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A Peek Behind the Curtain

Performing Arts Center to Offer Insiders' Tours


COSTA MESA — A lone, glowing ghost light and a tangle of black cables occupy center stage. The sound of heavy equipment being rolled across a concrete floor rises from the scene shop out back. In the wings, a piano tuner repeatedly sends a note flying over the empty seats.

This is Segerstrom Hall undressed--a rare sight for most visitors to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, but this weekend a main attraction as part of the 10th Birthday Party and Open House.

Designed to share what one organizer called "a typical working day at the center," this weekend's event will allow guests to peer into dressing rooms, watch makeup artists at work, see dancers stretch at rehearsal room barres and listen to musicians tame new passages.

"The point is to let people explore our home, see what goes on here and feel comfortable," explained OCPAC's manager of education, Troy Botello, who brought together more than 700 artists to take part in the free event.

"The performances they'll see will be more like works in progress than finished products," continued Botello. "We're asking artists to do open rehearsals, warm-ups . . . things they would do to prepare for a performance. We think it will give people a real feeling of what goes on in the creative process."

You may want to dress comfortably yourself, because you can join in the process, Botello added. On Sunday, Coast Ballet Theater dancers will invite guests to join them in warm-ups and exercises, and distinguished choreographer Lola Montes will conduct an open master class in Early California and Spanish Dance with members of her troupe.

The list of performers for the weekend is huge. It includes ethnic groups such as the Arte Flamenco Dance Theater; Russian music, storytelling and mime troupe the Troyans; the Ramya Harishankar dancers of India, and the AbalayeAfrican Dance Ensemble. Ballet Pacifica dancers will rehearse their new "Bridge to Angel Island," which will tour schools in the fall, and members of South Coast Repertory's Young Conservatory will present a staged reading of a student-written play.

Maestro Cat, the center's new mascot, will also take his first bows there. The 6-foot-tall, tux-clad feline will greet guests in the carriage circle and pop up backstage (perhaps on the catwalks?) both days.

Other personalities you may encounter include Pacific Symphony conductor Carl St.Clair and PSO composer Frank Ticheli, who will take part in informal Q&A sessions. You might also listen in on rehearsals of Opera Pacific's Overture Company or the William Hall Master Chorale. To control the anticipated heavy traffic, free backstage passes with specific tour times are being issued through the center's box office. Allow about an hour for the backstage tour, and expect to view areas that are rarely seen by the general public, said patron manager Christine Upham. Docents will be stationed along the way to answer questions.

If you're the star-struck type, you may enjoy hanging around the five-star dressing rooms. Although most artists aren't particular which one they use, Upham confided that singer Robert Goulet prefers room E because "it's easy to get to the star lounge," a modestly sized room outfitted with a small fridge and couches.

Tours will also take you into Segerstrom Hall's main stage area, the sceneshop, chorus dressing rooms and the wardrobe department (laundry-weary parents may get the willies in this place; it's dominated by a bank of industrial-strength washers and dryers).

In the upstairs rehearsal rooms, you can take in an exhibit of performing arts-themed works or watch performers such as the Philharmonic Society's Woodwinds Galore or Latin American harpist Alfredo Rolando at work. And if you're not afraid of heights, you can stand on a platform at the outer edge of the Founders Hall catwalk and look down on the artists at work there.

Family-themed entertainment awaits on the back lot, which will be decorated in birthday party pastels for the occasion. While noshing on free birthday cake and lemonade, guests can wind up their visit with performances by We Tell Stories and other storytellers, living history actors, and shows by Puppets and Players Little Theater and Jim Gamble Puppets.

Oh, and there will be party favors, too: Every guest goes home with a commemorative water bottle.


* What: Orange County Performing Arts Center 10th Birthday Party and Open House.

* When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

* Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

* Whereabouts: Exit the San Diego (405) Freeway at Bristol Street; go north. Turn right onto Town Center Drive.

* Wherewithal: Free admission. Parking is free in structure on Park Center Drive between Sunflower and Town Center, and in lot at corner of Anton and Avenue of the Arts. Free "backstage passes" are available at the OCPAC box office.

* Where to call: (714) 556-2122, Ext. 535.

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