August 8, 2008
By Michael Chung Klam
Theater takes the world and dismantles it, defines the parts, then puts it all back together in one place.
Creating a stage worthy enough to become a true mirror into the lives of the audience requires more than actors memorizing their scripts.
From computer technology to lighting, sound, paint, costume and set design from the first stitch to the last brush stroke much of the magic of theater happens behind the scenes.
The Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park has galvanized audiences and created numerous Broadway-bound premieres for almost 75 years now.
The San Diego landmark is currently undergoing major improvements to meet the needs of its large-scale plays and musicals; and has planted roots in southeast San Diego with plans to include and enliven the community’s diverse local arts and culture communities.
Early this month the Globe broke ground on the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at its main campus in Balboa Park, supported by an ongoing five-year $75 million fund-raising campaign.
The center is being built on the site of the former Cassius Carter, the theater in the round. It includes a four-level complex (two underground) which will include a 250-seat arena-style state-of-the-art theater; a 6,200 square-foot second floor education center; and a redesigned outdoor lobby, Copley Plaza, which will become a “showplace of its own, restoring the original spirit of the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition for which it was created,” according to the Globe.
“Four years ago we conducted a review, a needs assessment of where we were in terms of the facility,” said Executive Producer Louis G. Spisto. “A couple of glaring weaknesses were evident,” he said. “We had almost no space in which to build our sets, and secondly, we didn’t have a home for education programs.”
Up until now, the Globe has worked off the back of the theater and rented spaces for set construction and storage.
In January of this year the Globe purchased a 43,000-square-foot facility close to the corner of Market and Euclid, situated across the street and a short walk from the Malcolm X Library and just down the way from the Tubman/Chavez Center and Market Creek Plaza.
“While the Technical Center enhances the Globe’s capacity to design and build its scenic elements,” according to Spisto, “it also offers the opportunity for the theater to become a vital cultural resource in the southeastern San Diego community.”
The organization wants the Technical Center to serve “as a springboard for the creation and implementation of innovative play development, performance and training programs for area residents.”
Several projects are in the works, made possible by a $750,000 grant from The James Irvine Foundation.
The Globe plans to pilot a series of workshops of new plays and musicals geared toward younger, more diverse audiences, said Spisto.
“The Globe will involve southeastern San Diego community members in the workshop process and develop complementary education programs to support each project,” he said.
“The Globe also plans to create a series of short plays over the next several years, in collaboration with southeastern San Diego residents, to tell stories engendered by the multiple cultures represented in the community,” he added.
Councilman Tony Young saw a much-awaited opportunity for the arts and culture community of District 4 and advocated to bring in the Globe.
“We have a cultural mix in this community, and they express themselves through art,” he said.
With the Jacobs Center close by, Councilman Young envisions an arts village for the area where artists can come to live and work. He is committed to helping the Globe “make the right connections and create sustainable relationships for the long term,” he said. His office has been instrumental and will continue to play a role in connecting the Globe with local schools.
The Southeastern Economic Development Corp. (SEDC) also supported the move. The center will employ up to 50 staff members, and will continue to include hiring employees from southeast San Diego.
The Globe also plans to establish internships and training opportunities at the Technical Center for recent high school graduates and young adults, “producing three plays or musicals (one per year) for Globe main stage seasons with subject matter reflecting the area’s population,” Spisto said.
There will be free student matinees and community access performances for each of the three productions.
“We are extremely grateful to The James Irvine Foundation for their support, and this important grant will allow the Globe to fully realize these groundbreaking new programs in the communities of southeastern San Diego,” Spisto said.
The Globe is currently operating a four-week acting program in Balboa Park for 40 teens from local high schools on full scholarships. The young actors study classical theater technique voice, movement and stage combat and will perform Aug. 11 in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in a bilingual (Spanish/English) production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Christian Baez from Montgomery High School in Chula Vista will play Lord Capulet. “He is a complex character,” Baez said with the enthusiasm of a student who has found his passion. “This character is caring but also demanding, hard-hearted.”
Baez, who will attend SDSU in the fall with a major in theater performance, said the training in vocal technique has helped him, using his diaphragm to build a deeper voice.
But what he has most appreciated is individual attention from director Nat McIntyre and lead teaching artist/director Vivia Font. “They pay attention to our questions. They teach us character techniques, but they also give advice about the business side of acting,” Baez said.
“Christian is wonderful, an extremely hard worker,” said Font, currently an MFA student in the Old Globe/University of San Diego Graduate Acting Program and cast as Diana in the Globe’s Shakespeare Festival production of All’s Well That Ends Well. “He’s bold, takes risks, makes choices,” she said.
About half of the performers in Romeo and Juliet are native Spanish speakers, Font said. The Spanish in the production enhances the play and gives it a sense of musicality, she added.
The Globe’s Education department will continue the program, and auditions for next summer begin in March 2009.
The Globe’s ongoing work with young actors and outreach toward the southeast bode well for local arts and culture. “It’s still in the early stages,” said Councilman Young, “but I believe the Globe is definitely dedicated.”
And for at least one local student, the organization has offered the opportunity of a lifetime.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to be part of a production in Spanish and English at the Old Globe,” Baez said.