80 Years in the Making
This year the Old Globe is celebrating its 80th anniversary, and it has been an extraordinary journey — from the institution’s beginning at the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition to its current three-theatre complex. The Globe’s story has always been about the players, and there have been many, including directors, actors, playwrights, craftspeople, and business leaders. All have performed their roles, but while a performance is “for the moment,” the Globe, it seems, is etched permanently in memories.
The Globe’s history is rich in stories. Yet, with all the complexity, there is also remarkable clarity to its evolution. Themes of Shakespeare, strong community involvement, and artistic adaptation are the unifying threads, and that history is being revisited this year, 2015.
“I acted in the first play at the Old Globe as a permanent theater in 1937 (after the closing of the Exposition of 1935-36). I was an actor in 1937-38, but I was also a stage manager, helped with sets and props — I lived at the theatre! Then when the globe’s director was called up by the Navy, I was chosen to be producing director — a job which I did, basically, for the next 65 years (though my title changed).” ~ Craig Noel
The Globe Players moved to San Diego from Chicago where they had performed edited versions of Shakespeare’s plays in an Elizabethan-themed “Merrie England” exhibit at the 1933-34 Century of Progress Exposition. Word of their popularity reached San Diegans who were busily planning an exposition to open the following year.
Abbreviated Shakespeare productions fit nicely with a great array of attractions in Balboa Park. The purpose of the Exposition was purely commercial — to market San Diego to the world as a tourist attraction and a place to do business. Performances of edited Shakespearean plays appealed to large numbers of people — a practical notion that introduced many people to theatre and Shakespeare for the first time. It took little time to see plays, leaving plenty of leftover hours for viewing rocks and minerals, and attending the Hollywood Motion Picture Hall of Fame, Gold Gulch Calaboose, and the Amusement Zone. Visitors could also enjoy symphony concerts, peeking at the Zoro Garden nudist colony, and sampling all kinds of food. Audiences could opt to see several plays in one day. It was envisioned that upon entering the fairgrounds within the park, families would spend entire days and evenings at the Exposition, and that’s exactly what they did.
The founder of the Globe Players was Thomas Wood Stevens (1895-1984), an artist, teacher, author, and theatre director. He had previously founded the Department of Drama at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), remaining there from 1913 until 1925. He also co-founded the famed Goodman Memorial Theatre in Chicago. Thus, one of the Chicago connections. In 1919, Stevens had recruited Ben Iden Payne (1881-1976) to the Carnegie drama program and later involved him in the Goodman and the Shakespeare project at the Chicago World’s Fair. Interestingly, Payne first met Stevens in 1913 in Chicago, where Payne had established the Fine Arts Theatre. By the time Stevens and Payne arrived in San Diego in 1935, a strong professional bond was established.
Groundbreaking for San Diego’s Globe Theatre replica took place on April 28, 1935. Although the new theatre was not finished when the Globe Players arrived, it was soon completed, opening on May 29. The replica, as promised, was faithfully based on Shakespeare’s fabled Globe Theatre in England. That meant that, at first, from the May 29th opening, there was no roof and audiences were uncomfortably hot. The afternoon sun was blinding, and a trial canvas was put on top of the Wooden O. Eventually, a real roof was added to shield audiences from the sun and noise. Through it all, the plays, the talent, and the setting provided a mix that was irresistible to the public.
With the arrival of the Players in May, enthusiasm built. According to Joe Callaway, a Globe Player, “Most of the plays were given in abbreviated versions, with unessential parts eliminated without weakening the structure. They held the audience’s interest closely by presenting the essence of the plays in less than an hour. Intermissions, scene changes, and curtain waits were eliminated so that the condensed versions were paced with cinema-like speed. There were marathon performances each day.” Walter Kerr, the influential New York Times critic, wrote: “Correct any impression that Stevens was in any way ‘amateur.’ It was one of the most vigorous and accomplished young acting companies I ever saw.” The following plays were presented the first year, according to The Old Globe’s production history: Julius Caesar, The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, The Comedy of Errors, (full length), The Winter’s Tale, As You Like It, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well That Ends Well, Twelfth Night, Dr. Faustus, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
The Fortune Players replaced the Globe Players in 1936 at the fair when The Globe Players moved on to a Texas exposition. Following the close of the 1936 Panama-California International Exposition, the temporary Globe Theatre was scheduled to be demolished by a wrecking ball, as was Falstaff Tavern along side the Globe, but a group of very concerned citizens intervened, raised funds, and paid for the buildings. $15,000 was raised, half from private funds and half from the city. Private funds raised exceeded the $7,500 goal, reaching more than $10,000. The federal WPA program made a huge difference in restoration efforts, providing essential labor to the project. Mary Belcher Farrell, whose brother was the president of the California Pacific International Exposition, formed a committee to save the structures. She was an ardent supporter of the Globe and a prime leader in the effort to prevent demolition. The survival of the Globe can be traced directly to Farrell, Delza Martin, and a small committee formed for preservation and restoration of the buildings, making possible the San Diego Community Theatre-Globe Theatre connection. The San Diego Union quoted Farrell in an April 9, 1978 article. In the piece, she said: “The theatre has always fascinated me and I had done a great deal of work in drama while I was at Berkeley (University of California), Smith College, and Berkeley Community Theatre. When I came home I was horrified to see that San Diego Community Theatre was in my grandfather’s garage on Front Street.” Along with preservation and restoration, there were other advances including an arranged lease with the city. However, when it came to planning the new stage, architect William Wilmurt had a difficult job pleasing the Board. Half the members wanted an Elizabethan thrust stage, and the other half insisted on a proscenium arch. He gave them both. Wilmurt came up with a proscenium stage that included an 11-foot apron and a 15-foot stage area behind the curtain line.
Repairs and reconstruction work were undertaken. The theatre group that would occupy the Globe Theatre drew up articles of Incorporation as the San Diego Community Theatre and, as such, produced The Distaff Side in 1937, the first production at the theatre. The Board of Directors underwrote part of the first season. Luther Kennett, a recent graduate of the Yale Drama School, was the director. A very young Craig Noel played the juvenile lead. Actually, there was an earlier person designated as Globe director, someone other than Kennett. Noel recalled in Craig’s Memories that “First appointment for Old Globe director went to my friend Art Wilmurt. But, completion of construction was delayed and delayed again, and at length Art Wilmurt accepted an offer from the East Coast where he remained for many years.”
Noel also related an amusing story about Kennett’s production of that initial play in 1937, The Distaff Side. “The play almost did not open because the asbestos curtain, ordered long in advance, did not arrive on time. The fire department was about to prohibit the performance when Coronado’s Bella Kennett, mother of Luther, pulled strings and arranged for a fire engine to stand by so that the little playhouse could have its grand premiere.”
As remembered by Noel, the ticket price in 1937 was 35 cents. Kennett directed 18 plays at the Globe before leaving to join the military. Production values were uneven during the late 1930s, sometimes good and at other times awful. Money continued to be a problem for the theatre company, which was not yet taken seriously by the community. Following the 1936 International Exposition, Kennett staged Shakespearean productions, hoping to build on the Exposition popularity. But audiences were small. Then, in 1938 and 1939, summer melodramas successfully connected with audiences. As previously noted, the young actor Craig Noel appeared in the initial The Distaff Side as well as other shows. It was fitting. Noel had attended the 1935-36 Shakespeare productions, leaving his work places in and near Balboa Park to dash to the Globe shows as often as possible. He had auditioned for Thomas Wood Stevens in 1935 but was not cast in the Bard’s plays. Nevertheless his passion for theatre grew. He eventually found his permanent home at the Old Globe.
In 1939, Noel’s attention increasingly turned to direction rather than acting. This was partly because of his intense nervousness when he appeared on stage. He was far more comfortable in the role of director than that of actor. During the 1939-40 season, Noel directed three plays and co-directed a fourth. He was a very busy man, directing a total of nine productions, including all but one in the 1940-41 season. Soon, In Kennett’s place, Noel was named the official Old Globe Theatre Director. His title would change many times over the years, but his total involvement in the artistic life of the Globe would remain constant.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, precipitating the United States entrance into World War II, the Navy took over all buildings and grounds of Balboa Park. The Globe Theatre was primarily used for training purposes, but lectures and entertainment were offered, and Bob Hope entertained troops in the Globe during this period.
In 1941, Noel was hired by 20th Century Fox, where he worked until he entered military service. He was with the Army’s 37th Infantry Division in the South Pacific and Special Services in Japan, where he directed plays at the Ernie Pyle Theatre. After leaving the armed services, Noel returned to Hollywood and 20th Century Fox, returning to the globe in 1947. Among other duties at 20th Century Fox, he directed the initial screen tests of actresses Marilyn Monroe and Shelley Winters — more about those years in the next segment of 1945-55.
In his UCLA thesis, John Donnelly noted that in wartime the assets of the Globe “were stored in various places … and its grand piano loaned to the Fine Arts Society to be housed in the Society’s wartime location in Mission Hills…” The fully functioning San Diego Community Theatre group moved out of the Globe Theatre to nearby Dartlee Hall on Sixth Avenue, where it presented play readings, staged productions, and hosted gatherings, ever mindful that it would reclaim its Globe Theatre at the close of the war. That didn’t happen in 1945. It took until 1947 for the Navy to return the theatre to its legal occupants. Still, the core Community Theatre leaders kept the institution alive and provided theatre for its many followers. From 1942 through 1945, and on into 1947, the Globe troupe, under the auspices of the USO, presented shows at San Diego military installations. Two major productions were showcased during this period: The Male Animal, presented at the San Diego Woman’s Club, and One Sunday Afternoon, performed on the stage of Hoover High School auditorium. During the war, Globe/Community Theatre actors participated in weekly drama broadcasts over the local KGB radio station.
The San Diego Community Theatre was intact, with a fully functioning Board of Directors at the end of the war in 1945, but had to continue to “make do” until its beloved home, the Old Globe Theatre, was returned to it in 1947. DARLENE G. DAVIES
Craig Noel, 1935 Globe Program, 1935 Globe Players, Postcard of Merrie England Chicago World’s Fair: courtesy of Darlene G. Davies collection Old Globe Stage, Sir John Falstaff, Old Globe Theatre San Diego Expo 1935: courtesy of the Panama-California Exposition Digital Archives The Distaff Side: courtesy of the Old Globe
Hark ye gentles, hark ye all
Time has come for curtain call
Masks encountered in the wing,
Actors wait, the play’s the thing.
Storied deeds in noble measure,
Bring we now for your good pleasure.
Welcome to the Old Globe. . .
Despite being displaced from its physical home by the Navy between 1941, the San Diego Community Theatre remained active with projects at Dartlee Hall on Sixth Avenue and elsewhere around town. Vice-President Delza Martin also produced a newsletter that was widely shared around the world. A Board of Directors was in place and the group was ready when the Globe Theatre was returned to it in 1947. Lowell Davies, a San Diego attorney, was elected President of the San Diego Community Theatre in 1945 and previously associated Globe volunteers returned from military service in droves. According to long-time volunteer, actress, and San Diego Magazine staff writer Roberta Ridgely, volunteer workers “reclaimed and scrubbed the park playhouse in 1947.”
One story told is that Old Globe supporters raised $1,000 to purchase a few hundred used theatre seats in 1947. Another is that Delza Martin bought 400 seats for $300 from an old movie theatre. Still another is that the used seats were acquired from an old funeral parlor. Whatever the source of the seats, volunteers were incredibly proud of the purchase and promptly set about installing the seats once the property was returned.
Momentum was building. In the May, 1985 issue of San Diego Magazine, Craig Noel wrote in “Craig’s Memories,” “And the time had indeed arrived when the Community Theatre at last had a strong chance of rallying support. The influx of population during 1941-1947, when San Diego became a war-oriented aircraft center, had changed the end-of-the-line town into a city, or at least into a city-sized town. Moreover, enthusiasm for little theater was increasingly rampant throughout the postwar United States.”
The Board now had a theatre, enthusiastic volunteers, and the approval of the City of San Diego. What it needed was a director. Delza Martin, long-time Globe Board member, and active with the Barn Players that preceded the Community Theatre, knew exactly who that director should be. She lost no time traveling with her husband to Los Angeles to persuade Noel to return to the Globe as its Artistic Director. It wasn’t easy to persuade Noel. He was busy at 20th Century Fox, where as dialog Director he oversaw many screen tests, including the screen tests of Marilyn Monroe and Shelley Winters. At first it would be on a show-to-show basis. But the pleas were successful. In later years, Martin many times described how she cried copious tears in front of Noel while importuning him of the Globe’s great need. A side note is that Martin was prone to tears on almost any emotional subject on any occasion—all part of her caring character.
Noel understood and capitulated. He returned to the Globe, and whatever his long-term intentions may have been, he never left. As he often described his life, the Globe and Balboa Park were his playgrounds.
The opening production in 1947 was William Saroyan’s “The Time of Your Life,” and it was a big deal. The 1947-48 season, however, was a modest undertaking, with a goal of consistent quality. “Kiss and Tell” followed with “Ladies in Retirement” (with a cast that included a young actress named Marion Ross), Lillian Hellman’s “Another Part of the Forest,” and “Dream Girl” by Elmer Rice also proved successful. The great news was that the post-war theatre attendance figures were way up in comparison to pre-war years. Soon, the Globe was ahead of other community theatres across the country in terms of tickets sales. Still, Noel and others at the theatre had to be mindful of pleasing the many, not only the few.
In 1985, Noel recalled: “Even more than before the war, the Old Globe vied with the Pasadena Playhouse in keeping theater alive on the West Coast; acknowledging this, the Los Angeles Times regularly reviewed our early postwar seasons. There was minimal theatrical activity 35 years ago in either Los Angeles or San Francisco.”
Immediately upon returning to the Globe in 1947, Noel asked Irma Fraser Macpherson to form a children’s theatre component. Macpherson had been a serious student of drama, was married to Dr. Fraser Macpherson, a spouse so supportive of her theatre involvement that he built a small theatre in their home that was used for local readings and performances. Noel attended and participated in those gatherings, so it was a logical step for Macpherson to form a junior wing, named the Community Theatre’s Junior Theatre Workshop in 1948. It was renamed the San Diego Junior Theatre Wing of the Old Globe Theatre in 1951.
The creation of a junior wing of the Old Globe gave form and structure to children’s theatre in San Diego. “Cinderella of Loreland” (1949) was the inaugural production. In 1950, the theatre offered more adventurous shows: “Mary Poppins” and “Black Bart & Olio.” The latter, based on the life of a California robber-poet, was written by Melcena Burns Denny. By 1951, the season had expanded to four shows. Succeeding seasons were more ambitious, paving the way for phenomenal growth in the decades ahead. The infant years, particularly 1950-52, were full of energetic endeavors. In the early 1950s, costumes, props, and scenery were definitely amateur, but the results were charming. Fortunate young performers were cast as jugglers, dancers, and singers on the lawn as part of the entertaining festivities on the green that preceded the annual Shakespeare Festival that the Globe had launched in 1949. Junior Theatre Wing performers were part of the Festivals of 1949, 1950, 1951, and 1952. The Shakespeare Festival was briefly suspended in 1953 and replaced that summer with the enormously popular “Mr. Roberts.”
In 1950, Noel directed the world premiere of Beah Richards’ play “One is a Crowd,” in Falstaff Tavern, a building also saved from the 1935 exposition. Richards had apprenticed at the Globe at the beginning of her career. The use of the Tavern as a second theatre was the forerunner of the Cassius Carter Centre Stage and, now, the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. Richards, an enormously talented African American artist, later acted on Broadway and in many films, earning an Oscar nomination for her performance in Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and an Emmy award for her work on the television show “The Practice.”
Because of lack of performance space at the Globe, given requirements for its main productions, Junior Theatre kids performed in various venues—largely whatever was available. They performed in the Puppet Theatre, Recital Hall, and Roosevelt Junior High School auditorium. Rehearsals were held wherever space could be found.
In 1952, the Globe incorporated many Junior Theatre Wing youngsters into the large cast of its first main stage Christmas musical, William Makepeace Thackeray’s “The Rose and the Ring.” The alliance of the children’s theatre wing with the Old Globe itself had been part of the original vision of Craig Noel, who served as supervising director of the production. The actual director was Jackson Woolley, a member of the original 1935 Globe Players featured in the Balboa Park California Pacific exposition. This was so fitting, bringing things full circle. In the cast of “The Rose and the Ring” was a young Dennis Hopper. The ambitious Hopper also acted in the Globe’s Shakespeare Festival and in the comedy “Cheaper by the Dozen,” directed by Craig Noel. Hopper remembered Noel throughout his career, though he didn’t return to the Globe once he achieved international fame. Still, he spoke on national television about his memories of working with Noel and credited him with much of what he had learned. For Noel’s 75th birthday gala at the Globe, Hopper purchased an ad that featured a picture of him in a Shakespeare production at the Globe.
“Happy Birthday Dear Craig,
The only thing that would keep me from being there today would be that I am working, and if I am working it is because you were the first to cast me in a play. It’s your fault.
All my love to you Mr. Noel, and thanks,
Dennis Hopper (signed)”
In early 1953, the official association between the Globe and the Junior Theatre ended. The Wing had outgrown its birthplace and left the nurturing space of the Globe to operate under the auspices of the San Diego Park and Recreation Department.
The year 1949 was marked by the launch of the Shakespeare Festival, a collaborative undertaking by the San Diego Community Theatre/ the Globe Theatre and San Diego State College. The Shakespearean scholar and highly influential stage director B. Iden Payne was appointed by the college to stage a production of “Twelfth Night.” State College student actors, with a few exceptions, performed the roles. The role of Olivia was double cast and State College theatre student Marion Ross was one of the two actresses assigned the role, playing Olivia in half the scheduled performances. Jackson Woolley, one of the original 1935 Globe Players and now full-time San Diego resident, played Malvolio. During 22 performances, 7, 699 patrons attended, a great accomplishment. In a perfect turn of events, B. Iden Payne, the director and Shakespeare adapter at the 1935 California Pacific Exposition, returned to the Globe that same year to direct the first production of the San Diego Shakespeare Festival. Payne has been a distinguished participant in the Globe’s long 80 year history. In 1935, following the exodus of the Globe Players to a fair in Texas, Payne returned to England to become the director of the Stratford-on-Avon Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. In 1942, he lectured in the United States for the British Ministry of Information and, two years later, directed several plays for the New York Theatre Guild. In 1946, he took a position at the University of Texas at Austin, where he remained for the rest of his career, first as Guest Professor of Drama and, later, as department chair. He held guest summer positions at a number of schools and summer theatres, including Shakespeare Festivals at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre (1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1957) and Ashland, Oregon, and won many awards. In 1976, Queen Elizabeth II made him an Honorary Officer of the British Empire and the University of Texas approved the establishment of a 500-seat theatre to be named after him. Payne left his mark on the Old Globe as well.
Two Shakespeare productions in each summer of 1950, 1951, and 1952 were successfully performed, but, in 1953, the production of the enormously popular Broadway hit “Mr. Roberts” was mounted for the entire summer, temporarily supplanting the Shakespeare Festival. “Mr. Roberts” was such a roaring success the Globe was temporarily relieved of its constant worries about money. Ticket sales filled the Globe’s coffers during 1953. In San Diego Magazine’s “Craig’s memories,” Noel said “It was a watershed. The Globe netted almost $70,000 from its phenomenally long run. It didn’t make us absolutely independent, but it was the turning point—we knew we had survived and could continue as an entity. There would be a next season.”
Despite financial success, some Globe supporters were angry about the cancellation of the 1953 Shakespeare Festival and demanded the reinstatement of the Festival—pointing out the Globe’s unique history of producing Shakespeare beginning with the 1935 Globe Players.
The co-sponsorship of the Shakespeare Festival by San Diego State College and the Globe ended with the 1952 Shakespeare Festival. Various causes were cited, one being dwindling interest in the project. Another was Noel’s concern about the level of acting quality. Still another explanation, an unsubstantiated one, was that there was disagreement between the two parties concerning play selection.
The Shakespeare Festival resumed in 1954 and it now belonged entirely to the San Diego Community Theatre/Old Globe. Talented actors were awarded scholarships funded by community citizens. The number of productions increased to three, 15 performances each, in repertory style rotation, and the Festival grew in prestige and quality in future decades.
Meanwhile, during the winter seasons, the San Diego community fell in love with a series of local musicals called “Caught in the Act.” There were six editions in all, beginning in 1949. The last version was produced in 1954. All of the material was original and often zany. A centerpiece performer was an extraordinarily gifted comedienne named Lillie Mae Barr, a sort of British version of the American comedienne Zazu Pitts. Some fans argued she was even more talented than Pitts. For “Caught in the Act,” performers from all areas of San Diego life wrote and performed skits and musical routines that connected with San Diegans. Noel directed and Gil Warner aided him at the piano. Warner was pianist-composer and John Clark was lyricist. The witty lyrics delighted San Diego audiences. A record album of the second edition of “Caught in the Act” was produced, with introductory notes by Noel on the inside cover. The records were described as offering “A medley of the music sung by the original cast with Gilbert Warner and Betty Hayter at the two pianos.”
The name Betty Hayter, later Betty Hayter Meads, appears many times, not only in printed programs of “Caught in the Act,” but of later Globe productions. The word “community” was very much a part of the San Diego Community Theatre in the 1950s. Here is what Noel wrote in the recording liner notes:
Once again a piano overture begins the season at the Old Globe. The first show on the 1950-51 schedule for The San Diego Community Theatre is the Second Edition of ‘CAUGHT IN THE ACT,’ an original musical revue.
The first edition of the revue we did at the theatre last fall. After the first show written by San Diegans about San Diego—the the town asked for a phonograph album of the production. Here is the second such album. We had a lot of fun recording it. We hope you have as much fun listening to it.
I’d like to express my thanks to those San Diegans who helped us finance the pressing of these discs and those others who wrote and sang the songs. This album is another community endeavor in which I am happy to have had a part.
Craig Noel (signed)
Some of the performers comprised a core ensemble that served all six editions of the community-based show. The names appear on the record album in alphabetical order: Shari Anderson, Lillie Mae Barr, Michael Patrick Bogle, Patricia Byllesby, John B. Clark, Ramona Gantz, Bill Gates, Betty Hayter, Anne Jones, Patti Kittleson, Bob Meanley, Bobbe Merrill, Tom Royal, Jim Sams, Barbara Semann, Chuck Stoll, Bill Talbot, Ted Van Campen, Don Ward, and Gloria Winke.
Barr, as noted earlier, was a great favorite of San Diego audiences. Bogle was a performer with Starlight Opera in the 50s, Hayter a multitalented performer at the Globe and elsewhere, Tom Royal a frequent actor at the Globe, and Don Ward an achiever in musical theatre with a career that encompassed Starlight Opera, San Diego Junior Theatre, Moonlight Amphitheatre, and a string of additional musical institutions, as well as Winke (later Self) a future editor of San Diego Magazine.
A sampling of the 18 titles recorded on the album: “Tuna Fish Lillie,” “Hostess in the House of Hospitality,” “When the San Diego River Flows Again,” and “San Diego—Finale.” San Diego poked fun at itself with loving good humor.
The 1952 program for “Caught in the Act” had a mix of seasoned returning and new performers. One name catches the eye immediately, that of Dean Jones. Jones was stationed in San Diego at the time of the 1952 “Caught in the Act,” as were a number of servicemen who performed and worked backstage at the Globe during the 50s. The actor, best known as the star of Disney films, served in San Diego in the U.S. Navy Air Corps, and met his first wife, Mae Entwistle, who was 1952 San Diego County Fairest of the Fair at the San Diego County Fair.
Jones went on to to star in “Under the Yum Yum Tree” and “Company” on Broadway. A bit of Broadway historical lore involves the story of Jones wanting to withdraw from Company during out-of-town tryouts because he felt audiences perceived his character, that of Bobby, negatively. He was going through a divorce at the time and Company was a musical that explored relationships and those within marriage in particular. Producer Hal Prince persuaded Jones to open the show and record the cast album, which he did, leaving the show after one performance on Broadway. Company opened in 1970 and ran for 690 performances. It earned Larry Kert, who succeeded Jones as Bobby, a Tony nomination. It is, however, that original cast album featuring Jones as Bobby that has become a coveted collectible—a “hot” recording to this day. Among others, Jones starred in Disney films “That Damn Cat!,” “The Love Bug,” and “Snowball Express.” His list of films and television shows is extensive, but before all of that, like so many other performers, he was on the Globe stage.
The year 1955, (which will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter of this history), marks the end of a particular ten year period of rebirth and remarkable growth. The introduction of several new elements to the operation of the theatre took place in 1955 and they strengthened the organization. Of great importance was the arrival of designer Peggy Kellner. She made a huge difference in the life of the institution, which was still finding its way forward. The second vital element was the creation of the Globe Guilders support group, accomplished by Irma Macpherson at the request of Craig Noel. He had wanted a children’s theatre and Macpherson made that a reality. Now he wanted an auxiliary, one that would provide many extras for cast, crew, and supporters, and also act as ambassadors to the San Diego community on behalf of the Globe.
While volunteers are central to all theatre endeavors, the Globe’s survival through 1955 was largely due to the extraordinary devotion of its volunteers. That remains so today. Another vital element in the endurance of the Globe is the continuity of the group, again traced to the commitment and perseverance of volunteers. Not one year was lost in the evolution of the company. Whether saving original buildings, raising needed funds, moving activities off site, they continued in the face of adversity, always building bonds, looking to replace what’s been lost, and constantly seeking improvement in its productions. The theatre functioned continuously through good notices and not so good notices. There was no stopping it. The Old Globe was ready to move to a higher level of professionalism in 1955 because of the selflessness of volunteers and unbroken continuity of more than two decades of work. DARLENE G. DAVIES
The Rose and the Ring program, cast of Mr. Robert, Caught in the Act record cover, The Wizard of Oz cast: courtesy of Darlene G. Davies collection Marion Ross in Twelfth Night in 1949 & B. Iden Payne and the Shakespeare Festival company: courtesy of The Old Globe
The Shakespeare Festival continued during the summers of the next ten years, and indeed long after that. 1955 brought the gifted William Ball to the Globe and B. Iden Payne returned to direct Measure for Measure. Bill Ball not only delivered a stunning Hamlet performance, but directed Festivities on the Green that summer. Like so many of the original Globe Players, Ball was a theatre student at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon, where Payne had first joined Stevens at what was the first college theatre department in the United states.
The 1956 San Diego National Shakespeare Festival produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Richard II, and Ben Jonson’s Volpone. Volpone was of special interest because it introduced a very young Victor Buono to Globe audiences. The teenage Buono was a character actor from the start. Noel had seen him perform in Junior Theatre shows and he cast him in the central part in Jonson’s classic. Directed by Noel, Buono was on his way to a solid film career after the show.
Plays during the winter season tended to be recent Broadway shows as soon as production permission became available, as well as plays that had been popular with audiences in the past. There were many comedies and some classics, the new mixed with a bit of the old. Once possible shows were determined for the upcoming season, a sizable number of them were printed on ballots and sent to Globe subscribers for voting. The ones with the greatest numbers of votes were scheduled for production. Remember, this was a community theatre and the community participated in its life. People paid to see what they had helped to select. This method of selection was even used for the summer Shakespeare productions.
The nine plays to be considered for the Shakespeare Festival of 1957 (season of 1956-57) were A Comedy of Errors, Julius Caesar, King Henry IV, Part I, The Tempest, King Lear, As You Like It, Shoemaker’s Holiday by Thomas Dekker, The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster, and Every Man In His Humor by Ben Jonson. Voters were instructed to choose three plays from this list. The three produced in 1957 were The Tempest, King Lear, and one that didn’t appear on the ballot, Knight of the Burning Pestle by Beaumont and Fletcher.
Nineteen plays were candidates for production for the same ’56-’57 upcoming season. All nineteen were interesting possibilities, among them: Anastasia, The Bad Seed, The Chalk Garden, The Desperate Hours, The Lady’s Not for Burning, The Rainmaker, The Solid Gold Cadillac, Tea and Sympathy, The Teahouse of the August Moon.
The year 1959 was a significant milestone in the Globe’s existence because for the first time the Shakespeare Festival employed an all professional Equity acting company, and it never returned to the non-Equity model during summertime again. The popular greensward festivities, free of charge to all viewers, continued to entertain myriad visitors before each Shakespeare performance. Queen Elizabeth I and her court majestically made their way to a special area on the green to be entertained by her talented subjects. There was dancing, juggling, jesters’ silliness, old English music, and joyous activities that pleased people who came to the pre-show but not necessarily to the Shakespeare production. Visitors of all ages reveled in this San Diego tradition.
The arrival of a superb repertory company made up of Equity actors in lead and supporting roles upped the quality of shows dramatically. The casts over the next five years were the stuff of which legend is made. Jacqueline Brookes, William Ball (who performed his first Hamlet at the Globe in 1955, stunning audiences with his brilliance, and returning to reprise his role in 1960), Anthony Zerbe, Victor Buono, Philip Hanson, John Lasell, Joel Martin (later a renowned stage director, using the name Nicky Martin), Michael Forest, Ed Flanders, Ellen Geer, and many more gifted actors electrified audiences with their performances. Not too long afterward, in 1966, a youthful Jon Voight joined the company as Romeo in the 1966 production of Romeo and Juliet.
Jacqueline Brookes brought her distinctive and constant artistry to the Old Globe Theatre during the 1960s. Her clear and uncluttered performances in numerous productions of the Globe’s National Shakespeare Festival were like beacon lights. She was superbly trained and could do anything, from comedic roles to those of high drama. Her bell like voice was commanding. She completed, in the fullest sense, each production with her presence. Brookes had a firm understanding of her characters and possessed strong technical skills. In 1960, she played Queen Gertrude to the legendary William Ball’s Hamlet at the Globe. Victor Buono was King Claudius, with future director Nicholas Martin (Joel Martin), also in the cast. Among other accomplishments, Ball co-founded the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco, and there were others in the company of those years who also built solid careers in theatre, movies and, television. Brookes worked in all three, and could switch acting styles in an instant according to needs of the medium. As a character actress in her later years, she appeared in major films and taught acting at the Circle in the Square Theatre School until her death at the age of 82. The Globe’s National Shakespeare Festival Equity cast of players was filled with actors of the highest quality.
In 1956, Life magazine, then the most popular and influential weekly in America, extensively featured the Old Globe Theatre and its production of The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, including a two-page centerfold of the cast, photographed from behind while taking a curtain call, that splendidly showcased the inside of the Globe Theatre, which had been erected for the 1935 California Pacific Exposition. Life came to the Old Globe/San Diego Community Theatre in a very big way.
There were other highlights during this period as well. In addition to the installation of the Equity acting company for the 1959 National Shakespeare Festival, other notable moments come to mind. Feeling the need to experiment and spread its wings, the Globe sought a venue for a second theatre. The Tavern had been used sporadically for additional productions, but its space was limited. Still, staged readings there were popular and there seemed to be a potential audience for a permanent second theatre. Noel was determined to reach this goal, and in 1962-63, at the invitation of the La Jolla Museum of Art, the Old Globe produced a series of plays at Sherwood Hall for two seasons. The series were additional to the regular seasons in Balboa Park. Noel and William Roesch shared directing duties during those two seasons, and the selection of plays was more adventuresome, including works by Jean Anouilh, Edward Albee, and Luigi Pirandello.
In October, 1963, following the two seasons at Sherwood Hall, the Globe began a series staged at Falstaff Tavern, which continued for five seasons through 1968. In addition to three shows in the Tavern, Noel arranged for Bill Roesch to direct a production of A Sleep of Prisoners in the Museum of Man’s St. Francis Chapel. Big news and a major step forward took place in 1969 when an enlarged and remodeled Falstaff Tavern opened as Cassius Carter Centre Stage.
The Globe’s first major tour was to Stanford University in association with the quadricentennial of Shakespeare’s birth in 1964. The company performed Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth.
A $350,000 grant from COMBO from the first federated arts drive in 1965 was another major leap forward for the Globe. The money funded an administrative wing, new restrooms and dressing rooms, costume construction, and storage, as well as partially funding a new production.
Until 1955, sets and costumes at the Globe were built, borrowed and gathered by volunteers and coordinated by various crafts people, most of whom were also volunteers. The arrival of Peggy at the San Diego Community Theatre/Old Globe Theatre changed all that. Though she was born in Tucson, from 1955 until her death 1978 at the age of 70, Kellner belonged to San Diego. A connection to the Globe was Thomas Wood Stevens, who brought the Globe Players to the 1935 California Pacific Exposition. He served as head of the theatre department at the University of Arizona in the 1940s, where Kellner earned a Master of Theatre Arts degree with an emphasis in costuming. Between 1955 and 1978, Kellner was an essential factor in the creative operation of the Globe. She designed more than 200 shows, plus some productions for San Diego Opera and the Wichita Musical Theatre, as well as the University of Arizona. As a side note, in 1965 she designed the set and costumes for the inaugural San Diego Opera production of La Boheme, which officially opened downtown’s newly built Lloyd Ruocco-designed Civic Theatre. It was a grand moment in San Diego history and Kellner was an important part of it. Kellner, however, belonged to the Globe Theatre, which is where her heart was.
Kellner worked at the Globe for 23 years, where she and Producing Director Craig Noel comprised the permanent year-round artistic staff, working with occasional guest directors and designers. Kellner’s official title was Art Director, and during her tenure at the Globe, she and Noel were the artistic team that made everything run. They did it all.
“Originally, we used to open the Shakespeare one, two, three,” Kellner remembered. “One one night, another the next, another the next. That meant all three shows had to be done at once. In the summertime, I had three assistants, but one was usually involved in acting and was only there part of the time! I’d work on costumes at night and during the day I’d work on sets and painting…I’d try to get my volunteers to come in at the various times that I could be with them. It was almost like a 24-hour-a-day job. I think the longest I ever went without sleep was four nights and five days…I did almost 23 years of growing up at the Globe. Cutting my teeth on that place and I still love it.”
Kellner’s scene design and costume endeavors were heavily dependent on volunteers, with a few key paid staff. One of her volunteers, later very well known, was Victor Buono. “When Victor Buono first started at the Globe I told him he had to learn to paint and sew because he wasn’t going to be just an actor. He learned to run the sewing machines and used to make hats. When we did Three Penny Opera, he came down and said ‘You need help?’ And I said ‘Of course!’ I was wood-graining the set, using those thick black felt-tip pens on everything — furniture, the doors, the set, the floor, everything. I got him started on that, and he was there for two days wood-graining everything he could get his hands on. He’d come in and out during the Shakespeare, and he’d work on shoes or make hats, leaving little notes tucked away for the actors to get: ‘This was specially worked on for you by Victor Buono.’ We had a great deal of fun with him.”
Bill Gonzalez came to the Globe as a volunteer during 1962 and 1963, and graduated to a position on the costume staff for the summer season. Then, from 1965 through 1970, he served as Assistant to Kellner. Gonzalez said Kellner’s official title should have been Production Designer, like Julie Taymor in the current theatrical world. Art Director didn’t tell the whole story, didn’t give credit for what she actually did. The concepts were hers. Frequently, when approaching a new production, Noel would say “Well, Peg, what are we going to do here?” He pasted pictures he encountered in magazines, photos, flyers, and ads to poster board to convey his ideas to Kellner. Gonzalez remarked, “Peggy was the one Craig and Director Bill Roesch relied on totally.”
“Craig was color blind, and Kellner had to work around that. He complained that the Life with Father set was “too beige” and he didn’t like the color of the set. Kellner told staff “Don’t show that to him. He won’t be able to see it.” Craig was often heard saying “Gee, Peg, how’d you do that?” Gonzalez described Kellner as “innovative, smart and economical.” He added, “She could visualize ‘Yeah, I know how to do this.’ I rarely saw her fail at that.”
Donna Couchman referred to Kellner’s ability to see the same piece from different perspectives and said, “She had such an eye.” Colleagues and assistants saw a master theatre architect in Kellner, who worked like a draftsman. She created watercolor sketches for the Shakespeare Festival costumes, but rarely did sketches for winter season shows, though she might hastily draw images to guide staff. Again, most staff was volunteer, with only a few of them paid. Kellner referred to some of her seamstresses as “the chicks.” They were great volunteers. She’d say, “Call up the chicks” when in need of the ladies who sewed.
Others didn’t sew, but were given alternate jobs. Gonzalez talked about the great instincts Kellner had about people. “She would channel them into what she sensed were their talent areas. They didn’t even know, but she did. She’d assure them “Yes, you can do it.”
Bill Roberts and Gene Reilly were the carpenters who interpreted Kellner’s sketches and doodles. Gonzalez described A.V. Stewart as a top-notch scene painter and said Kellner relied on him during her tenure at the Globe. He was the father of future Globe Guilder stalwart Judy Stewart Miller. There is more to be said about this remarkable group of ladies, the Globe Guilders, whose organization was founded in 1955, the same year Kellner came to the Globe.
It has been noted that Kellner worked non-stop. She did what needed to be done and she did it her way. Gonzalez tells the story of the time when power was cut during construction of a new dressing room. Since Kellner didn’t have access to a powered sewing machine, she went onstage and used the treadle machine that was part of the set for The Rose Tattoo, the play then being performed. After that, Craig referred to her as Seraphina, the lead character in The Rose Tattoo.
Kellner was generous with others, particularly the Globe Guilders auxiliary, for whom she made or supplied props, set pieces, wigs, and costumes for their events. Guilders dressed as Tootlers for opening night dinners. The Tootler costumes and the Zany objects they carried were made from the banners originally designed by artist Barney Reid. Kellner supervised the making of the Tootler outfits as well as the creation of the Zanies. All this is recounted by long time Guilder Rusty Walker in her written memoir. Kellner created the maids of honor gowns for Guilder member Judy Miller’s wedding. In fact, she worked all night, right up to the hour of the wedding to complete the gowns. Kellner was guilty of many acts of friendship, and there was none of the talk one hears today that something will be done only if there is good pay for it. “She had an amazing amount of energy,” said Gonzalez, the costume volunteer, who had many memories of Kellner. “She had a good sense of humor, not morose in any way. She also could be very direct. Definitely a multi-tasker — she could do 29 things at once, as long as she had 35 people to back her up.” Despite a grueling schedule and frequent loss of sleep, “she took pains with her appearance, spending hours preparing her looks. Peggy was on her own time clock. She was not a nine-to-five person, and was never going to punch in and out on a time clock. In her later years at the Globe, this was going to result in friction between new management style and hers. She mentored many artists and crafts people.”
How did Kellner get so much done with the constant chaos? Maybe because of the chaos. Donna Couchman offers this perspective: “She was good at delegating responsibilities. She got a lot of ideas and work from other people, which she then incorporated into the costumes and sets. Kellner did most of her fabric buying locally. She purchased fabric from the Home Silk Shop in San Diego and from Hyman Hendler in Los Angeles. She loved to shop at the long extant, but expansive and extensive at the time, Sears in Hillcrest. The fabrics for one show came entirely from Sears Roebuck and Company. She very occasionally ordered from New York.”
Couchman described a “mystery wall” of trim in the costume shop. “It was filled with miscellaneous pieces. Some store must have gone out of business.” There it all was, to adapt to any need, any possible use. “There were drawers of all sorts of things, including buttons…drawers and drawers of items. Many things were donated.”
According to Couchman, “Everybody was afraid of Peggy. In fact, the staff and crew frequently gave me their questions to take to Peggy. She was intimidating, but I think that was because Peggy knew so much.” Stacy Sutton, who worked with Kellner during her last two years and now supervises the Globe costume department, confirms that Kellner was “frightening.”
Kellner was well known among staff and friends for having the staple gun ready. According to actor and friend George Miller, there were times when costumes weren’t completed and she could be seen stapling a sleeve just before an actor made an entrance onstage.
Couchman relates a typical story, both amusing and maddening at the same time. Director Milt Kaselas went outside and played basketball every afternoon. He would talk the people he met there into being Senators onstage in Othello, the play then being performed. “There were more and more Senators until, finally, to accommodate the costume needs for the many Senators, the curtains from the old Fox Theatre were used. A coronation costume with an eight-foot train was also made from those voluminous red velvet Fox Theatre curtains. Then, director Kaselas added even more Senators. So, during a rehearsal, Kellner marched her staff to the back of the theatre and pulled down all the hanging red velvet curtains, which were then used for additional senatorial garments.
Kellner designed and produced costumes and sets for winter productions at the Globe, and some summer ones as well. Over the years at the Globe, she designed between 10 and 15 productions a year. Her office was a cubby hole. She involved everybody in the making of costumes, even the Balboa Park police. She believed everyone could do something. A particular family came in and painted sets every weekend. Occasionally, people stayed overnight in the costume shop, cutting and sewing. Kellner frequently commented, “Two weeks is long enough on anything.”
According to Couchman, “There was a great exodus of costumers at the Globe after 1978. Peggy was on sabbatical in 1978 when the disastrous Globe fire took place. She never returned to her position, though she came back occasionally to guest design. Though Kellner left the Globe to join the University of Arizona faculty, she continued to design productions, even traveling to Wichita to do so.”
Original, sometimes impractical, always brilliant, Kellner got the job done, and in many years when their was no money. She is inextricably bound to the improbable continuing story of the Old Globe Theatre. Like many others, Bobbi Bannon, who later became head of costuming at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, learned costuming craft under the direction of Kellner. At Kellner’s memorial service, held in the Cassius Carter Center Stage venue, Bannon said, “How fortunate I was to be with Peggy Kellner and Craig Noel during the Globe’s Camelot years.” To be sure, Kellner left a huge legacy.
In the same year Peggy Kellner arrived at the Globe, the Globe Guilders became a reality. From the moment Irma Macpherson, at Noel’s request, created the Guilders auxiliary, the Old Globe Theatre added an extra touch of class. Macpherson was a prominent community leader as well as an accomplished actress and board member, who had organized the Globe’s Junior Theatre Wing in 1948. Well educated and a passionate supporter of theatre, in the Guilders she brought to the Globe a plethora of interesting, energetic, and elegant women. This devoted group began to host opening night festivities that included both luncheons and dinners. In the 1950s, San Diego was a lovely town, but not a real city, certainly not a big city. There was abundant press coverage in those days, particularly in the San Diego Union and the Evening Tribune. The weekly and monthly press was also much more intellectual and fine-art oriented, and event chairs and co-chairs, as well as committee members were prominently featured in the pages of San Diego Magazine, including in full-page ads for glamorous interior design businesses, furriers, and top of the line automobile dealers.
Guilders added fashion shows, Company Call food feasts for casts and crew (now referred to as “Meet and Greets”), and special evening theatre attractions. For many years, they assumed responsibility for the annual Atlas Award event, and would later develop a program in which they would “adopt” Globe/University of San Diego MFA students, providing mentoring, friendship and scholarships.
Guilders founder Macpherson guided the group, but also “kept her feet on the ground,” tending to junior thespians at the San Diego Junior Theatre after it separated from the Globe in 1953. Throughout the 1950s, Macpherson was as likely to be prompting JT kids with their script lines, applying their stage make-up, or sewing and ironing costumes as she was to be photographed by the Union and Evening Tribune at the Globe’s opening nights. Macpherson knew the value of bringing well-to-do community leaders on board at the Globe, but she also completely understood the transformational power of theatre in young people’s lives, and those JT youngsters came from all geographic, economic, and ethnic areas of the city.
Nothing undertaken by the Guilders in the early years surpassed their overseeing the opening night dinners for the Shakespeare Festival. Each dinner had a chairman and there was an overall Chairman for the entire Festival. These were big jobs, visible and full of responsibility. Dress was black tie. That held true until the late 1980s. The men looked their most handsome and the women were exquisite — couples right off a New Yorker magazine cover — so sophisticated.
For several decades, all of the opening night dinners at the Globe were the responsibility of the Guilders, and every aspect of those dinners was impeccable. Menus, place cards, centerpieces, color schemes, party themes — all were masterminded by the Guilders. Dinners were held at many Balboa Park sites, including Cafe Del Rey Moro, in front of the Botanical Building, in the area of the Houses of Pacific Relations, Casa Del Prado, and Alcazar Garden.
Irma Macpherson was the first President of the Globe Guilders and the second was Katherine Kaufman, wife of a highly influential television station owner. Pauline Evans, executive Secretary to the Mayor of San Diego, followed. She was an actress on the Globe stage and became a professional party planner later in her life. The next President, Ava Carmichael, was a beautiful and socially prominent woman with a brilliant and much admired husband who was a renowned cardiologist. Everyone in San Diego paid attention to Globe Guilder events in those days. Helen Whitney, the fifth Guilders President, was pictured in the media frequently — yes, there were daily Society pages in the newspapers in those days — and she continues to attend Guilder gatherings in 2015.
The list of exemplary women goes on and on: Barbara Iredale, whose husband was a judge and a member of the Globe’s Board of Directors; Maggie Mazur and Ann Pund; and Dolly Poet, mother of later President Suzie Poet Turner, she was the 11th President of the Guilders and was completely devoted to the Globe for much of her life. Of note is the fact that Macpherson’s granddaughter, Wendy Ledford, also served as President. Loyalty to the Globe runs very deeply.
The Guilders provided beautiful experiences and memories for patrons of the Globe. Evening were filled with laughter and merriment in gorgeous settings, with guests on their very best behavior. Guilders showcased the Globe for the city, proving to be inimitable ambassadors. The Globe’s artistic reputation increased and support strengthened. While the years from 1955 until 1965 were crammed with accomplishments and experimentation, future years at the Globe proved to be even more astounding, filled with both sorrow and triumph as this remarkable San Diego story continued during a time of great achievement and turbulence. DARLENE G. DAVIES
William Ball image, 1960 printed Shakespeare Festival program, Sketches by Peggy Kellner, model of Old Globe Theatre by Peggy Kellner, Peggy Kellner: courtesy of Darlene G. Davies collection
Things don’t stay the same for long and 1965 to 1975 at the Old Globe Theatre was no exception. Six productions, including Inherit the Wind, The Rose Tattoo, and Dark of the Moon, were staged in the Old Globe Theatre during the ’65 winter season, while the summer Shakespeare shows were Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. During the winter, there was also exciting programming in the reconfigured arena-shaped Falstaff Tavern, where four shows were mounted. That’s where Noel felt artistic risks could be taken, in the rearranged Falstaff Tavern that had served all sorts of purposes since it was built for the 1935 Panama-California Exposition. Thus the lineup of Shaw’s Candida, Pinter’s The Caretaker, Golding’s The Brass Butterfly, and Betti’s Crime on Goat Island. Traditional fare would still be produced next door in the Globe Theatre, but creative alternatives could be mounted in the Tavern.
The next year’s Tavern season, 1966-67, offered five, not four, solid productions. Represented were plays by Charles Aidman (who adapted Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology,) Harold Pinter, James Saunders, Arthur Miller, and George Bernard Shaw. Of them all, Spoon River most struck a chord with audiences. In fact, it was so well regarded it was reprised in the first season of the newly remodeled Falstaff, when it was renamed the Cassius Carter Centre Stage in early 1969.
Over time, from 1935 until 1965, Falstaff Tavern, next to the Globe Theatre, had served many functions — a restaurant, a temporary theatre space for occasional productions, and, by the 1950s, a rehearsal hall. By 1961, Noel was eager to establish a permanently scheduled second theatre and he created a stage and seating in the round for productions of more experimental and non-mainstream fare. In 1963, Noel directed his first show in the Tavern. Floors were bare and audience members sat on folding chairs set on three rows on risers. In that modest environment, Noel and associate artistic director William Roesch conjured magic, and however makeshift, another one of Noel’s dreams came to fruition. The notion of alternative theatre at the Globe was a “go.” The re-purposed Tavern venue continued to be the spot for unusual, sometimes daring productions through 1968. Then, a major step forward was taken as plans and funding were completed and identified for remodeling of the Tavern and making it into a permanent structure.
The transformation from an all-purpose space to arena theatre included considerable remodeling and expansion. A 1995 publication declared: “The original production and administrative wing was constructed in 1965 and in 1969 the Cassius Carter Centre Stage was created from the former Falstaff Tavern.” In many ways, it was an extension rather than a replacement, as clearly one gave birth to the other. On July 14, 1968, San Diego Union staff writer Welton Jones wrote, “The process of changing the Old Globe Theatre’s Falstaff Tavern from a general-purpose room to a 250-seat arena theater will involve excavation of a shallow bowl to allow for better sight lines, and removal of existing walls to accommodate an expanded, permanent seating arrangement surrounding a 16 X 18 foot stage. The present Tavern facade is obscured by refreshment booths.” The building interior was extended by 14 feet to the rear and an added foyer extended the building toward the greensward. Donna Couchman, longtime Globe costumer, remembers that the Falstaff kitchen was saved and the area incorporated in the Carter. There were four entrances into the Carter arena theatre. Those entrances were sited at the top of rather steeply descending stairs leading down to the stage. Noel and others referred to these as the “four corners.”
In October, 1968, construction began on the Cassius Carter Centre Stage, which was not a new building but unlike the original Falstaff Tavern which was erected as a temporary structure for the 1935 California Pacific Exposition, the Carter was constructed as a permanent building. Designed as a 225-seat arena-style theatre, the Cassius Carter Centre Stage opened on January 23, 1969 with a production of The Unknown Soldier and His Wife — though there appears to have been at least one “soft” opening on January 21, and possibly more. According to former Globe costumer Couchman, certain amenities and necessities, including theatre seats, didn’t arrive on time so perhaps the official opening date was moved back, or there may have been a special “peek” preview or VIP opening on the 21st. Still, whatever dates marked the opening of the Carter, there was much jubilation regarding the new theatre. Now, Noel had a space for experimental and avant-garde productions. The adventuresome play list mentioned above was exactly what Noel had envisioned as he carved spaces for alternative venues such as the chapel opposite the Museum of Man and Sherwood Hall in La Jolla. Now there would be greater choices for playgoers.
Cassius Carter Centre Stage was named for Cassius Carter, a lawyer by profession who was also an expert on the subject of Shakespeare. Historian John White wrote that Carter’s former law partner in Texas said Carter knew most of Shakespeare’s plays by memory. Nevertheless, he concluded “While the theater memorializes Carter for his Shakespearean scholarship, he deserves to be remembered chiefly for as the energetic District Attorney of San Diego County from 1903 to 1906.” The theatre was funded with seed money by Carter’s son, Armistead.
For many years, Carter’s portrait hung in the theatre with the caption, “Drama is the noblest form of human expression.” This was the first line of a longer quote by Carter, which continued: “… A people that has no love for great plays and good players will show itself to be lacking in social development, in humane politics and in intellectual and moral life.”
Couchman has many fond memories of working in the Carter. “I was an unpaid costumer from 1965 until 1967, then paid from 1967 until 1980,” she said. She worked on the Carter opening production of The Unknown Soldier and His Wife. One drawback to the Carter was lack of and, later, inadequate dressing rooms. Referring to early days, she recalls, “In the Carter, costume changes were made either in the lobby or outdoors back of the theatre. People who drove down the services road and made U-turns frequently saw actors in their underwear.”
Players on the Carter stage over the last 40 plus years comprise a roster of talented, unique, funny, and unforgettable performers. Some were Equity members, some were not. In that stellar group were Robert Foxworth, the peerless Irene Tedrow (a member of the earlier 1935 Globe Players), Don Sparks, Katherine McGrath, Serena Pratt, Daniel J. Travanti, Lillian Garrett, Larry Drake, Wayland Capwell, David Dukes, Mary Louise Wilson, Kandis Chappell, Dakin Matthews, Jonathan McMurtry, Diane Sullivan Sinor, and John Sinor.
Many famed and future famous actors have performed at the Globe during its 80-year history. Jon Voight played Romeo to Lauri Peters’ Juliet in the Globe’s 1966 staging of Romeo and Juliet. Voight and Peters were married at the time (1962-1967) and they delivered strong performances on stage. They met earlier as part of the cast of the 1959 Broadway production of The Sound of Music starring Mary Martin. Peters, who played Liesi Von Trapp, may be heard on the original cast recording, which has reportedly sold 3 million copies. Voight joined the Music cast, assuming the role of the Nazi messenger boy Rolfe.
In 1972, actor Christopher Reeve appeared in the National Shakespeare Festival, acting in two of the productions that summer. Love’s Labour’s Lost and King Richard III. Leonard Nemoy starred in The Man in the Glass Booth mainstage in 1971-72 season. Here was a celebrated Equity actor performing with a non-Equity cast in a mix that worked well. Patrick Duffy, Bobby in Dallas, acted the part of Ferdinand in the Globe’s The Tempest in 1975. Duffy married actress-dancer Carlyn Rosser, a beautiful and talented actress in Noel’s 1958 production of On the Town. (Rosser was an alumna of San Diego Junior Theatre, which originated at the Globe in 1948, and that SDJT story was related in Part Two, 1945-55, of this series.) In 1975, David Ogden Stiers played the Duke of Vienna in Measure for Measure. Stiers loved working at the Globe, performing and directing there. He called it “THE place to work.”
Adding to many milestones, it was noted that On May 12, 1974, the 100,000th patron attended a winter season show at the Globe.
Women directors at the Globe have been rarities, but interestingly, a woman directed two productions in the 1947-48 opening season of the San Diego Community Theatre in the Old Globe. Her name was Bettie Holloway and she staged Family Portrait and The Drunkard, a popular show that turned a profit. She returned in1961 to direct Arsenic and Old Lace. Noel was forward in his thinking in the area of gender equality, too.
The summer of 1974 brought a woman director, Diana Maddox, to the Globe Shakespeare Festival, where she staged Romeo and Juliet. She was joined by Eric Christmas and Craig Noel who jointly directed a production of Twelfth Night and Edward Payson Call with Henry IV, Part 2. A woman had pierced the wall of male-only directors of Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe.
Women, a few women, had directed at the Globe, but not Shakespeare. Earlier, in the 1969-70 season, Minerva Marquis staged Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People in the Carter. Marquis was a well-known San Diego actress. During the 1970-71 Cassius Carter season, Marquis again directed, this time two shows. The first was In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the second was Caligula. Marquis knew theatre and particularly the Globe Theatre well. While she was the only female director those two seasons, she made up for it by directing two shows in 70-71. The only person who bested her in that area was Noel, who directed four. Noel worked constantly. The Globe was his baby.
In the summer of 1975, Maddox returned to direct Measure for Measure. The other two plays in the Shakespeare Festival that summer were The Tempest, directed by the great Ellis Rabb, and Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Jack O’Brien. Of course, Jack O’Brien would become a moving artistic force at the Globe in the years ahead, and a future three-time Tony Award winner. That Diana Maddox, an intellect with wide ranging knowledge of Shakespeare, should share the summer festival with two such giant theatre wizards was a tribute to her and a major breakthrough for women directors at the Globe.
Over the past 80 years, more than two-dozen productions have been directed by female directors at the Globe, a tiny percentage of the hundreds of productions in this theatre’s history. This year’s 80th anniversary celebration, however, features a celebrated female director, Rebecca Teichman, directing Twelfth Night in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. The struggle of American female stage directors to get assignments around the country provides a glaring national puzzle. It is a historical challenge. This is not unique to the Globe. Women directors at the Globe have made substantive contributions and burnished its reputation. It also mustn’t be forgotten that, behind the scenes, a strong woman by the name of Peggy Kellner kept the technical side of the Globe going for decades.
The 1974-75 season offered a sprightly lineup that had something for everyone. It was kicked off with a joyous production of Godspell, directed by the accomplished musical director Jack Tygett. Tygett always delivered and his choreography was terrific. Comedy and mystery were served as well, but the emotionally moving Abelard and Heloise proved to be the riveting piece as it closed the winter season in the Globe. In the Carter, audiences were treated to plays by Simon Gray, Moliere, Eugene Ionesco, Tom Stoppard, and Paddy Cheyevsky. The theatres were brimming with all genres of theatre. That summer saw a return of Godspell, but restaged in the Carter, and three Shakespeare productions in the Globe: The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing, and Measure for Measure. Directors Ellis Rabb, Jack O’Brien, and Diana Maddox ensured first rate interpretations.
Entering the next ten-year period, the 1975-76 season fittingly began with the remarkable production of Our Town, directed by Jack O’Brien and starring Craig Noel as the stage manager. Yes, Craig Noel. It marked Noel’s first stage appearance in 35 years. In a later UCSD television conversation with Jack O’Brien, Noel talked candidly about the difficulty he encountered when memorizing his lines for the show. Nevertheless, he and Thornton Wilder’s play were a winning combination, especially in the company of O’Brien’s knowing direction. In 2015, people still talk about that production, either because they were in the audience or because those who were there have shared the story.
The Globe’s story will be picked up in Part Five (1975-85), beginning with the triumph of Our Town and moving through periods of elation, great sorrow, and elation again. By 1975, there had been talk of a third theatre for a few years. Noel now had his heart set on that and, with it, a vision of a theatre center. That goal, however, caused great dissension among board members, those ultimately responsible for the fiduciary health of the institution. In the end, the board favored consideration of a third theatre, a challenge because of the limited footprint of the Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. By 1976, the board had revised its bylaws and had some new members, as well as newly retired ones. An influential media theatre critic wrote in support of a third theatre on more than a single occasion, there was public discussion, and the outlook was optimistic. But, any tentative plans were moot after a disastrous fire destroyed the Globe in 1978. How both grief and growth steered the theatre in the period between 1975 and 1985 will be explored in the next segment — so many twists and turns no one could have foreseen, which made for more drama than there was on any stage. DARLENE G. DAVIES
All visuals in the 1965-1975 segment are courtesy of Darlene G. Davies collection
The 1975-76 season is best remembered for the production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, which starred Craig Noel as the stage manager, the character who functions as the narrator of the play. Noel resisted playing the part for several reasons, the primary one being his fear of memorizing the many lines. The stage manager is the main role in this beloved play, and Noel had stopped acting 35 years earlier, not because of memorization difficulty — after all he was a young man then — but because of severe stage fright. At 60 years of age, he was still scared and also couldn’t memorize dialog like a young man. At the same time, he had staggering responsibilities at the Globe, but the irresistible O’Brien prevailed and Noel went on to deliver a celebrated performance.
Though Noel did not have great confidence in himself as an actor, he had great confidence in O’Brien, who he would choose to succeed him as artistic director. Rehearsals began, Noel still filled with doubts that continued through opening night. As O’Brien expected, the show opened to wonderful reviews and was enthusiastically embraced by audiences. To this day, people reminisce about that show, whether they were actually there or simply heard about it from others.
The same season of 1975-76 found Noel also directing four productions: The Pursuit of Happiness by Lawrence Langer and Armina Marshall; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams on the main stage; and The Advocate by Robert Noah and Winter Patriot by Frances Bardacke in the Cassius Carter. Bardacke reviewed books and play productions for San Diego Magazine for decades. She and her husband, Ted Bardacke, a professor and exceptional writer, co-authored plays. Shakespeare offerings that summer consisted of As You Like It, Othello, and Troilus and Cressida.
A wide variety of theatrical fare was served in the 1976-77 season and for most of the 1977-78 one, as well. Then, the unthinkable happened. On March 8, 1978 a fire broke out and rapidly consumed the Old Globe Theatre, leaving only the stage floor, which was concrete, intact. An arsonist had set fire to a velour curtain draped on a stage door and the entire theatre was destroyed in minutes.
The vulnerable building, which had been built in 1935 as a temporary structure, crackled and burned with raging intensity. Just two weeks before, the Aerospace Museum had also been destroyed by an act of arson. The Globe Theatre in beautiful Balboa Park faced its darkest days following that devastating fire. Though the Globe Theatre had been built like a temporary set, over the course of 38 years it had become a beloved destination not only for San Diegans, but visitors from around the world. It was regarded as permanent, though in worldly terms it was the opposite. As chroniclers of the tragic event observed, the day of March 8, 1978 would in other ways have been a beautiful one — warm and sunny, with a hint of spring. But, fate had deemed otherwise and the wood and stucco theatre in Balboa Park was gone, devoured by flames.
Though the theatre was left in ruins, the set for the production then in rehearsal was saved because it was in the scene dock beneath that concrete floor. Six days later, that set was on the stage of the downtown Spreckels Theatre. “The show must go on” was aptly illustrated by the will and discipline of the Board of Directors and administrators who worked non-stop. The Board met at 10am the same morning of the catastrophic fire. It was as if all the charred remains of the theatre, where audiences had sat and cheered and cried, where generations of actors, directors, and artisans had plied their crafts, were collapsed in grief. Such intense grief etched the faces of Craig Noel, Delza Martin, Victor Buono, and many others whose lives were permanently intertwined with the storied theatre.
Nearby buildings were saved from damage. Firefighters valiantly fought the raging fire and were able to protect the Cassius Carter Centre Stage, the scene dock, administrative offices and dressing rooms, and another temporary theatre was quickly built. This time it was an outdoor venue, the canyon-sited Festival Stage, which was built in just 52 days at a cost of $225,000 so that another annual Shakespeare Festival was ensured.
Lowell Davies was proud of the fact that under his leadership the Globe had $1 million in the bank at the time of the fire. It was from that money the $225,000 was drawn to build the Festival Stage. With the outpouring of emotion from the community, indeed from all over the nation, the San Diego City Council allowed the Globe Board to build a theatre in the canyon to the east of the Carter, but with one big proviso. The Council insisted no trees be cut down and that the proposed Festival Stage be used for only one season. It was to be purely a temporary structure with a decidedly limited lifespan.
The lovely canyon theatre was built with only one blip along the way. Workers of Nielsen Construction Company cut down trees without permission. Superior Court judge Charles W. Froelich, who was Globe President, signed an agreement that no more trees would be felled. The three trees in question were black acacias. Other smaller trees were also chopped down. The city announced the Globe would be required to post bond in the amount of the cut trees’ value. The understanding was that the trees would be put back in their original position once the outdoor theatre was removed — at the time, people didn’t realize how much the outdoor theatre would be embraced by the public.
The negotiations to build a temporary stage in the canyon were not easy, but they were tempered by the sadness surrounding the destruction of the Globe. Environmentalists were opposed, but in the end, there was a great affection for the Globe and the plans were approved. There were strings, however. The Globe was to remove the temporary stage by October 31 of the year and the canyon was to be restored to its natural pre-theatre construction by the same date. Still, the ever so wise and greatly admired public relations director at the Globe, Bill Eaton, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “When citizens see this facility, they may find it so practical, so beautiful, that they may want to keep it…” Of course, that is exactly what happened. The San Diego Union quoted Noel as saying, “Six hundred people sitting together in that canyon and hearing Shakespeare seems to me an appropriate use.” So appropriate, it stayed.
The Festival Stage opened with Henry V, co-directed by Craig Noel and Eric Christmas and was met with somewhat mixed reviews. But, also part of the 1978 summer festival was a gorgeous production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Jack O’Brien. Never a more magical setting was found for this bewitching tale. Nature’s glen provided the perfect environs for magic spells, lovers’ longings, and gentle chiding. The brilliant costumer Robert Morgan added luster to the production. Music was by the gifted Conrad Susa.
“Christmas on the Prado” was created in 1978 as a way to stimulate business for Balboa Park institutions. It was the same year in which two horrible fires had destroyed the Aerospace Museum and the Old Globe Theatre. Nevertheless, ten organizations in the park banded together to present the two-night holiday celebration which was considered a success with almost 3,000 attendees. Visitors were encouraged to shop in museum stores, view crafts and watch Elizabethan dancers. The Globe added a remarkable element to the line-up. A high point during those two evenings was a performance of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” delivered in the remains of the burned-out Old Globe. As a feature of the initial “Christmas on the Prado,” the Dylan Thomas classic unintendedly turned out to be the Globe’s first production on the footprint of the missing theatre since the March fire. Productions continued on the temporary Festival Stage and the Cassius Carter Centre Stage and those shows scheduled for the Globe venue were transferred to the Spreckels Theatre in downtown San Diego. No doubt, the experience of seeing and hearing a “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” within the charred remnants of the Old Globe Theatre must have been an eerie and emotional experience. Writer Bill Swank alludes to this extraordinary occasion in his 2015 book “Christmas in Balboa Park.”
The fundraising campaign to rebuild the Old Globe Theatre was massive. The goal was $6.3 million, an enormous figure in 1978. Money came from many sources, including telethons, galas, federal, state and city funds, as well as many corporations. There were contributions from monied patrons and even school children. Channel 39 broadcast the Old Globe Telethon hosted by Paul Bloom and Bob Dale. The guest appearances, all pro bono, were a “Who’s Who” of great talent eager to raise funds to build a newer, better Old Globe Theatre. A partial list of those who appeared includes Charlton Heston, Christopher Reeve, Victor Buono, Desi Arnaz, Harvey Korman, Monte Markham, David Birney, Meredith Baxter Birney, Patrick Duffy, Kevin Tye, Ray Bradbury, Irene Tedrow, Eric Christmas, Leonard Nimoy, Hal Holbrook, Jon Voight, Anthony Zerbe, Gordon Davidson, and Richard Hatch. Christopher Reeve sold kisses on the telethon needless to say, that was a big moneymaker.
What was striking was the widespread response from the many ordinary citizens who sent small donations. Some government awards required matching funds and there are records of donations from the Fiesta Dinner Theatre, a porno movie house, as well as many legitimate theatres across the country. Globe Guilders sold tee shirts and a member of the Globe Board of Directors, Maggie Mazur, mounted a fundraising weight loss campaign. Dollars were donated for every pound she lost, beginning with an opening night. A La Jolla dietitian was appointed to oversee the weight loss and the media gave great coverage to Mazur’s challenge. She did lose weight and the theatre rebuilding fund grew, but in the end, it was a soft spoken woman from La Jolla, Helen Edison, who stepped forward with a donation estimated to be a million dollars, the largest individual contribution to a nonprofit in San Diego history at that time. The person who persuaded Edison to give the money was Rita Bronowski, another La Jollan and the widow of the world famous scientist Jacob Bronowski. Rita had served on the play reading committee at the Globe for numerous years, was a close friend of Noel, and she subsequently went on to play a major part in the early years of the re-establishment of the La Jolla Playhouse. Edison was also a widow. Her late husband had founded the largest women’s shoe retail chain in America. As a result of Edison’s contribution, the three-theatre complex would be known as the Simon Edison Centre for the Performing Arts when completed. The Centre would consist of a triad — the new Globe, the Cassius Carter, and the Festival Stage.
Edison’s donation unlocked funds from other agencies and that was important because, as is often the case in capital campaigns, the fundraising drive had plateaued after a great start. Now, the Globe was really on its way to a new and permanent theatre. Jack O’Brien was officially named artistic director in 1981, as the new theatre was being completed. Tom Hall was named managing director and Noel became executive director, exactly as he wished. It was also announced the Globe would now be a year-round professional operation.
The opening of the rebuilt Old Globe Theatre in January, 1982 was a grand event, topped by a Noel-directed As You Like It with Ellis Raab as a definitive Jacques. Endorsements of the new theatre came from the highest levels of the government. Following speeches and a few ceremonies, the audience settled into the exquisite world of Shakespeare’s tale in their newer, better Old Globe Theatre. No one who was in attendance that evening will ever forget it and high festivities followed. No doubt, the years between 1975 and 1985 were a roller coaster, but yielded much.
In 1983, Noel created Teatro Meta, the Globe’s Hispanic theatre and outreach program. Once again, Noel had a vision. This time it was for a bilingual theatre division that would extend across the border. Teatro Meta was responsible for the incandescently beautiful production of Los Soles Truncos, or Fanlights. Associated with Noel on the project were William Virchis, Lillian Garrett, Irene Debari, Jorge Huerta, and Anita Hamilton. The same year, 1983, Queen Elizabeth II visited the newly rebuilt Globe and unveiled a sculpture of Shakespeare created by artist Roy Madsen.
A new donor category was created at the Globe in 1982. The introduced Founders group required an annual donation to the Globe of $5,000 and the higher level made the Globe staff very nervous. Would supporters give at this exorbitant level? Of course, many contributors joined the Founders. It is amusing now to think of this amount of money being record-setting. It was a major step forward in fundraising at the time, however.
While big steps forward were being taken by the Globe in 1983, there were major developments in La Jolla. After many fitful stops and starts, the renewed La Jolla Playhouse was beginning an ascendancy. The new kid on the block, a brilliant young director by the name of Des McAnuff, was appointed artistic director of the Playhouse. In his typical manner, Noel welcomed McAnuff to San Diego. Over the years, McAnuff would direct many productions, a number of which traveled to Broadway. In particular, he had spectacular success with Big River, The Who’s Tommy, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Jersey Boys. What might have bee a harmful rivalry between the Globe and the Playhouse was actually a motivator for each organization to reach new heights. The escalating artistic standards led to San Diego becoming what Time Magazine would dub “Theatre Boom Town.”
In June, 1984, Jack O’Brien and Tom Hall stood on stage in New York City in front of an audience of peers, accepting a special Tony Award for the Globe’s “notable past achievements and continuing dedication to theatre artistry.” What a decade. No one could have predicted any of it. In 1984, KPBS also premiered A Theatre Reborn, which told the story of the Globe from 1935 until the fire of 1978. Aired nationally on PBS, it received a Pacific Southwest Emmy Award. That same year, Noel also directed his 200th production at the Globe, Roshomon.
Tragedy, however, again struck, as in 1984, the temporary Festival stage in the canyon was itself destroyed by fire — thought to the result of the living conditions of transients residing in the canyon. This time rebuilding efforts were spear-headed by a lead gift from Sol Price, founder of Price Club and a personal friend of Lowell Davies.
The very next year, in June of 1985, it reopened as the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre with another glorious A Midsummer Night’s Dream, again directed by Jack O’Brien, just as in 1978, following the Globe fire. At the time of his death, two years earlier in 1983, Davies had served on the Globe board for 44 years. During those years, he had been appointed and reappointed by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy to the Advisory Committee on the Arts of the National Cultural Center, and by Governor Ronald Reagan to the California Arts Commission, for which he served as chair. Davies practiced law for half his life and served the arts for the other half.
The ebullient opening of the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre was part of an even larger celebration. 1985 marked the 50th anniversary of the Old Globe Theatre. Some members of the original company of the Globe 1935 Players attended an array of events honoring the 50 years. Honorary chairs for the 50th Anniversary were Lily Tomlin and Christopher Reeve. Tomlin delivered a funny and endearing speech and Governor Pete Wilson, who had begun his professional career as a young lawyer in Davies’ law firm, quoted a passage from playwright Pirandello.
A year that began on a high note in 1975 returned to an even higher note in 1985. Ten years had been crammed with more than a lifetime of events. What a ride, with plunges to great depths and climbs to new heights. Those years took their toll on all involved, but great things had been accomplished. And of course, there was more ahead. Legendary playwright/composer Stephen Sondheim and lyricist/writer/director James Lapine would arrive at the Globe in 1986, where they would develop and premiere Into the Woods. After some dark days, the Old Globe was on a roll. Darlene G. Davies
Charred ruins of San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, Tony Awards: Photo courtesy of The Old Globe, All other visuals in the 1975-1985 segment are courtesy of Darlene G. Davies collection
The years 1985-1995 were chock full of accomplishments. As noted earlier in the series, the 500th Globe production, King Richard III, directed by John Houseman, was staged in 1985. The next year, another capital campaign commenced — hard to believe since the previous campaign had ended only four years before and had successfully raised more than $6 million to rebuild the mainstage Globe Theatre — $6 million being a considerable sum in those days. When proposed in the immediate aftermath of the fire, there had been grave doubts about whether the goal could be achieved, but it was absolutely necessary in response to the senseless fire of 1978, and the great empathy of the public and non-stop appeals secured the funds in three years. All involved were exhausted. Elated, but exhausted, yet even so, in 1986, Globe volunteers and staff “rolled up their sleeves” and aimed for higher goals. Much admired civic leaders Dallas Clark and Jeannie Rivkin agreed to co-chair the campaign, which sought to bring in sufficient funds to enhance both facilities and the endowment. It was a long slog, one in which the co-chairs and the campaign committee members interacted with potential funders on a daily basis, sometimes at two or three meetings or events a day. But in 1991 the $10 million campaign was deemed successful to the tune of approximately $11 million. As a result, a rehearsal hall and a creative center were among many added facilities, and pressures eased, at least temporarily.
The Festival ’86 programming was so good, so varied and rich, it still impresses. Imagine a lineup of plays that included the very British comedy Beyond the Fringe penned by Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, and Dudley Moore, and directed by the incomparable Paxton Whitehead. There was also Moliere’s classic Tartuffe directed by Craig Noel; Richard II directed by theatre veteran Joseph Hardy; Julius Caesar directed by Dakin Matthews and Anne McNaughton; Much Ado About Nothing directed by the great actor and director Brian Bedford; and the new contemporary comedy Emily directed by Jack O’Brien. Emily celebrated the new power of women with a “women can do it all” attitude and hilarity. What a season it was — one that would be recalled for many years.
The year 1986 brought Into the Woods to the Globe, where it was fashioned and embellished by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. The two artists took up residence in San Diego, settled in, and set about creating a musical based on classic fairy tales. With music and lyrics by Sondheim and book and direction by Lapine, the Globe, outside investors, and talented performers focused on the intense process of creating and shaping the show. Script dialog and songs were altered, deleted, and expanded daily, requiring all involved to be nimble. It opened to great success in San Diego in December, and opened on Broadway the following November. This iconic musical is now a fabled part of theatre history.
In an official proclamation in January, 1987, San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor announced that 1987 was to be “The Year of Craig Noel” in honor of Noel’s 50-year association with the Old Globe. O’Connor established a pattern of announcing “The Year of…” from different venues each year, with a special fondness for Balboa Park.
On October 6, 1987, celebrated English actor Ian McKellen opened his one-man show for a six-day run in the Old Globe. Already named a Commander of the British Empire in 1979 and a 1981 Tony Award winner, the Cambridge University graduate performed Ian McKellen Acting Shakespeare in what he described as a relaxing atmosphere. He especially wanted audiences to feel comfortable with Shakespeare. In an interview that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on the day of opening night, McKellen was quoted as saying “It’s really a party in which the audience and I have a chance to let our hair down. I think the audience is so relieved — bless their heart — after they shell out their $20…My job is to say ‘Come on. It’s not going to be that bad.’” In addition to speeches from Hamlet, Henry V, As You Like It, and MacBeth, he tucked in delectable anecdotes connected to Shakespeare. One concerned his own earlier anxiety about playing Lear. He asked advice of John Gielgud, a Lear of magnitude, who responded, “Get a small Cordelia.” Looking back, just imagine, $20 to see and hear the great Ian McKellen.
Four productions that premiered at the Globe, Neil Simon’s Rumors, Stephen Metcalfe’s Emily, A. R. Gurney’s Another Antigone, and The Cocktail Hour opened in New York in 1988. Of those, Emily had a special place in the hearts of San Diego audiences.
One of the great accomplishments during Mayor O’Connor’s tenure was the creation of the Soviet Arts Festival in 1989. Many civic and arts leaders collaborated to make the vision a reality. The Globe’s contribution was the presentation of the Maly Drama Theatre of Leningrad’s production of Brothers and Sisters. Globe staff, including Tom Hall, traveled to Russia with a delegation to view and negotiate for Brothers and Sisters to be part of the San Diego Arts Festival: Treasures of the Soviet Union. The Globe was now on the world stage. The San Diego Arts Festival provided important experiences for the city and for many visitors to San Diego. There were arts packages offered, such as a joint event that offered admission to both the San Diego Museum of Art extensive Faberge exhibition and the Maly’s Brothers and Sisters. Collaboration was emphasized.
Neil Simon’s Jake’s Women premiered at the Globe in 1990 with Jack O’Brien as director. Simon had again chosen the Globe as the site for another world premiere, a great compliment to the theatre. This undertaking was bumpy, however. There were lots of difficulties, and when the play closed in San Diego, Simon rewrote 70 percent of it. He also replaced star peter Coyote with Alan Alda and director O’Brien with Gene Saks. Jake’s Women opened on Broadway in March, 1992, and it ran through much of October of the same year. The play was made into a TV movie again starring Alan Alda in 1996. Direction was provided by Glenn Gordon.
Also in 1990, Craig Noel turned 75, and the Globe and supporters toasted him in the merriest of styles. A mirthful party was staged on the Globe’s tented greensward, and a black-tie crowd happily donned paper 75th-birthday hats while downing Champagne. Among other things, Noel loved baseball, popcorn, macadamia nuts, and his Globe Guilders, all of which were included in the grand salute. A kind of zany souvenir book was printed and its greetings and ads came from a wide array of artists and supporters. Everyone associated wanted to be part of the Noel love fest. Marion Ross, Julie Kavner, David Ogden Stiers, Christopher Reeve, Dennis Hopper, and Robert Hayes are only some of the accomplished performers who had worked with Noel and retained enormous affection for him. They sent there greetings and paid for them to be printed — the ultimate test. But patrons and supporters showed their love for Noel as well: Evelyn Truitt, Donald and Darlene Shiley, Jim and Ruth Mulvaney, all of the Globe Guilders, Walter and Marian Trevor, Mitchell and Anne Kay, Richard and Mary Adams, Tawfiq and Richel Khoury, Deborah Szekely, Ted and Audrey Geisel, Jim and Estelle Milch, Marge O’Donnell, Jim and Dolly Poet, Bob and Bea Epsten, George and Martha Gafford, Art and Jeannie Rivkin, Joe Jessop, Jr., George and Carolyn Saadeh, Dallas and Mary Clark, Beth Mohr, and Kathy Crippen. A long list for readers, it is nevertheless brief in terms of the actual number of passionate supporters. In telling a story, players are frequently omitted for space or time. Still, for many of the Globe boosters, it would be unjust to skip over this huge element of the theatre’s success over the years.
Campbell Scott, the acclaimed actor-son of George C. Scott, starred in O’Brien’s 1990 production of Hamlet, and the production and Scott’s performance were electric in the effect they had on audiences. The Globe’s physical facilities were greatly enhanced in the 1992-93 season when the first two improvement phases were completed. There was a new $5 million Creative Center, a remodeling of the former administrative area (which was originally constructed in 1965, 27 years before), the addition of the Copley Plaza, the Helen Edison Gift Shop, and the unveiling of the Shiley Terrace food service. The Cassius Carter Centre Stage also got a new lobby and air conditioning.
During the same season, the revival of Damn Yankees, directed by Jack O’Brien, was a smash hit in San Diego. Ditto on Broadway, where Jerry Lewis starred. Yankees received four Tony nominations.
1995 marked the 60th anniversary season, and the Globe was in a celebratory mood. Much Ado About Nothing, directed by O’Brien, kicked off the winter season. It marked the first time since 1982 that a work by Shakespeare had been performed at the Globe. A big deal was made of this milestone year, so a special gala was chaired by two prominent and glamorous ladies, Karen Cohn and Lisa Barkett. An enormous white tent was erected in the parking lot behind Alcazar Garden. Following an elegant reception in the garden, guests attended a performance of The Doctor is Out: A Comedy Thriller by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, directed by Jack O’Brien. A sit-down dinner followed the performance, where guests were seated in a gorgeously art-directed interior, all in white. Tiffany & Co. underwrote the party, choosing and providing linens, dishes, and seat covers pulled from its New York flagship store. A “must keep” souvenir program was a gift to all patrons.
The 60th anniversary season included John Goodman as Falstaff in the Globe’s outdoor Festival production of Henry IV. Goodman’s physical presence commanded the stage. He owned the role. The play was also O’Brien’s 50th directing assignment at the Globe.
A sentimental tie to the long history of the Globe was included in the 60th year when, in August, the Globe and Noel reached way back to an enormously popular show Mr. Roberts, a production that in 1953 replaced the annual National Shakespeare Festival that year and also stabilized the Globe’s fiscal balance sheets. As a result of that sold-out show, the Globe was out of the red and solidly in the black, with some cash to spare. San Diego was a big Navy town in 1953, so many of the Roberts cast were stationed with the Navy in San Diego. There was some double casting of supporting roles because of the challenging schedules of actors/sailors. The “big brass” Navy officials were seen nightly in the audiences. A copy of the Globe Greeter at the time read: “As factual as a ship’s log, Mister Roberts has the flavor of service coffee and the kick of torpedo juice.” As “Tommy” Thompson, a cast member of the 1953 show, said in a 1995 San Diego Union interview, “A lot of women put on heavy lipstick…and before these guys’d go back onstage, they were kissed everywhere but, know what I mean? They really smooched ’em up. And they took great pride in making sure they did it different every night.”
The reprise of Mr. Roberts in 1995 was less successful for a number of reasons, the most significant being that times had changed dramatically. Culturally, the United States was a different nation in 1995, and that disconnect was almost painfully apparent to audiences. In addition, the venue was the outdoor theatre rather than the traditional Old Globe with a proscenium stage. What required a certain comedic intimacy was short-changed in the Festival Theatre. It sort of worked, but not completely.
The operating budget of the Globe increased rather dramatically every year and in 1995 the idea of donor sponsorship took hold. Corporations and individuals began to financially sponsor single productions and entire seasons. The number of sponsors grew over the years and the dollar amounts in sponsor categories also spiraled upward.
By 1995, the Globe was an important regional theatre and presence on Broadway. Financial support would strengthen in the latter part of the next period of 1995- 2005. The good news was that additional shows would transfer to Broadway. But, there were some highly uncertain times in the middle of these years, during which the Globe would lurch forward and also backward. Out of great uncertainty would emerge new ways of doing things, very different management styles, and creation of hybrid strategies for meeting the financial nut needed to keep the theatre operating. The Globe was playing with the big boys, and any attempt to solve financial challenges by retreating was doomed to failure. As it began to recover in 2003, the slow recovery involved an embracing of the old saying that an institution either grows in size and stature or it diminishes in importance. Major lessons were waiting to be learned.
Into the Woods & Mister Roberts: Photo courtesy of The Old Globe, All other visuals in the 1985-1995 segment are courtesy of Darlene G. Davies collection
An Emeritus Board of Directors was created at the Globe in 1996, and the inaugural members were Delza Martin, Dallas Clark, and Sister Sally Furay, a formidable triad that carried with it a long institutional memory. It was full circle for Martin, who had been a board member of the San Diego Community Theatre in 1937 and the Barn Players that preceded that. She was a constant presence in the life of the Globe for generations, and was also the Board member who persuaded Noel to give up his position at 20th Century Fox to return to the Globe as Artistic Director in 1947.
In 1996, Play On!, directed by Associate Artistic Director Sheldon Epps, had its world premiere at the Globe. Epps not only directed, but conceived of this jazz musical. Showcasing the music of the Duke Ellington, Play On earned several Tony nominations for its run in 1997.
By 1997, the highly successful Old Globe/University of San Diego MFA graduate acting program was humming along. Now ten years old, it had been the brainchild of Noel and USD Vice President and Provost Sally Furay, RSCJ. USD President Author Hughes strongly supported Noel’s and Furay’s efforts. Furay was an active member of the Globe Board of Trustees and continued to serve on that board for many years.
Included in the Globe line-up in 1997 was a production of The Mask of Moriarty. The play featured the sleuthing of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, with two of the Globe’s most gifted actors, Paxton Whitehead and Tom Lacy, starring in the roles. By that time, the Globe had officially recognized both as Associate Artists. The two character actors brought different qualities to their parts. Whitehead with his deep, rich voice reaching down to bass notes, commands any stage on which he stands. Lacy, quite simply a comic genius, kept audiences in “stitches” in this, like the many other Globe productions in which he performed. He had recently appeared in Overtime and by 1997 had acted in at least 20 shows at the Old Globe. Together, the two embodied the magic and mystery of the stage.
The year 1998 was a high water mark for the Globe. It was in that year the Globe premiered How the Grinch Stole Christmas, directed by Jack O’Brien. Dr. Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel, had penned the widely-beloved children’s morality tale about a mean old Grinch who undergoes a transformation. After Geisel’s death, his widow, Audrey, permitted the development of a stage version. She blessed the project and gave the Globe rights to the production for ten years. Ted Geisel was a resident of La Jolla for many years and a fixture among the literary and cognoscente of the San Diego area. There was a fertile community of intellectuals associated with the University of California San Diego in La Jolla and the Geisels made many friends in that community. Geisel had written many of his books elsewhere, earlier in his life, but found living on his scenic hilltop in La Jolla altogether agreeable with his constant creative endeavors. For her part, Audrey was deeply involved in artistic and philanthropic activities and a great supporter of the Globe. The Grinch was instantly embraced by local and regional theatre goers, and has become a yearly ritual for many families. As of 2015, How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been produced 15 consecutive years and 16 times overall counting its premier run. The Globe’s signature holiday event seems not to have lost any of its momentum over the years.
The following year, 1999, Noel was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre, major national recognition for an artist who had worked only regionally, and mostly locally. Such was Noel’s impact on the larger arts community.
The year 2000 marked the 65th anniversary of the Old Globe, and another full color souvenir book was produced to accompany the gala chaired by Sheryl White. In the same celebratory year, actor Daniel Travanti of the hit television drama Hill Street Blues appeared in Jon Maran’s Old Wicked Songs. Travanti developed an enthusiasm for the Globe, as did many other actors over the years. David Ogden Stiers once confided that his agent said he had to leave the Globe, where he had been acting and generally hanging off and on for a couple of years. He needed to earn some money in television and film.
The pull of the Globe has been very strong and no one has had longer or deeper ties to the theatre than actress Marion Ross of TV’s Happy Days fame. Ross acted at the Globe as an undergraduate at State College in the late 1940s, but by the 1970s, film and TV assignments had busied her for decades. Still, in the 1973-74 season, she found time to render a searing performance in Summer and Smoke, directed by Noel. Then in 2000, following another long absence, she returned to the Globe in Joe DiPietro’s Over the River and Through the Woods, costarring with actor Paul Michael. Again, director Noel was by her side, and the show was well received by audiences.
In 2000, a major change took place at the theatre as Managing Director Tom Hall resigned his post. He had worked non-stop and was commonly referred to as a workaholic. Hall was the first of the esteemed 1981 triad to step down, the others being Jack O’Brien and Craig Noel. It was in that year, as the rebuilding of the Old Globe neared completion, that the three men took over management of the theatre, befitting the establishment of a year-round, professional operation. Noel had hand-picked O’Brien and Hall too, and following the inaugural As You Like It, which opened the rebuilt Globe in early 1982, there were no more non-Equity productions, with the exception of University of San Diego MFA performances. By 2000, Noel had lessened his workload but was still active.
Hall had myriad duties. He negotiated contracts, hired employees, served as president of the national League of Resident Theatres (LORT), was an active member of the California Arts Council, and generally oversaw all business aspects of the Globe, which by 2000 was a very large operation. Hall’s departure left a big hole in the Globe’s fabric.
A national search for a successor resulted in the hiring of Douglas C. Evans, who was active within the arts scene in Connecticut and had a strong resume. He was politically well connected and brought enthusiasm and energy to his new job. Evans also recruited other staff members with high-powered resumes. He was brimming with creative ideas. His tenure at the Globe lasted a mere two years, however. He interacted well with the Globe Guilders and the San Diego community, but staff relations were challenging. Most importantly, the Globe’s finances were worrisome. In his defense, there were already financial forces at work when Evans arrived at the Globe that caused him to move in the direction of cutting back the budget. Productions requiring lower cash outlays were emphasized. Overall, there was re-thinking that reduced size and scope of certain projects. Because of cash-flow problems, Evans didn’t want to spend funds on anything deemed non-essential. Long-time audiences began to grumble. As artistic quality was sometimes compromised, fewer people attended the three theatres. However, in spite of financial pressures, memorable productions were produced during this period, including Over the River and Through the Woods, and the smash hit The Full Monty in 2000, and Da in 2001. The Full Monty went on to become a Broadway success and to widely tour. But, some of the seasons’ offerings during Evans’ brief tenure were disappointing. Cases in point: The Woman in Black and Enter the Guardsman, and Euripides’ The Trojan Women didn’t fare as well as expected either. During the same period, The Boswell Sisters, a retro musical, also had its world premiere, and was pleasing to many who saw it. But, overall, the Globe experienced difficult days. In other structural ways, the Globe continued to evolve. During the Evans years, the Globe logo was redesigned so that The Globe Theatres became the super title for inclusion of the three separate venues. The Globe Theatres then presented separate shows in the Old Globe Theatre, the Cassius Carter Centre Stage, and the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. The attempt to capture three theatres under one aegis was a good one, but the solution wasn’t embraced for long. Among other changes instituted by Evans were creation of a patron suite for use by generous donors and the reduction in size of the Helen Edison Gift Shop. The smaller size gift shop was the casualty of the patron suite, which was carved from the gift shop footprint. Both changes, plus the redesigned logo, were instituted by Evans. The patron suite and the downsized but now very accessible gift shop remained in operation following Evans’ departure. They have continued to be popular.
The Globe Board member who stepped up to fill Hall’s role on a transitional basis following Evans’ departure and leading up to Lou Spisto’s hiring was the much admired Garet B. Clark. He served as Interim Managing Director from February through Novemer, 2002 — ten months. Clark was well qualified to assume the temporary assignment. From 1989 until 2000, he was the Regional President of the San Diego Office of Northern Trust Bank of California, and had a long history and great over view of the Globe. On his watch, O’Brien directed Imaginary Friends.
A national search for Evans’ replacement followed his departure. Enter Spisto, whose resume included two years as Executive Director of the American Ballet Theatre in New York City, a stint as President of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra before that, and more than ten years as Executive Director of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra in Orange County. As Evans’ successor, Spisto, described the situation some years later at an informal San Diego County Supervisor meeting, Evans chose to deal with the Globe’s financial challenges by severely cutting financial outlay, while he, Spisto, made the decision to enlarge the vision with necessarily expensive goals and, hopefully, grow the subscription base, the donor levels, and overall dollar amounts — as well as the theatre’s national reputation. It was a crap shoot. Both approaches made sense, but the eventual outcome is a reminder of the old adage that an entity either grows or dies, goes forward or backward, with nothing in between. Evans was at the Globe for a very short period, hardly time enough to thoroughly test his management theory. Future years, though, proved Spisto’s approach successful not only in pulling the Globe out of a difficult period, but in leading it to greater success. Taking his visionary approach, Spisto also took great chances. There was not even a partial guarantee of success. No doubt, the Globe had experienced financial shortfalls before — what arts institution hasn’t? — and survived. But still, the years from 2000 to 2002 were daunting.
On December 2, O’Brien was named the 2002 winner of the “Mr. Abbott” award by the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF). The highly prestigious award was established in homage to the theatre legend George Abbott, a distinguished director and playwright. Other recipients include Bob Fosse, Agnes De Mille, Harold Prince, Trevor Nunn, Mike Nichols, Tommy Tune, and Susan Stroman. Ten days later, his production of Imaginary Friends opened on Broadway, having made an unusually speedy transfer from the Globe, where it closed on November 3. The script was witty and the cast was on its game. In the show, actresses Swoosie Kurtz and Cherry Jones vividly brought to life the characters of writer rivals Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy. The playwright was the inimitable Nora Ephron. The production had a short run on Broadway, but its sharp, intelligent script coalesced with the lead performances and O’Brien’s sure directing hand. The production was a highlight of the Globe that season. The San Diego Theatre Critics Circle created the Annual Craig Noel Awards for Theatre Excellence in 2003. This annual event where “the best of” awards are bestowed has become a significant evening, bringing together the entire San Diego County theatre community, as well as the journalists who write about the arts. It is a joyous celebration of artistic creation, one that finds those from small, cash-challenged venues such as Ion and Moxie theatres mingling with those from major institutions such as the Globe and La Jolla Playhouse. The Theatre Critics penned this tribute to Noel when it named the awards for him: “Craig Noel, the namesake for the Critics Circle’s annual awards — who died in 2010 — was revered for his decades-long efforts to build a rich and vibrant theater community in San Diego. We honor his legacy as the beloved founding father of San Diego’s theatre community by carrying on the tradition of rewarding excellence with awards in his name.” To win a Craig Noel Award is a remarkable source of pride.
The year 2004 found the distinguished playwright Arthur Miller at the Globe, where, for a month, he worked on his play Resurrection Blues, rewriting portions of the script on a daily basis. Surprisingly to some, he was sociable, and quite accessible. Box office receipts for the show were pretty good, but critics were underwhelmed.
To the great joy of many, the Shakespeare Festival in true repertory was re-instituted in 2004. The three plays that ran were Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It, and Two Noble Kinsmen. The great Darko Tresnjak directed Antony and Kinsmen. Karen Carpenter staged As You Like It. The results were extremely satisfying and this Shakespeare Festival was a strong reminder that the Globe’s forte was Shakespeare and Shakespeare in repertory at its best.
Actor Christopher Reeve died of cardiac arrest on October 10, 2004. The famous film actor, forever remembered as the star of the Superman films, had become a quadriplegic as a result of a fall from a horse, a horrible accident that took place in 1995. In the nine years that followed, Reeve needed constant medical care. His response was to set up a foundation for research into treatment for quadriplegics, and he advocated strongly for those suffering like himself. Reeve had been a handsome and talented actor in the Globe Shakespeare company and, later, had campaigned to raise funds for the rebuilding of the Old Globe Theatre in 1978 following the ruinous fire. He had studied at Cornell University and the Juilliard School in New York. Noel was a friend of Reeve and his wife Dana, and felt profound empathy for them.
The Grinch Family Experience was also created in 2004, and offered for several more years. Preceding the matinee performance on the weekend, a Grinch lunch was served to children and parents in the Globe rehearsal hall in Balboa Park’s House of Charm. The food on the plates was in the imaginative colors of Whoville dishes, and after the lunch, in an adjacent rehearsal hall, a Whoville crafts workshop was set up, where children crafted books and miniature stage sets. Completely magical. Elusive child wonderment was in abundance that day of 2004 and for some years afterward.
The big glossy scamp of a musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was developed and polished at the Globe in late 2004, opening there on September 22. Starring John Lithgow, Norbert Leo Butz, and Sherie Rene Scott, the show was an enormous hit even from the time of previews. Scoundrels moved to Broadway in January, 2005 and officially opened in March of the same year. It ran for 626 performances, closing on September 3, 2006. While nominated for ten Tony Awards, it won only a single one and that was for Butz as Leading Actor. Nevertheless, Scoundrels, like so many other shows that have traveled to Broadway, began at the Globe, amusing and delighting theatre goers in San Diego.
A really wonderful production, with depth and perception, I Just Stopped by to See the Man ran in the Cassius Carter Centre Stage in early 2005. That same year, O’Brien made it official. Starting in March he would concentrate on bringing shows to the Globe for workshops and tryouts from time to time, but in the future, he would not be in San Diego very much. It was reported in the press that his salary had been renegotiated.
The 70th anniversary of the Old Globe Theatre was celebrated in a big way. The University of California San Diego TV station, channel 35, produced a sparkling hour-long program that featured a one-to-one conversation between Jack O’Brien and Craig Noel discussing the history and operation of the Globe. Unscripted, the discussion is funny, charming, and entertaining. Scenes from shows and comments by myriad Globe artists and supporters are edited into the program as well. The video aired many times on UCSD TV and copies of it were given to guests at the gala dinner celebrating both the Globe’s 70th anniversary and Noel’s 90th birthday. During anniversary festivities, the Globe also opened its entire campus to the public, and visitors came by the thousands for lectures, video viewing, theatre tours, exhibits, and live performances. Marion Ross, as Queen Elizabeth I, waved from the upstairs deck to the multitudes of people in attendance.
The 2005 Shakespeare Festival, now firmly in the knowing hands of Darko Tresnjak, featured The Comedy of Errors, Macbeth, and The Winter’s Tale. Tresnjak directed two of the plays and Paul Mullins added his deft touch to the third.
The Globe was on an upward trajectory once again.
65th Anniversary Gala & 70th Anniversary CD: Photography courtesy of Darlene G. Davies Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Photography by Jim Cox All other Photography courtesy of The Old Globe
The final ten-year period in the Globe’s 80-year history, 2005-2015, began with the marvelous Chita Rivera performing in The Dancer’s Life, which she described as her “living memoir.” The legendary Tony-Award-winning dancer/actress developed her memory piece at the Globe, where it premiered. Her presence was regarded as a great honor for those at the theatre. Audiences loved her, experiencing the extraordinary theatrical lineage she personified. At 72 years of age, she was as self disciplined as ever, possessing an impeccable sense of what she could do, and where she could go with her art. The Dancer’s Life was directed and choreographed by Graciela Daniele and the book was by Tony-Award-winning playwright Terrance McNally. In the show, Rivera reprised many musical numbers from her past productions, including, West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman. The show, which ran at the Globe from September 22 through October 23, was created by Mark Hummel, and transferred almost immediately to the Schoenfeld Theatre in New York, where Rivera received critical raves and another Tony nomination.
Following the annual Grinch holiday celebration, none other than the great Twyla Tharp brought her newest theatre project to the Globe. The Times They Are A-Changin’ was choreographed by Tharp to the music of Bob Dylan. It sounded great — too good to be true. Still, despite the distinct privilege of having such illustrious talents in San Diego, the project, which world premiered at the Globe, was not successful. After extensive revisions, it opened on Broadway on October 26, 2006 and quickly closed. In short, it bombed on the Great White Way, vehemently panned by The New York Times and other media outlets. Nevertheless, it was thrilling to have Tharp, and, it was rumored, Dylan at the Globe. Excitement and hope were in the air. The Times They Are A-Changin’ failed, but a lot of effort and money were put into it. The environment during that period at the Globe was electrifying.
Actor Jim Parsons first appeared on the hit TV series The Big Bang Theory in 2007. Who would have imagined that show would become such a mega hit, earning Parsons numerous Emmys, many millions of dollars, as well as Broadway theatre appearances? Parsons was a graduate of the highly selective The Old Globe/University of San Diego MFA program, a two-year program that chooses only seven applicants each year from a pool of national and international candidates. At the start of any given year, there are no more than 14 students in the program — seven beginning it and seven working to complete it.
After trying mightily to maintain active artistic ties with the Globe, O’Brien faced reality and officially left the Globe in 2008. His multiple Tony Awards, all hard earned and well deserved, increased demand for his directorial services, and he simply didn’t have the necessary time to spend at the Globe. In O’Brien’s place as artistic director, Spisto appointed two co-artistic directors, Jerry Patch and Darko Tresnjak. So, Tresnjak was not only director of the summer festival, but overall co-artistic director. Patch remained in his post only a short time, leaving later in 2008 to become the director of artistic development at the highly regarded Manhattan Theatre Club. Tresnjak made his exit in 2009, eventually becoming artistic director of Hartford Stage. It is there he directed the huge hit A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, co-produced along with the Hartford Stage by the Globe. Tresnjak won a Tony after the riotous comedy opened on Broadway. The influence of the Globe radiates in myriad directions and the fingerprints of artists who have worked at the Globe are everywhere. Many roads lead back to the Globe, something that can certainly be said of La Jolla Playhouse, as well.
The 2011 Shakespeare Festival (not all Shakespeare), with Britain’s famed Shakespeare director Adrian Noble at the helm once again, showcased Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, and Amadeus in the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. Noble had been recruited by Spisto to become the Shakespeare Festival artistic director in 2010 following the resignation of Tresnjak, who masterfully held the title through the 2009 summer season. No doubt about it, Tresnjak stamped his signature on the festival, particularly with his brilliant visual images. He made vivid, indelibly retained stage pictures with bold colors and dramatic shapes. There was nothing hesitant about Tresnjak/s style, which combined boldness with simplicity, linear lines with surprising movement, and usually an unexpected “take” on the story. But snagging Noble was a real accomplishment. His international reputation for producing Shakespeare was top of the line. He had made his 2010 debut as festival artistic director with the programming of King Lear, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Madness of King George. The first and the third were directed by Noble, with Shrew directed by Ron Daniels. Inspired programming and energetic productions reinforced the outstanding reputation Noble brought to San Diego. The Globe was fortunate to have him in its midst for three astonishingly good summers of Shakespeare. The man who would replace Spisto, Barry Edelstein, in 2012 also carried impeccable Shakespearean credentials.
Lou Spisto resigned from the Globe in October, 2011. He had been a strong force at the theatre, as both the artistic and administrative manager after Patch and Tresnjak left — a highly unusual situation, though not unprecedented. Spisto’s official reason for leaving was to pursue independent projects and, indeed, he has done that as a producer of Broadway shows, making excellent use of his ability to raise and bundle funds and to put interested people together for specific theatre projects. Spisto’s leadership style at the Globe, however, was mostly top down, not at all egalitarian, something difficult in a community of creative artists. To his credit, during his nine-year tenure, the budget increased from $14 million to nearly $20 million, and he completed an ambitious capital campaign to raise $75 million for the Globe’s 75th anniversary year. Spisto also established the Southeast San Diego Residency Project and acquired the Southeast San Diego tech center for storage of sets, props, and costumes, as well as allowing for set construction. A three-year James Irvine grant had produced such community based shows as Kingdom and Odyssey. Many great artists worked at the globe during Spisto’s time, including the playwright Arthur Miller. Shows transferred from the Globe to Broadway and audiences were positive, but Spisto’s relations with the Globe staff were sometimes difficult.
In Spisto’s absence, the Board of Directors appointed the Globe’s general manager, Michael G. Murphy, as interim managing director. Murphy was ideal for the job. He had the experience, judgment, and reasoned maturity to serve in the temporary role and, ultimately, the Board made him permanent managing director. He knew how to negotiate contracts, how to oversee technical aspects, and possessed the skills to effectively interact with donors and board members. Importantly, he understood the needs of staff.
On October 17, 2012, a search committee concluded its assignment to select the best candidate for the position of artistic director, and Barry Edelstein was chosen. Edelstein was, at the time, the director of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theatre’’s Shakespeare Lab Conservancy. He had held that post since 2007, taught at prestigious institutions, written well-received books about Shakespeare, and his directing assignments were numerous. The Globe Board was elated that he accepted and since moving to San Diego and assuming the job he has made changes, such as eliminating the repertory aspect of the Shakespeare Festival and inaugurating an ambitious Shakespeare touring project called “Globe for All.”
He and other the directors he has hired have mounted strong productions and he has programmed varied and challenging theatrical seasons. He is especially proud of that “Globe for All” outreach program that takes Shakespeare to venues outside Balboa Park, settings such as homeless shelters, prisons, public schools, and senior centers. Edelstein feels strongly that Shakespeare should be accessible to everyone.
In 2012, George Takei, famed for the original Star Trek TV show and films, appeared on the Globe stage in a new musical titled Allegiance, and San Diego theatre critic Jim Hebert wrote that the story behind Allegiance made the show the biggest surprise in San Diego theater that year. The musical tells the story of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and Takei’s childhood memories of life in an internment camp added profound meaning to the production. Allegiance had its world premiere at the Globe and Takei spent considerable time at the theatre and in the San Diego community, in addition to his time on stage. He proved to be an extremely articulate and charming man and the show moved to Broadway earlier in fall, 2015.
2012 was marked with sadness at the Globe when Diane Sinor, Globe actress, educator, mentor, and writer over a span of 47 years, died on November 5. She had been named an associate artist before her death, and the memories and experiences she carried were valued beyond measure.
Nicholas Martin was once again welcomed back to the Globe in 2013 to direct a glowing production of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalian. The cast was a director’s dream, as many of the actors had already achieved associate artist status. Those associate artists were Paxton Whitehead, Deborah Taylor, Don Sparks, and Kandis Chappell. Chappell, at that point, had acted in more Globe shows than any other artist. Of special note is the fact that Martin had performed at the Globe in the 1950s under the name Joel Martin. He had been part of the APA Repertory Company headed by the legendary Ellis Rabb at the same time a young Jack O’Brien was also part of the troupe. Martin was 23 and O’Brien, who was 22, greatly encouraged him as he redesigned himself, transitioning from actor to director. As Rabb’s and John Houseman’s assistant, O’Brien was focused on becoming a director right from the start. Many years in training and almost countless directing assignments sculpted O’Brien into the acclaimed and prolific stage director he is today, and his belief in Martin’s directorial future was right on the mark.
Martin became a much-in-demand director all over America, and his Pygmalian at the Globe in January and February of 2013 demonstrated why he was in such demand. The production was lustrous and stylish. It starred Robert Sean Leonard, whose Professor Henry Higgins was something other than the usual stalwart bigger-than-life character. The contemporary interpretation attracted a flood of new theatre goers. Don Sparks and Deborah Taylor were riotously funny, while Kandis Chappell was the height of elegance, speaking beautifully. Paxton Whitehead commanded the stage without much effort and some thought he should have been cast as Higgins. But, Leonard’s younger, informal, more inwardly focused “me” interpretation spoke to enthusiastic young audiences. Change was good. The set, costumes, and lighting were outstanding, while the audience enjoyed the language and style of Shaw, proving people should visit and revisit Shaw more often.
The excitement was almost too much as Steve Martin and Edie Brickell brought their new musical Bright Star to the Globe in 2014. Their choice of the Globe was the direct result of an invitation to Martin from Barry Edelstein to develop the piece at the Globe. The show was filled with music by Martin and Brickell, lyrics by Brickell, and book by Martin. Walter Bobbie directed. There were frequent changes. New songs were written during rehearsal weeks, and enhancement money provided additional resources. It was an exciting time with something entirely new in the works. The Globe continued to explore. It was still flexible. Like so many other new works premiered at the Globe, Bright Star positioned itself to open on Broadway, but first with a planned early stop in Washington, D.C.
In the same year, 2014, Rebecca Taichman staged a brilliant version of J.B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways at the Globe. Martin was also set to re-direct his Broadway hit production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” but his ill health required his assistant, who also knew the show extremely well, to take over.
Martin died shortly thereafter and his death was mourned throughout the theatre world as his great kindness, generosity, and good humor were recalled by colleagues. The brilliant director had been in ill health for some time, but had continued directing in spite of challenges.
Othello attracted large audiences to the outdoor theatre in the summer of 2014. Directed by the new artistic director Barry Edelstein, the play was cast with an eye toward drawing audiences from a wide range of ages and demographics. Blair Underwood of TV fame proved an effective Othello, delivering a highly intense portrayal of the Moor. Actress Kristen Connolly of Netflix’s House of Cards was an appealing Desdemona. Audiences and critics either loved or disliked Richard Thomas’ (The Waltons) villainous Iago, providing much fodder for discussion and the exchange of ideas. With its intelligent staging, the 2015 Othello was a success by any measure. It made money and it pleased audiences.
CRAIG 100 was a one-night celebration of what would have been Craig Noel’s 100th birthday. The evening toasted the modest artist who’d spent most of his adult life in service to the theatre. He died in his home in San Diego in 2010, not far from Balboa Park and his beloved Globe. The August evening devoted to memories of Noel and his astonishing array of Globe Theatre productions brought onstage the young — USD MFA students — and the old — Jonathan McMurtry, who had been recruited as an actor to the globe in the early 1960s. There were goose bumps as McMurtry read lines of the stage manager in Our Town alongside two excellent MFA readers. Above the three actors was a photo of Noel as the stage manager in the earlier Globe production of Our Town, directed by Jack O’Brien. There were also sound clips from the San Diego-themed Caught in the Act musicals so beloved in the late 1940s and early 1950s and, in between, associate artists read aloud passages from selected plays. San Diego Junior Theatre youngsters performed a tribute to Noel and his vision in creating the Junior Theatre Wing of the Old Globe Theatre, which was spun off and morphed into the remarkable current-day San Diego Junior Theatre. The SDJT singers and dancers nearly brought the house down as the saying goes. Among the capacity audience, guests of the long ago Old Globe mingled with newbies and remembered those who had passed away. The golden thread of the evening was the Globe and especially the light of its long life, Craig Noel.
The San Diego Zoo built a parking garage directly behind the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in 2015. Constructed as parking for zoo employees during the day, it was opened to Globe Theatre and San Diego Museum of Art patrons in the evenings for a $20 fee. Many trees and shrubs were removed to build the new parking structure, but the sets for the 2015 Shakespeare Festival were ingeniously devised to disguise the fact that the upstage area no longer opened onto the magnificent natural tree-filled glen. Set designers and crafts people predictably plied their craft with inspired creativity to provide clever and fully functional sets for the summer productions.
2015, the 80-year marker of the life of the Globe, closed with three very different and equally rewarding shows. In Your Arms, billed as a world premiere dance musical, was a melange of well-choreographed dance pieces, each of which began with an idea and story development of that idea from a variety of well-known writers. That is when the choreographer went to work to create pieces from the writers’ inspirations. The results were excellent, especially because of the great skill of the dancers and choreography by Christopher Gatelli and Jennifer Manocherian. Some of the stories were brief while others were longer. The illustrious writers were Nilo Cruz, Alfred Uhry, Carrie Fisher, Lynn Nottage, Douglas Carter Beane, Marsha Norman, David Henry Hwang, Rajiv Joseph, and Christopher Durang. Lyrics were by Christopher Durang, Terrance McNally, and Lynn Ahrens.
Full Gallop, which had been produced before at the Globe, was remounted in a bold comedic manner in 2015. The show played in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre alongside In Your Arms in the Old Globe. The story of fashionista Diana Vreeland proved to be very funny as star Mercedes Ruehl missed no punch lines and verbalized non-stop from start to finish, truly full gallop. Ruehl seemed to be having the time of her life and so did her audiences.
There was great news in fall, 2015 when the Irvine Foundation’s New California Arts Fund awarded the Globe a $1.725 million grant. Shortly after that announcement, a major reorganization at the Globe resulted in the creation of the Department of Arts Engagement. The Education department was incorporated into the larger section. Freedome Bradley Ballentine was hired as the first director of arts engagement and he was tasked with playing a key role in administering projects supported by the three year Irvine grant.
Finally, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! closed the Globe’s 80th anniversary year, and fittingly so. A morality tale that rewards goodness and restores hope is a theme families return to year after year. The annual holiday tree lighting ceremony continued to draw huge crowds, where enthusiasts of all ages, babies to the elderly, gathered for celebration and merriment. This was the 10th annual Grinch Christmas Tree Lighting event.
As 2015 closed, the 2016 season was announced and the forward moving theatre anticipated transitioning from its 80th to 81st anniversary.
80 years. The story of the Globe is full of high drama, great humor, tragedy, survival, and change. The mission of story telling remains, and in this instantly changing world, the key to doing that is by embracing change, both chosen and unforeseen. So far, so good. The future will be highly challenging, but the Globe is nimble. After all, it has survived for 80 years.
“All the World’s a stage.
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven stages.”
~ Jacques in Act II Scene VII of Shakespeare’s As You Like It
Chita Riviera: Photo by © 2005 Craig Schwartz Photography Michael G. Murphy: Photo by Doug Gates Barry Edelstein: Photo by Joseph Moran — all courtesy of The Old Globe All other photography courtesy of Darlene G. Davies collection