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South Coast Rep on Its Way to Funding $40-Million Plan

Theater * Campaign to raise money for a new 336-seat hall and other programs hits the halfway mark.


South Coast Repertory has raised more than half of the $40 million needed--$22.6 million--to add a third, 336-seat hall, expand its new play development and greatly boost its endowment fund, officials said Tuesday.

The fund-raising campaign's success will "fulfill the artistic potential of SCR . . . to the community as well as making a lasting contribution to the American theater," producing artistic director David Emmes said at a news conference at the Costa Mesa theater.

Plans call for opening the new theater, to be designed by architect Cesar Pelli, during fall 2002. It will complement the existing 507-seat Mainstage and supplant the existing 161-seat Second Stage. While often a launching pad for new plays, the Second Stage is a flawed space with limited production values and obstructed sight lines. It will be converted into a 99-seat house that would be used as a workshop for developing new plays as well as a performance space for South Coast's youth theater and instructional programs.

The bricks-and-mortar portion of the campaign calls for $19 million for a three-story building housing the new theater and offices. An additional $11 million will go to boost the endowment from $15 million to $26 million, and $10 million is being raised to help the theater meet its current operating budgets while the expansion effort goes forward.

A large chunk of the money comes from top executives of companies involved in the advancement of virtual reality.

Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry T. Nicholas III and his wife, Stacey, have given $2.5 million; Paul Folino, president and chief executive of Emulex Corp., donated $2.5 million.

Nicholas, who said he and his wife were stunned by the quality of SCR productions upon moving to Orange County five years ago, sees synergy between the theater--which leaders often lament appeals mainly to increasingly graying audiences--and the Internet world, which is thought to be creating a new breed of consumer and arts aficionado.

The Internet and its television tie-ins will spread what's being done in the theater, Nicholas said in an interview; the enchantment of theater will do the rest.

"Anyone who sees a play [electronically] and finds that compelling, the next thing they're going to want to do is see it live, because there is no substitute for a live production," Nicholas said.

Folino's gift is geared largely toward education and outreach programs aimed at cultivating younger audiences. The campaign includes a "youth initiative" of three youth-oriented plays a year, many of them new commissioned works from major, established playwrights. SCR also aims to boost its annual budget for adult-play commissions from about $180,000 to about $230,000; Emmes said that commissions that now amount to about $10,000 to $15,000 per play could rise to $20,000 to $25,000 in the case of major playwrights.

Henry T. Segerstrom, Orange County's leading arts donor, has given the land for the project, along with $1 million from his family's foundation. The existing Mainstage theater, which will be refurbished as part of the capital campaign, will be renamed the Segerstrom Theatre. The existing Second Stage will become the Nicholas Studio Theatre. Folino, SCR board president, said that a large naming gift has been secured for the new theater, but the donor doesn't want it announced until next year.

Emmes said that the Mainstage and Second Stage seasons will be curtailed by one show each during 2001-02 and 2002-03 to allow time for construction and renovations.

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