The South Coast Repertory Story
• Stepping Ahead The History of SCR
• Mission Statement
A Dramatic History
The 48-year Odyssey from Beachfront to Broadway
In 1964, "South Coast Repertory" was a band of untested former theatre students launching an artistic odyssey on little more than raw talent and enthusiasm. Led by David Emmes and Martin Benson, they had emerged from college into the crossfire of a revolution in American theatre. Young theatre artists were out to break Broadway's hold over America's stages by founding independent professional theatres. They called theirs a "resident theatre movement," and by the early 1960s it was taking root in cities across America.
Emmes and Benson had attended San Francisco State College, where two of its faculty — Jules Irving and Herbert Blau — also ran the Actor's Workshop, a model for resident theatre advocates. Having gone separate ways after graduation, and holding jobs in academia, the social services and the peripheries of entertainment, Emmes and Benson gathered a few San Francisco friends in summer 1963 to stage Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde at the "Off-Broadway Theatre" in Long Beach. The chemistry worked. The theatre's board invited the troupe back to mount a series of plays the next summer.
They returned with The Hostage, Major Barbara and The Alchemist. The process of staging these three productions was transforming for the talented friends. The pressure they put themselves under to excel, and the creativity that emerged, marked the 1964 summer in Long Beach as a crucible. The band of hopefuls was fused into a company.
Emmes and Benson were convinced there was a future for them in theatre. They sketched out a plan to create a theatre company. The first step would involve touring to rented stages. In November 1964, SCR's first production, Moliere's Tartuffe, opened at the Newport Beach Ebell Club.
The next step would be their own location, which would expand over the years. They chose to locate it in Orange County, a virgin territory for a major arts institution. Its population, only 100,000 before World War II, was now more than one million. The University of California was coming to Irvine, and the Angels were coming to Anaheim. Also in Anaheim was Walt Disney's theme park, less than ten years old. If the leaders positioned their theatre right, the coming swell in population and sophistication could carry them with it.
For their Second Step, a two-story marine hardware store on Balboa Peninsula was rented and converted into a 75-seat proscenium stage. It opened on March 12, 1965, with a production of Waiting for Godot.
Confident of their ability to continue, the young artistic directors sought to convince their adopted community of SCR's future importance. An "Artistic Manifesto" was displayed in the Second Step lobby. It boasted a four-step model of growth: the first season of touring, the present location's 75-seat stage, and two more transformations leading to a major regional center for theatre arts and education.
While the goal of running a nationally renowned arts institution with a fully professional staff and company spurred them on from the Second Step lobby wall, the young company went about the business of surviving. For years, everyone involved maintained full-time day jobs and worked nights and weekends without pay at SCR. They designed and built their scenery, sold the tickets, ushered, and — of course — acted. Among the first acting company members were Don Took, Martha McFarland and Art Koustik, joined over the next seasons by Richard Doyle, Hal Landon Jr. and Ron Boussom. These six became the theatre's Founding Artists.
Within two years, artistic and financial momentum had picked up and SCR looked toward its Third Step: a converted Sprouse-Reitz Variety Store on Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa. The 5,000-square-foot building, adapted to hold 217 seats, opened in 1967, playing a full season with the Second Step on the Balboa Peninsula. The logistics were too demanding, however, and the Second Step closed after the first joint season and a total of 23 productions.
It was at the Third Step, 1967-1978, that SCR moved from a local group to a regional force, maturing both artistically and organizationally. Operating income went from $20,000 to $55,000 in the first two seasons. By the fifth season, paid staff had grown from one part-time business secretary to five: a business director, an administrative director, two box office employees and a full-time technical director. A first grant from the National Endowment for the Arts went to expanding the business staff. The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) gave SCR its first award in 1970 for "consistent achievement in production." In little more than a decade SCR would be sweeping LADCC Awards ceremonies. In 1976, SCR joined the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) and was able to contract members of Actors' Equity, the union of professional stage actors and stage managers.
The interest in new play production, which had been exhibited as early as the first season with the premiere of Chocolates, got a boost in the mid-Seventies when the Rockefeller Foundation funded the "production of work by new American playwrights."
But by that time, the company was outgrowing its space again. The budget was over $250,000. A year later, there were more than 9,400 subscribers and capacity was pushing 99 percent.
Emmes and Benson addressed the question of SCR's future and the long-anticipated Fourth Step Theatre. They formed a new board of community leaders to address the realities of funding, designing and building Orange County's first resident theatre facility. A gift of land on which the theatre would be built was made by the Segerstrom family. This became the catalyst for the entire campaign. The Fourth Step Theatre complex began making Orange County history while it was still on the drawing table. It would be funded by a $3.5 million Building Campaign, the largest capital campaign by an Orange County arts group at that time. It would become a model for subsequent major campaigns at SCR and elsewhere.
In September 1978, the theatre opened with a production of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life.
At first there was only the 507-seat Mainstage. But by 1979 the large rehearsal hall had been converted into the 161-seat Second Stage. South Coast Repertory had reached its long-sought goal: a two-theatre complex, owned and operated by the company itself. In outlining the new facility's goals, the artistic directors wrote:
The new theatre complex will allow SCR to expand the scope of its presentations... providing a rich balance and variety of the best plays in theatre... and undertake the technical challenges of almost any play written. The Second Stage will add further vitality to the company's artistic life by permitting SCR to offer works in progress by American playwrights, experimental plays which seek to broaden our perception of theatre, and other challenging projects. Additionally, the second theatre will present conservatory and children's theatre productions.
The board that had become so instrumental in the creation of the Fourth Step Theatre now helped steer the company to corporate and foundation funding, and by the early 1980s into the first of its endowment fund campaigns.
It was also during the 1980s that SCR's interest in new play development moved to the forefront. A grant from the Foundation of the Dramatists Guild/CBS spawned an entire Second Stage Season of premieres, including work by Elizabeth Diggs and Romulus Linney. In 1985, the NEA awarded SCR a $35,000 Challenge Grant, which helped finance the start-up of the Collaboration Laboratory, or Colab, which would support all play development in the future.
The 1985-86 Season saw Colab's first two public programs: the NewSCRipts play reading series and the Hispanic Playwrights Project. Also that season, ground was broken on a distinctive addition to the building's north face. The Artists Wing, with its arc of curved glass, gave SCR a new reception area, rehearsal hall, costume shop, and entire tier for the Literary Department.
Then, in 1988, SCR earned the highest recognition in regional theatre, the Tony Award for Distinguished Achievement, the thirteenth year such awards were bestowed.
During the 1990s, the theatre continued to expand. Subscribers grew to 18,000 per season and the annual budget reached $8 million. A national reputation for play development was solidified, helped by strong annual support from The Shubert Foundation. As the decade continued, additional funders such as The James Irvine Foundation helped SCR spawn new programs that would support playwrights. Writers were discovered, nurtured and then championed. Margaret Edson, whose Wit was a premiere at SCR in 1995, won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Donald Margulies, whose Sight Unseen and Collected Stories originated at SCR before meeting with New York success, won the 2000 Pulitzer for Dinner with Friends (which had premiered elsewhere but had an influential second production at SCR before its New York staging). Other playwrights who had multiple premieres at SCR also became familiar names in theatres across America: Amy Freed, Craig Lucas, Howard Korder, Keith Reddin, Octavio Solis and Richard Greenberg, who has had nine commissioned world premieres at SCR.
For all SCR's accomplishments, its history is marked by years in which several major events coincided. Such a year was 1998. That summer, following its 35th Anniversary Season, SCR launched the Pacific Playwrights Festival, its most ambitious new play project to date. Funded by a $175,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Pacific Playwrights Festival incorporated the venerable Hispanic Playwrights Project, two world premieres, and workshops or staged readings of seven more new plays. The program was further strengthened by increased funding from The Shubert Foundation and multi-year grants from The James Irvine Foundation.
By the end of 1998 SCR could begin to pursue its long-held expansion goal when the Segerstrom family donated land along the south side of the facility. That land, along with a similar donation to the neighboring Orange County Performing Arts Center, established the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Within weeks, SCR received its first gift of more than $1 million, when Henry and Stacey Nicholas gave $1.28 million (eventually doubling their gift to $2.5 million to name the renovated Second Stage the Nicholas Studio) and launched "SCR: The Next Stage" Campaign, initially to raise $40 million. Architect Cesar Pelli was enlisted for both The Center's and SCR's expansion, with SCR's construction beginning first. Pelli designed a sweeping new front for SCR, which would incorporate the existing building and the addition.
The focal point of Pelli's expansion design was a 336-seat proscenium stage on the added land. In front of it would be the common lobby. But behind it would be three stories of offices for education, a “Green Room,” technical facilities, and four new classrooms.
The public phase of "SCR: The Next Stage" Campaign was launched in 2000. The next year the goal was raised to $50 million to provide endowment funding to support, in perpetuity, the programs that would be made possible by the facilities.
At the groundbreaking ceremony in July 2001, a $5 million naming gift for the new 336-seat stage was announced from George and Julianne Argyros.
In April 2002, Board President and Campaign Chairman Paul Folino announced the campaign's largest gift — and the largest single gift ever to a regional theatre by an individual at that time. It was from the Folino family, and at $10 million, it became the complex's naming gift.
Construction proceeded smoothly towards a scheduled opening date — October 5, 2002. The opening was celebrated by SCR's Annual Gala, attended by the county's most influential residents.
The first season in the Folino Theatre Center earned rave reviews and introduced three plays — Greenberg's The Violet Hour, Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel and Rolin Jones' The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow. All have since gone on to major productions in New York and elsewhere. Subsequent seasons saw more world premieres in the new and renovated theatres, including Donald Margulies Brooklyn Boy, which went on to a Broadway production; and such subsequently successful plays as Mr. Marmalade and Princess Marjorie by Noah Haidle; and the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize.
With the expansion of its physical plant and endowment, and with additional support from the Whittier Family Foundations, SCR was ready for its biggest programmatic growth in two decades, introduction of the three-play series "Theatre for Young Audiences ... and Their Families," which debuted in 2003 to tremendous response.
The year 2011 marked a major leadership transition for SCR: Marc Masterson became the theatre’s new Artistic Director, with Managing Director Paula Tomei serving as his co-CEO. Emmes and Benson moved into the roles of Founding Artistic Directors, from which they continue to share the wisdom and knowledge gained in their 48 years at the theatre’s helm. In May 2012, SCR announced the upcoming slate of plays for 2012-13, the first full season chosen by Masterson, to be produced under his auspices.
South Coast Repertory was founded in the belief that theatre is an artform with a unique power to illuminate the human experience. We commit ourselves to exploring the most urgent human and social issues of our time, and to merging literature, design and performance in ways that test the bounds of theatre's artistic possibilities. We undertake to advance the art of theatre in the service of our community, and aim to extend that service through educational, intercultural, and outreach programs that harmonize with our artistic mission.