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Irvine Barclay Has 10 Seasons to Celebrate

Its President Says 3-Way Partnership Is Helping Theater Fulfill Its Mission


When the Irvine Barclay Theatre celebrates its 10th anniversary Oct. 7, people won't be heading to the theater for the festivities. Instead, they'll go to Irvine's Civic Center Plaza.

"I wanted to have a party as opposed to a formal performance, which requires your fixed attention," theater president Douglas Rankin said in a recent phone interview.

"There will be two flamenco companies. There will be strolling musicians. There will be food and drink. It will be an interesting and a fun evening."

There's actually another good reason for the Irvine site.

The city is a key player in the 750-seat facility, which was established as a three-way partnership with the city, UC Irvine and an independent operating company.

"The public-private partnership was just a theory back then," Rankin said. "It's been proven to work."

The mission was to present professional cultural events that the community otherwise might not get, to provide a community-access venue and to service UCI's educational and institutional needs.

"We've gone a long way toward fulfilling that mission, and we have a long way to go," Rankin said.

But it has taken some agility and diplomacy to balance the demands of the three key players.

"Eternal vigilance is as good an expression as any to describe it," Rankin said. "The partnership is extremely dynamic, always eternally in competition with itself. That's just the way it's going to be and ought to be."

The $17.6-million facility was named after Newport Beach developer Richard H. Barclay and his wife, Marjorie, who pledged $1 million, the largest private contribution, to its building. The hall itself was named in honor of Montebello ophthalmologist George Cheng and his wife, Arlene, who donated $750,000.

The Barclay is coming up on its 2,000th performance. The theater company has presented about 400 of the events; UCI, about 270, and various Irvine community groups, the remainder.

You could have been its 1 millionth patron if you had gone to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band concert there in July.

If you've been interested in serious contemporary dance, the Barclay has been the place to be since 1992, when the theater initiated its "Feet First" series.

And if you were interested in world cultures, the Barclay has been your destination since 1995, when it created the "World Stages" series in conjunction with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

"We're proud of our achievements," Rankin said.

Next year, the theater will inaugurate an eight- to 10-day international flamenco festival. At least three major companies will be included, including one headed by San Francisco-based flamenco artist Yaelisa, who is also coordinating the Barclay's 10th anniversary party, "Barclay Ole."

"Our hope is that the festival shows promise to become an annual event," Rankin said. "The ultimate hope is that it becomes a San Francisco and Orange County event."

For the first year, however, there is no San Francisco component.

All this has been done on an annual budget of about $3 million. Ticket sales cover only a portion of the cost of presenting the artists, but Rankin had been able to gather subsidies to make up the difference.

He's now seeking funds to match a recent $500,000 challenge grant to build program support and to increase the theater's endowment fund, which currently stands at about $1 million.

To oversee this new phase of growth, Richard G. Sim, group president of Irvine Investment Properties, will return as board chairman in October. Sim was founding chairman from 1986 to 1990 and had hired Rankin.

"Without him, and a few others, the theater would never have been built," Rankin said.

Two other projects are imminent:

* The theater will soon be installing a new carpet, designed after Picasso motifs by Lisa Slayman Designs in Laguna Beach. (The carpet is now being woven in Scotland.)

* The theater will complete the Jade Room (a private facility next to the theater lobby to be used for hosting guest artists and official business) later in the year.

A future goal is to build a black-box theater that would accommodate 150 to 200. At the rear of the theater, next to the parking lot, the black box "would provide the only rehearsal space as large as the main playing area of the main stage," Rankin said.

"We could rehearse things there without taking up the main stage. Also, as small as a 750-seat theater seems to some people, it's still very big when it comes to other kinds of art and entertainment, which we can have lot of fun at. This will be a smaller, more versatile space and still be a high-quality place to work in."

No date for its completion has been set.

"It's still on the back burner," Rankin said. 'But we'll move it up to the front burner as other projects get finished."

Interestingly, the Orange County Performing Arts Center has undergone three changes in management since it opened in 1986, but leadership at the Barclay has remained stable. Rankin came on board four years before the theater actually opened, after spending a decade at the Woodstock Opera House in Illinois. And he's still there.

"I enjoy what I do and I enjoy where I'm doing it," he said. "And the evolution of the theater, the audience, this mission and role in the community has been engaging."

Any disappointments?

"Being the impatient guy I am, I'm only disappointed at how long it has taken. But it's only been 10 years."


Chris Pasles can be reached at (714) 966-5602 or by e-mail at

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