Actors' Equity | Theatre News   
< Home |  < News & Events |  < Archives Actors' Equity Association | News & Events

March 29, 2004

South Coast Repertory: 40 years of “…New Horizons and Bolder Prospects.”

By Don Mueller

“Do you think you could keep people from talking?”
--Moliere, Tartuffe, Act I, sc 1

South Coast Repertory’s co-founders and Artistic Directors David Emmes and Martin Benson ambitiously chose Tartuffe as their first regional theatre production in 1964. Celebrating its 40th Anniversary in the state-of-the-art, three-theatre complex designed by architect Cesar Pelli, the Tony Award-winning and nationally recognized SCR calls Costa Mesa, California home, its residence since 1967. If Moliere asked theatre goers, fund-raisers, participants in the Conservatory Program, Theatre for Young Audiences, salaried staff and Equity Actors if “…you think you could keep people from talking?” about the now critically-acclaimed regional theatre, the response would be a resounding “No!” as they shout praises for SCR.

San Francisco State College alums Benson and Emmes reflect SCR’s inception was “…an act of faith based on instinct and our dreams.” Rooted in the social change of the turbulent ‘60s, their theatre dream, consisting of a four-step growth model, paralleled the trend of regional theatre development: to decentralize and bring live theatre to all regions of the country, delivering quality productions to those having no access to New York City’s Broadway. Benson states they understood the necessity to “…find a part of the world which (was) really growing.” Emmes cited Orange County, which was evolving from sprawling orange groves to a mecca of industrial growth and entrepreneurial enterprise. The fledgling company achieved its First Step in 1964 mounting Tartuffe in borrowed space, the Newport Beach Ebell Club.

The Second Step, a rented marine hardware store converted to a 75-seat proscenium stage, opened March 1965 with Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In the lobby Benson and Emmes displayed a “…purple manifesto (that) talked about the four steps” to achieve SCR’s vision.

The Third Step, 1967-1978, boasted an operating income, a budget and a full-time staff. In 1976 SCR joined the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) thus establishing contracts for Equity Actors. Benson remembers, “Equity was very generous in giving us a ‘modified D’ status,” further legitimizing the increasing stature of the company.

Based on a land gift from the Segerstrom family, the Fourth Step Theatre opened in September 1978 with Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life. SCR was fulfilling the promise of Emmes’ and Benson’s Mission Statement to “…advance the art of theatre in the service of our community.” With their Theatre for Young Audiences and conservatory classes (including Dramatic Writing, How to Watch a Play and Acting Techniques for the Business Professional), SCR “…extends service through educational, intercultural and outreach programs that harmonize with our artistic mission.”

Community support abounds. An unprecedented naming gift of $10 million augmented a successful $50 million fund drive culminating in the 2002 completion of the Folino Theatre Center housing the Segerstrom Stage, the Julianne Argyros Stage, the Nicholas Studio and rehearsal, educational and administrative spaces. True to SCR’s dynamic visionary tradition donors are onboard for the Next Stage Campaign. Emmes proposes “… it’s about creating an exciting artistic vision in the future. The theatre is the tool with which that is going to happen.”

At Actors’ Equity’s 90th Anniversary Celebration, SCR Founding Artist Don Took honored its partnership with the union: “Because of SCR I have made a living as a working actor on stage for 40 years.” Beyond Emmes’ and Benson’s creative vision he spoke of them as “…honorable people.” Founding Artist Richard Doyle, currently starring in Intimate Exchanges by Alan Ayckbourn, reflects that SCR’s affiliation with Equity has “…improved us as a theatre. It legitimized the first ten years…result(ing) in 40 years of theatre development in the community.” Co-star Kandis Chappell, 15-year veteran of SCR, states they gave her the “…opportunity to be perceived as a leading lady.” She lauds its support from the mundane to the artistic; someone is always there to “…lend a hand.” Indeed Orange County lends a hand with applause each time SCR opens a production. Equity’s Western Regional Director John Holly observes, “SCR has exceeded everyone’s expectations. In providing work for our members they treat Equity members with respect. Equity is honored to have SCR as part of Western Regional LORT theatres.”

“Do you think you could keep people from talking?” Highly unlikely! SCR will predictably continue to generate passion, loyalty and positive buzz through quality creative expression and contribution to their community as they move toward ever expanding “…new horizons.” David Emmes projects, “We think the next five years are going to be the most exciting…in SCR’s history. We have this incredible facility, and I think there’s a great ground swell of enthusiasm for the theatre here.”

to news & events home...