of a live audience, you see things so differently. You sense when the audience is getting restless or bored. Things you thought would bring a laugh don’t. Things you thought would get a little twitter get a big laugh. You gradually learn what works. Every other kind of writing, you’re dealing with a magazine editor, a movie director or other editors and that is really an audience of one. But not with a live audience…It’s exciting.

How has it been to see your words leap from the page to the mouths of actors?

Tennessee was difficult, we had arguments, but we loved each other. It’s like Lionel Trilling’s line about a marriage, “So often the very thing that makes a marriage unbearable, makes it unbreakable.” We were friends for 14 years, and I can only say this about a handful of people: not once, ever, was I bored. He was very self-dramatic, but he was so alive. And Pacino brings that vividness of Tennessee to life.

We had our first reading with Al about a year ago and I sat there listening to the actors read and I don’t know how the hell he does it, but Al caught the cadence of the way Tennessee talked. I could close my eyes and I could hear Tennessee.

Tell us why you chose this particular point in the playwright’s life.

The play takes place in 1981 and in the present. The play opens like Menagerie with a monologue by Baby, the narrator. All you’ll see on the stage are Baby’s memories of Tennessee, because that is all that exists now, because Tennessee is dead and everyone is gone. It’s over. Finished. These events take place so long ago and Baby is the survivor, like Tom in Menagerie. The play, his memory, is colored by his own feelings, as memory is.

I picked this point in Tennessee’s life because that is when the final bell rang. I don’t want to say too much, but this was a critical point in his life, this one weekend in Chicago, the weekend of his last play. Chicago is where fame found him, it’s where Menagerie opened; he had been a bit of a failed writer until then; his first play, Battle of Angels, flopped terribly. Suddenly Menagerie became this incredible phenomenon. Chicago is where success found him — only now, success is gone. And he’s back in Chicago hoping it will happen again.

A lot of what you’ll hear Tennessee say, he said in real life. Everyone is based on real people and I could tell you who they are, but I’m not going to. (Laughs.) You’ll see!

Why is God looking away?

The play will tell you that.

Like many artists, Williams was keenly creative but he also fought many inner demons, especially later in his life — alcoholism, drug addiction, abusive personal relationships. How do you make these moments a serious examination of life, loss and character on stage, instead of just a presentation of sensational events?

What’s in the play is in the play because it is true. These things are here because there is a theatrical reason for it, because it serves the drama. Look at this way: You’ve been married to someone for a long time and you have two hours to tell people what that person was like — so you edit his life, you pick out what is most representative of what it was like being with this person. While the play covers a weekend, that weekend becomes representational. The audience has to leave understanding why and where he was and why the play ended the way it did. The play is about the stripping away — everyone on the stage is stripping away, pulling off masks. As the play goes on, people reveal themselves as who they actually are. Things that don’t seem at all remarkable or sensationalistic to me, others may find discomforting. But truth is discomforting. I don’t want to be part of the coterie of sycophants and academics who sanitize the lives of public figures. Theater is a safe place where you can hear the truth — even when it is uncomfortable. (Pause) Maybe what you see on stage is the price he had to pay to give us the beauty he created.

What do you want the new generation of theatergoers to understand about Tennessee Williams, the man?

The play begins in the present and we step into the past, on that cusp of history just after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan; 1981 is the end of the ’60s and ’70s. It’s the end of that period of freedom, of social experimentation, of when people didn’t know that drugs were bad, of sex being wide open — that incredible period comparable to France and Weimar Germany in the 1920s. When every question was open, every possibility presented itself, when all restraints were gone.

It was also the period right before the beginning of AIDS and the beginning of terror. We started to realize that something was happening. We were losing friends and it suddenly begins to dawn on us the price we have paid for personal freedom. It’s a period in American social and artistic history that isn’t going to happen again. Not only in terms of Tennessee’s career — it’s about the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another in American history.

I think young people will like the play because it deals with freedom and a world without fear, unlike what they know now.

Is the play hopeful?

The play is true.

What would Williams think about the social media culture of 2017? Would he tweet?

Tennessee used a manual typewriter until he died. He didn’t like electric typewriters. If he were here today, he’d still be on Key West typing on his old Royal manual typewriter.

What do you miss most about Tennessee?

Of all the people I’ve known in my life, he had the most real presence. He was so completely aware of life and where people were around him. And he was sensitive to them. That’s what I miss the most. He had intense sympathy for the losers in life, for the marginalized, for the people who were beaten before they even began.

He had great contempt for the money people. The only problems he ever had with his plays, and what ultimately undid him, was with the money people. “Oh, you can’t write that! The matinee crowd won’t go for that!!!” He knew he needed them, but he often thought, “If you had so much money, can’t you make the world hurt a little less?” He got involved in the anti-war movement and protests with me and he was always baffled by the problems that could be fixed with just a little bit of money.

Tennessee, I don’t mean to speak for him, but you can see it in his plays, saw the immorality of money people who don’t put money into things that matter — like art, writers and the truth — but who spend only on themselves. He quoted Andrew Carnegie, “A man who dies rich, dies disgraced.” Tennessee saw his own talent and many gifts — he was a Christian, you see — from God as challenges to see if we can use them for good. Tennessee used his gifts the best way he knew how, on behalf of the people who had no voice.

God Looked Away runs through March 19 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. The curtain rises at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tuesday performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Feb. 14 and 28. Ticket prices range from $126 to $206. Call (626) 356-7529 or visit pasadenaplayhouse.org.

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