James Reynolds and Lissa Layng Reynolds – Fremont Centre Theatre Founders Share Story

Fremont Centre Theatre founders share their history and passion for live theatre at South Pasadena Rotary

PHOTO: Alisa Hayashida | SouthPasadenan.com | James Reynolds and Lissa Layng Reynolds with Rotary President Daniel Watson with the book they signed which will be donated to the South Pasadena Library in their name.

Is there anyone in town who hasn’t been touched by Lissa and James Reynolds? For the uninitiated, they are the dynamic duo, actor/producer, advocate and activist couple who founded the beautiful Fremont Centre Theatre 20 years ago. The Fremont Centre theatre is one of our historical treasures in South Pasadena and the Reynolds have been stalwart caretakers and fantastic promoters of the space and the arts for the past two decades. Located at 1000 Fremont Avenue, the space, in addition to the theatre and charming courtyard, includes the beloved Fiore Market Café and over 20 businesses.

After beginning as the sole speaker, Lissa surprised her husband by inviting him up to make it more of a conversation rather than a speech, much to the delight of the Rotary members. The two play off one another like Stella and Meara or Burns and Allen, bringing everyone in the room along for the ride. When they opened the theatre 20 years ago, Lissa recalls thinking, “I hope we can make it through a whole year!” She says she is astonished and grateful as they celebrate the Fremont Centre Theatre’s 20th anniversary.

PHOTO: SouthPasadenan.com | Emmy Award Winning Actor James Reynolds pictured with wife Lissa Layng Reynolds in the courtyard of Fremont Center Theatre

Through the years they have mounted countless productions including a six month run of A Woman of Independent Means which Lissa starred in and eventually took on a national tour for several years. They were asked their favorite production of all and both felt that National Pastime was special on so many levels not the least of which was that it starred their son, Jed Reynolds, along with Ted Lange and other stellar actors. Lissa also loved that it was the story of Pasadenan Jackie Robinson and that his family became fixtures at the shows for the entire six month run. Said James, “Mark Langill and the Dodgers were very supportive and we had several of the players come and do talkbacks. We’ve done a lot of special pieces but National Pastime accomplished what we try to do which is to put together pieces that are original and emotional in many ways.” The play went on to be published with Fremont Centre Theatre as its first production as well as have a full Equity run.

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The Fremont Centre Theatre continues to be a vibrant venue for touring companies as well as a music venue for SPARC and other community events while serving as the home of resident youth theatre company, Young Stars Theatre. The Reynolds are thrilled to provide a place for young, budding thespians to learn and thrive. “We adore them!” says Lissa, “their mission is doing theatre for kids, by kids. If you notice theatre audiences are getting “grayer and grayer” so the fact that we have a company that is working with kids to get a new generation interested in live theatre just warms my heart.” She went on to say, “it’s amazing to see young kids in the audience and for some it’s their first experience seeing live theatre. And it’s here at Fremont Centre Theatre.”

Echoing that sentiment, James said, “Jack and Gloria (directors of YST) are lovely people and we are fortunate to have Young Stars Theatre as our resident company. It was important for us to keep Fremont Centre Theatre’s presence in South Pasadena and make sure we had a place to produce shows.”

PHOTO: SouthPasadenan.com | Lissa Reynolds signs library book with husband James Reynolds looking on

At one point, the Reynolds produced six shows a year and it has been a labor of love through the past 20 years and they say that more is certainly to come. They cite the new Equity rules regarding small theatres as one of the reasons it has become increasingly difficult for small theatres to produce shows. But it’s not all doom and gloom says James, “theatre is very alive and going strong. Hamilton is an example of that; it’s always changing, it’s always evolving. The audience finds it and gets excited by it. So we’re very excited about the future of theatre and excited about Fremont Centre Theatre.”

The message was clear; support local theatre! James closed by saying, “one the advantage is that you get to see wonderful playwrights, wonderful directors, actors. I’ve always said that we sit in the middle of the Saudi Arabia of talent. We’ve got talent bubbling up from the ground in Southern California and it’s extraordinary so I urge you to support small theatres.”

The South Pasadena Rotary Club meets every Tuesday at noon in the Tower Room at the Oneonta Congregational Church except for the first Tuesday of the month.  That meeting is social gathering held at the Canoe House at 6 pm. Guests are invited to attend all Rotary meetings.