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Out with the old, in with the new Old Globe

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Approaching its 75th year, The Old Globe theater in Balboa Park is undergoing a major rejuvenation.

Breaking ground on its new Conrad Prebys Theatre Center in early August, the Globe chose Project Management Advisors Inc. (PMA) in Solana Beach to oversee and LMN Architects of Seattle, Wash., for design.

Executive Producer Louis G. Spisto cited the architectural firm's previous work -- LMN has designed more than 30 performance arts centers and won over 120 awards -- drawing plans for historically accurate yet also contemporary facilities.

"LMN is very effective at understanding how to work within the Elizabethan and Tudor vernacular," Spisto said.

David Marshall of San Diego-based Heritage Architecture & Planning, serving as associate architect under LMN, will ensure compliance with Balboa Park's historical requirements. General contractor DPR Construction Inc., is providing cost estimating and construction planning support.

The Old Globe’s $75 million renovation will include a four-level complex (two floors below grade), which will include a 250-seat theater; a 6,200-square-foot education center; and a redesigned outdoor lobby.

"PMA and DPR work together in concert," Spisto said.

"Building a theater is like building a ship," he added. "We're talking about centimeters. Everything has to be precise."

Supported by The Old Globe Capital and Endowment Campaign, the new facility is under construction on the site of the former Cassius Carter, the theater in the round.

"The entire complex around the Cassius Carter, lighting, dressing room, control booth green room, all were old and inadequate," Spisto said. "It was getting a bit threadbare."

Spisto said safety for actors entering and exiting through the crowd as well as audience comfort were also factors in making the decision to rebuild.

In the interim, the Globe has built a temporary stage -- about the same size and style as the Cassius Carter -- right next door at the San Diego Museum of Art's James S. Copley Auditorium.

"Other than having to walk over to a new theater, people will be pleasantly surprised at how well they are taken care of in the transition process," Spisto said. "The public experience should be seamless."

Signage is clear. A portable café has been installed. The gift shop is open. And a 10-foot wooden fence covered in colorful Globe ads separates patrons from the ongoing construction.

The Globe's $75 million capital and endowment campaign funds a four-level complex (two below grade), which will include a 250-seat arena-style state-of-the-art theater; a 6,200-square-foot second floor education center; and a redesigned outdoor lobby.

The Copley Plaza will become a "showplace of its own, restoring the original spirit of the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition for which it was created," according to the Globe.

"Our pub had been revised in the early '90s," Spisto said, "and our plaza was certainly fine, but we felt it needed an update."

"We thought we could do a better job of serving our public," he said. The 14,000-square-foot gathering area will include a new dining pavilion and outdoor seating.

The new two-theater complex, which encompasses the Old Globe Theatre, a new second theater and the education center, will bear real estate investor and philanthropist Conrad Prebys' name. Prebys, who credits his high school drama teacher for both his love of theater and for his success in business, donated $10 million.

The lack of a home for education programs was one of the "glaring weaknesses" the Globe found when it conducted a facility review and needs assessment four years ago, according to Spisto.

"Our education programs were scattered," he said. Classes had been held in rehearsal spaces and on stage when not in use since 1947.

The new centralized education center will house on-site education programs.

Situated on the second floor of the new arena theater, the education center will "wrap around the upper-level technical areas to create a unique synergy with the main stage productions and artists working in the theater," according to the Globe.

The education center, named for Globe patrons Karen and Donald Cohn, who donated $5 million, will provide 2,070-square-feet of multipurpose performance and training space, which includes a 600-square-foot classroom.

The Globe plans to offer after-school and weekend programs for young people, adult acting classes, lectures, MFA training and workshops, professional development for teachers, family programming and new play development.

Longtime Globe supporters Donald and Darlene Shiley gave an unprecedented gift of $20 million to the capital campaign in 2006. The stage of the Old Globe Theatre will be known as the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage.

Globe Board Chair Kathryn Hattox donated $5 million, and the Globe's upper lobby lounge will be named after her.

Sheryl and Harvey White made a gift of $5 million in 2000 and added another million for the new facility. The second theater will be named the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, but the stage itself will keep the name Cassius Carter.

The construction phase of the project is scheduled to be finished by fall 2009. The first programs will run in 2010, and the new second stage will continue the Globe's award-winning legacy, providing "some of our most innovative and intimate work," Spisto said.

The project's theater consultant is Joshua Dachs of New York City-based Fisher Dachs Associates. Others on board include TKG Consulting Engineers, Hope Engineering, Jaffe Holden Acoustics, RBF Consultants and David Reed Landscape Architects.


Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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