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Ann Conway

It's Been Quite a Ride for SCR Founders

September 20, 1993|Ann Conway

Two giddy gentlemen in black tie and a 1960 Studebaker Lark station wagon took center stage Saturday night at the "30th Dimension Gala" celebrating South Coast Repertory's three decades.

SCR's co-artistic directors Martin Benson and David Emmes--who are usually behind the scenes--mingled with 500 guests in the Plaza Tower courtyard in Costa Mesa before they walked with party-goers, grand procession-style, to the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel. The Lark led the way.

"A wagon like that was really our first theater," explained Emmes. "We lugged our scenery, costumes and props in it--played the Ebell Hall on Balboa Boulevard, the old Laguna Playhouse, Orange Coast College and the rec rooms of some condo projects until we were able to secure the 75-seat spot in Cannery Village that became our Second Step Theatre."

Said Benson: "I can remember the nerves we had when we first approached Ebell Hall. . . . We ran in front of the audience and erected the set, flipped open the trunk and threw our costumes over rehearsal clothes and did 'Tartuffe,' a French comedy. It was wild."

Neither of them dreamed that one day they would celebrate 30 years of theater-making at a sold-out gala raising more than $200,000. (Proceeds will be applied to SCR's new, two-year $7-million fund-raising effort, announced Tom Sutton, president of the theater's board of trustees.)

"Thirty years ago we thought all we needed to do was get some actors, put on a play and everything would happen," said Emmes. "But what we're seeing tonight is that you need artists with vision and a community to embrace it."

"Community" was the buzzword at the black-tie gala that annually launches Orange County's social season.

Renee Segerstrom, honorary gala chairman with her husband, Henry Segerstrom, said it when she thanked guests for their support.

Ditto gala chairwoman Dee Higby--stunning in a multihued ball gown--when she announced the evening's proceeds.

SCR board member Phil Martin said it when, during a dinner of veal medallions on apple compote, he noted that his involvement with SCR was born out being impressed by the "commitment of the community."

Former UCI Chancellor Jack Peltason said it when he talked about the SCR gala being the first event that showed him, years ago, "the enthusiasm of the Orange County community."

Festivities began with cocktails and appetizers served up al fresco in the Plaza Tower courtyard.

On view: a raised stage bubbling with entertainment that included themes from the past three decades--aerobic dancing, a disco exhibition, even some Terpsichore with Hula Hoops.

Upon entering the ballroom--as the John Gilmore Orchestra played "Stand by Me"--guests oohed and aahed when they saw that the walls were decorated with tapestry-like theater scenes cast by 12 slide projectors (artfully hidden above the doorways and ceiling lights).

Hot yellow--signifying SCR's bright future--was the predominant color used in the party decor. Silky yellow tie-backs framed each wall scene. Yellow ribbon streamers tickled guests' faces as they entered through ballroom doors. Yellow orchids sprouted from the centerpieces. And of course, there was a lemon-yellow confection dished up for dessert (along with berries and a scoop of double-chocolate ice cream).

No sooner had guests dug into their grilled scallops with truffle and yellow pepper oil than the entertainment began. First, the Kids' Exclusive Variety Troupe. And then, during the salad and dinner courses, performances by Hayward the Astronaut (a pantomime so compelling it had guests holding their forks in midair) and music by Maheha.

Looking toward the future, Emmes confided that SCR "would continue to grow, deepen its work and meet the great challenges and opportunities before us."

Benson put it this way: "We just want to get better and better--make SCR absolutely the best theater company in the United States of America."

Also among guests: Larry Higby, Arden Flamson, Cliff Faulkner, Jim and Patty Edwards, Olivia and Andrew Johnson, George and Judie Argyros, Gail and Ron Soderling, Byron and Ronnie Allumbaugh, Al and Deeann Baldwin, Catherine MacLarand, Fernando and Olga Niebla, Bernice and James Edwards, Mary Earle McCraw, Ken and Lydia Himes, Marty and Julia Sunde, Laurel Wilkening, Dick and Jolene Engel, and SCR actors Richard Doyle and Don Took.

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