Marking a Milestone: The Segerstrom Stage at 40

Beth Fhaner & Tania Thompson
 | Dec 12, 2018
South Coast Repertory in 1978

​South Coast Repertory in 1978.

Segerstrom Stage by the Numbers

Dedicated to extraordinary plays—timeless classics, modern masterpieces and emerging new works.

  • 224 productions (out of 520 total by the start of the 2018-19 season)
  • Productions have been honored with 71 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, the most prestigious Southern California recognition for theatrical work.
  • 49 world premieres

This season, South Coast Repertory celebrates 55 years of theatre and also marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Segerstrom Stage.

By 1976, a little more than a decade after its founding, SCR had grown in size, caliber and renown. It was primed to achieve the final part of a four-step growth plan envisioned by Founding Artistic Directors David Emmes and Martin Benson: a permanent home in which SCR could fulfill its artistic goals.

Emmes and Benson, along with the theatre’s Board of Trustees, had scouted out what they saw as the ideal location: near South Coast Plaza, where Interstate 405 and State Route 55 came together. But how to make this happen? The founders and trustees hit on an idea: talk to Henry Segerstrom and the Segerstrom family.

The Segerstroms were deeply rooted in Orange County with strong agricultural and other business holdings. The family’s South Coast Plaza, which had more than 130 stores by the mid-1970​s, drew shoppers from the region and nation—and, ultimately, the globe.

The family, as noted in 50 Years of Quality: South Coast Plaza, was and is “united in its conviction that public art and the performing arts were indispensable to any major metropolitan development, and that cultural activities were a key ingredient to successful urban planning.”

Henry Segerstrom knew about SCR because of his deep connection and commitment to the arts and he had attended performances at SCR’s 217-seat theatre in Costa Mesa.

“He was an extraordinary man, whose love for the arts shaped Orange County,” says Emmes. “We are deeply grateful for his vision—as well as the entire Segerstrom Family—that created a permanent home for SCR.”

In 1976, a year after The New York Times lauded SCR for its production of three contemporary British plays, the Segerstrom Family gifted the theatre 1.5 acres of a former lima bean field on which to build its new home. The land gift became the catalyst for what was Orange County’s largest-to-date capital campaign—and led to the theatre’s permanent home.

“This marvelous theatre complex fulfilled our four-step vision and enabled us to ascend to a new level of achievement,” says Emmes.

The theatre was designed for versatility and theatricality, along with all the needed shops to build costumes, set pieces, props and more. Its intimate space has seen a range of productions, everything from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller to musicals to important new plays and more.

The collaborative spirit is a hallmark of SCR and one example of this manifested itself on Sept. 29, 1978, when the theatre moved into its current location. That day, all 507 seats for the Segerstrom Stage were trucked in—but with no crew to unload them. SCR staff and some of the company actors pitched in to unload the huge trailer by hand. Sixty days later, The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan became the first production in the new space. The fourth and final step had been achieved. The future was—and continues to be—bright.

Learn more about the 2018-19 season.

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