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A new look for the Old Globe in San Diego

The venue is ready to unveil its $22-million theater and education complex.

December 05, 2009|By Anne Marie Welsh
  • The facility contains the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, a 250-seat venue in which no seat is more than 12 feet from the stage. The Old Globe turns 75 in 2010.
The facility contains the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, a 250-seat venue… (Jeffrey Weiser / The Old…)

Reporting from San Diego — The Elizabethan theater built for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego's Balboa Park was never intended to be permanent.

Old Globe: An article in Saturday's Calendar section about the Old Globe theater complex in San Diego quoted executive producer Louis G. Spisto as saying that no seat in the new Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre was more than 12 feet from the stage. No seat is more than 16 1/2 feet from the stage. —

But as the Old Globe approaches its 75th anniversary, the company is celebrating not just longevity and survival during tough economic times, but the completion of a new theater and education complex on the same green spot where abridged Shakespeare shows were first performed.

On Monday, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders will join executive producer Louis G. Spisto, Globe board Chairman Donald Cohn and lead donor Conrad Prebys to dedicate the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center, which includes the new Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre and the Karen and Donald Cohn Education Center.

At the heart of the handsome, steeply gabled $22-million complex is the White Theatre, a 250-seat, arena-style stage. It gets a test run Monday night when a black-tie crowd will hear Paulo Szot and Kelli O'Hara, stars of Lincoln Center Theater's Tony award-winning revival of "South Pacific," sing "Some Enchanted Evening" and other Rodgers and Hammerstein favorites.

Also on their program: "In Our House," a new piece created by opera composer Jake Heggie ("Dead Man Walking") and lyricist Mark Campbell.

The White replaces the Cassius Carter Center Stage, a tavern turned theater, which for 40 years served as the Globe's intimate, if technically limited, second stage. "We're especially proud that we've maintained the intimacy of the Carter, a close relationship between the actors and the eyes of the audience," said Spisto, who pointed out that none of the White Theatre's seats is more than 12 feet from the stage.

"At the same time, we've created a flexible, state of the art theater that's safer for actors, inspiring for directors and technical staff, and more comfortable for patrons," Spisto said.

"This is a historical landmark site, and we've worked within state historic guidelines about style while not replicating in any way the original buildings."

Photographic portraits of the Old Globe's 50 associate artists line the theater lobby's walls; one of those associates, Ralph Funicello, will design the inaugural production in the White, a revival of Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers," which opens in late January.

Educational facilities are on the top floor of the Tudor-themed building designed by LPM Architects of Seattle. The 6,200-square-foot Cohn Education Center is the Globe's first dedicated space for education and outreach programs.

The classrooms and multipurpose performance hall will be used for "the annual Shakespeare Intensive for high school students, all here on scholarships," as well as lectures, workshops and performances for students year-round, said Globe education director Roberta Wells-Famula.

The complex, which includes an 80-seat outdoor restaurant and large adjacent plaza, completes the construction component of a $75-million capital campaign launched five years ago by then-board Chairman Kathryn Hattox.

"As wonderful as opening a new theater and completing a capital campaign is, it's even more remarkable in the economy we find ourselves in," said Spisto.

The campaign is still shy of its goal, but Spisto said the board expects to raise the final $3 million by June.

The Globe produces 16 plays and musicals each year on a $20.5-million budget in three theaters, including the Old Globe main stage and the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Stage, both with 600 seats.

Opening events at the White Theatre include performances of "I Do! I Do!" with married actors Patrick Page and Paige Davis, Dec. 11 to 20, and a free open house with guided tours for the general public from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. next Saturday.

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