South Coast Repertory turns 25 this year. In this and the following stories, the people who have been intergral to SCR's success talk about the once-struggling company that became a Tony winner. In los Angeles Times Magazine today, theere is a Q&A with founding directors Martin Benson and David Emmes, and a list of the upcoming productions this season.
Ann Mound remembers the first time she saw a South Coast Repertory Theatre production, in the converted Costa Mesa dime store known as the Third Step theater. The year was 1969.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday September 5, 1988 Orange County Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 12 Column 4 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Because of a pasteup error, captions under photographs of Bobbie Stabler and Ann Mound in Sunday Calendar were reversed. The photos and captions should have run as they are at left.
PHOTO: Bobbie Stabler
PHOTO: Ann Mound
"We went to see 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,' " Mound says, "and there were more people on the stage than there were in the audience."
Pregnant with her second child, the longtime Costa Mesa resident was finding it harder to travel to Los Angeles to indulge her passion for the theater. "We went to all these little community theaters in Orange County," trying to find one they liked. "Then we went to SCR and fell in love with it immediately." Mound has been a subscriber ever since. "I can remember always leaving that little theater with my hands hurting, because I clapped so hard to make sure that they knew we appreciated them."
Robert and Dolores Covey of Irvine go back even further than Mound, to the days when the embryonic SCR toured Southern California out of the back of a station wagon. The couple caught SCR's production of "Tartuffe" in 1964, when it played the Moulton Playhouse in Laguna Beach.
Then, in 1965, the Coveys saw the inaugural show at the troupe's first permanent home, the 75-seat Second Step theater, in director David Emmes' father's former marine hardware store in Newport Beach's cannery village.
"The very first production of the season was 'Waiting for Godot,' Beckett's play, and that was something very new and different for us," Robert Covey recalls. "We walked into the theater, it's dark, and there are two men sitting on the floor just kind of muttering to themselves."
Although initially "mystified by the goings-on," Covey says he loved the play and even remembers the cast: Don Took, Jack Davis--and SCR director Martin Benson. "I don't believe Martin Benson ever played on the stage again after that," says Covey, "and I over the years have kept teasing him, asking him when he was going to go on the boards again."
The Coveys had just moved from Santa Barbara in 1964. They were surprised to find an Orange County theater offering such an eclectic mix of classics and challenging modern plays.
"All the little community theaters offer the Neil Simon and the light comedy-type things to lure patrons in and fill up the theater," Robert Covey notes. "I think, more or less, anyone can do that. I was pleased that we had a chance to see something other than just plain, ordinary popular plays."
Bobbie Stabler of Newport Beach is another veteran subscriber from SCR's early days. She remembers the Second Step theater as musty and small ("Intimate, they would say now," she says, "(but) actually it was just claustrophobic") and the plays as esoteric.
"It was sparse staging, which for the kinds of plays they did was all right. But that original company, a lot of which is still there, was always professional. I mean, you never had the feeling you were in an amateur (theater), even though they were so young."
She didn't consider everything a success, though. "Sometimes it didn't work; sometimes it was so obtuse you couldn't understand it. It's been a joke with people who know us," she adds, "but my husband used to sometimes get bored and he'd wander down to the Stuffed T-Shirt," a local restaurant.
"To a lot of us it was a whole new world. I sat there because I thought I should, but sometimes he wasn't as generous."
Stabler, who became a member of SCR's first board of trustees in the early '70s, says directors Benson and Emmes often were pressured to include more popular plays in their repertory.
"From the beginning of time, there would be waves of people saying you have to do something more commercial in order for the theater to sustain itself," she says. But Emmes and Benson "kept with their intent, which was to bring this milieu of theater to Orange County."
Ann Mound, who became a founder of the SCR support guilds --and one of the theater's top volunteers--often felt the heat when a controversial or unpopular production was offered.
"I'd get stopped in the grocery store from time to time because people were aggravated that they didn't like the play," she says. "It got to the point, for a few years there, where \o7 I\f7 really couldn't enjoy the plays: I was so busy looking around and seeing if other people enjoyed them that I couldn't enjoy them myself. But I'm over that."
The early years of struggle make the theater's current success and national recognition all the more gratifying to Mound. "It's been tremendously personally satisfying," she says. "It's like working for a winning political candidate who turns out to be honest and good. It makes me feel like saying, 'See? I was right!'
"It was so gratifying to see David and Martin win that award," she added, speaking of the Tony that was awarded to the company this year. "It's well-deserved--but I don't think long overdue. We've been here 25 years, and it's just the right time. It's not overdue, it's not underdue. It's just right."