Creating Pure Magic: Designing the 2018 Gala’s Backstage Experience

Tania Thompson
 | Jul 19, 2018
Angela Calin

Designer Angela Balogh Calin.

Gala 18 Entrance

​Calin's design rendering for the Gala entrance.

Gala Dressing Room

Calin's design for a "Dressing Room."

When patrons walk into the South Coast Repertory Gala at The Westin South Coast Plaza on Sept. 15, 2018, they will enter an immersive, interactive and fun world that takes them backstage at SCR. A place where they can take their “Places, Please!” They will wander through and explore what happens backstage just before a show starts.

The Gala experience is being designed by Angela Balogh Calin, who is well-known to SCR regulars as a set and costume designer for more than two decades, most recently designing costumes for Sugar Plum Fairy, Ella Enchanted: The Musical (Theatre for Young Audiences) and The Monster Builder.

We asked Calin to divulge what she can about designing this year’s Gala—and also about creative design work in general.

How similar is the process for designing a set for a play and the environment for the Gala?
I approach the Gala design the same way I do when I work on a play: I start with the story or theme of the event or play, so I do research the same way for both. I try to create a world—not recreate the world—for the guests and audience members so that they can enjoy and, maybe, learn from it. The next steps are sketching out ideas and then finalizing the concept. In both cases, my work is done in collaboration with the Gala Committee for the event or, in the case of a play, the director. 

“Places, Please!” has such an insider feel. How did you approach the overall design?
There is no place like the backstage of a theatre and I hope this theme will entice the guests into learning more about how we as theater artists and artisans work. I tried to bring in the magical, whimsical qualities of our trade and, at the same time, make reference to the complexity of our process.

What’s been the most fun about working on this year’s Gala?
Being reunited with the Gala Committee, especially our chairs, Talya [Nevo-Hacohen] and Bill [Schenker]. They have given me such a fun theme—“Places, Please!”—and this lets me rummage through the theatre for objects, furniture and costumes. Everything we'll use for the displays will come from previous SCR productions: costumes, props and set pieces. As we shape them into place, they will wink and tacitly share their stories with each other. It's a pity we don't understand their language because we'd learn so many extraordinary things about the inner lives of those pieces.

What’s been most challenging?
The physical space for the event is challenging because there are height limitations and everything needs to be self-contained and portable. What you see that evening will have been installed in the few hours before the guests arrive.

Why is SCR special to you?
I'm glad you asked, because SCR has a very special place in my heart for a few reasons. For one, we go back more than 20 years. Yes, my debut here was in 1998. At the time I was still trying to establish myself as a theatre designer in the United States and it wasn't an easy task. When I left Romania, I knew it would take a lot of perseverance and luck in order to make it in my new country. SCR welcomed me when most others wouldn't and has been extremely generous with me throughout the years. I have been able to work with most of the founding artists and designed for more than 60 shows (and now two Galas!). I designed for the early Theatre for Young Audiences shows and I have a long history with the Theatre Conservatory’s Teen Players productions. And, above all, I had the chance to collaborate with both David Emmes and Martin Benson. I have made dear friends here and consider SCR my artistic home.

What three words or phrases describe you?
Curious, good sense of humor, sociable—at least I hope it is an accurate depiction of who I am! I think all three are necessary attributes in my profession and in the theatre. I feel I belong here and know I picked the right place.

Let’s come back to the Gala—what experience do you hope patrons will have?
I hope they will enjoy getting a glimpse into our backstage world: How actors and technicians get ready for the show. It is hard work, long and late hours, and yet so exciting. It is pure magic to witness the transformation from an empty stage to a whimsical world, from an actor to a swashbuckler or a queen. And then, to step upon the stage and face the audience.

Learn more about the 2018 Gala, “Places, Please! and purchase event tickets or buy raffle tickets.