South Coast Repertory
South Coast Repertory
|Address||655 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, California
|Capacity||Segerstrom Stage: 507
Julianne Argyros Stage: 336
Nicholas Studio: 94
Tony Award-winning South Coast Repertory, founded in 1964 by David Emmes and Martin Benson and now under the leadership of Artistic Director Marc Masterson and Managing Director Paula Tomei, is widely regarded as one of America's foremost producers of new plays. In its three-stage David Emmes/Martin Benson Theatre Center, SCR produces a five-play season on its Segerstrom Stage, a four-play season on its Julianne Argyros Stage, plus one annual holiday production. SCR also offers a three-play Theatre for Young Audiences series, and year-round programs in education and outreach. In 2013-14, SCR is marking its 50th Season.
SCR's extensive new play development program consists of commissions, residencies, readings, and workshops, from which up to five world premieres are produced each season. Among the plays commissioned and introduced at SCR are Donald Margulies' Sight Unseen, Collected Stories, Brooklyn Boy, and Shipwrecked! An Entertainment; Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain, Everett Beekin, Hurrah at Last and The Violet Hour; David Henry Hwang's Golden Child, José Rivera's References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot, Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel, Craig Lucas' Prelude to a Kiss, Amy Freed's The Beard of Avon and Freedomland and Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit. These plays were commissioned by SCR and developed through its Pacific Playwrights Festival, an annual workshop and reading showcase for up to eight new plays, attended by artistic directors and literary staff members from across the country.
Forty percent of the plays SCR has produced have been world, American or West Coast premieres. In 1988, SCR received the Regional Theatre Tony Award for Distinguished Achievement, particularly in the area of new play development.
David Emmes and Martin Benson attended San Francisco State University. After graduation, 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, California.
After that experience, Emmes and Benson were convinced there was a future for them in theatre and 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, Molière's Tartuffe, opened at the Newport Beach Ebell Club.
The next step would be their own location. They chose to locate it in Orange County, virgin territory for a major arts institution.
Second Step Theatre
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 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. 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 were among the theatre's Founding Artists.
Third Step Theatre
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 building, adapted to hold 217 seats, opened in 1967.
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 US$20,000 to US$55,000 in the first two seasons. By the fifth season, paid staff had grown from one to five. A first grant from the National Endowment for the Arts went to expanding the staff. The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle gave SCR its first award in 1970 for "consistent achievement in production." In 1976, SCR joined the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) and was able to contract for members of Actors' Equity.
But by that time, the company was outgrowing its space again. The budget was more than US$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.
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. SCR had reached its long-sought goal: a two-theatre complex, owned and operated by the company itself.
Fourth Step Theatre
It was during the 1980s that SCR's interest in new play development moved to the forefront. In 1985, the NEA awarded SCR a 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 called The Artists Wing.
Then, in 1988, SCR earned the highest recognition in regional theatre, the Regional Theatre Tony Award for its achievements.
During the 1990s, a national reputation for play development was solidified. 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. 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.
In the summer of 1998, following its 35th Anniversary Season, SCR launched the Pacific Playwrights Festival, its most ambitious new play project to date. The Pacific Playwrights Festival incorporated the Hispanic Playwrights Project, two world premieres, and workshops or staged readings of seven more new plays.
By the end of 1998 SCR could begin to pursue its long-held expansion goal when the Segerstrom family donated land. 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 US$1 million, when Henry and Stacey Nicholas gave US$1.28 million (eventually doubling their gift to US$2.5 million to name the renovated Second Stage the Nicholas Studio) and launched "SCR: The Next Stage" Campaign, initially to raise US$40 million. Architect Cesar Pelli was enlisted for both The Center's and SCR's expansion, with SCR's construction beginning first.
The focal point of Pelli's expansion design was a 336-seat proscenium stage. In front of it would be the common lobby and behind it would be three stories of offices.
At the ground breaking ceremony in July 2001, a US$5 million naming gift for the new 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. It was from the Folino family, and at US$10 million, it became the complex's naming gift.
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.
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 47 years at the theatre’s helm.
Beginning in 2012, SCR's newest program, "Studio SCR," partnered the theater with a variety of Southern Californian artists to create an eclectic, edgy, contemporary theatre experience. The season featured the West Coast premiere of Molly Smith Metzler's play Elemeno Pea.
In 2013, Paul Folino requested that his name be withdrawn from the Theatre Center and that it be renamed the David Emmes/Martin Benson Theatre Center. The unveiling of the building's new name took place on Jan. 22, 2014.
- Richard Zoglin (27 May 2003). "Bigger than Broadway!". Time. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
- Theater review: 'Elemeno Pea' at South Coast Repertory, Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2012