No theater in the US has had a longer commitment to presenting Shakespeare than San Diego’s Old Globe. That’s one of the factoids I learned on a recent behind-the-scenes tour of the landmark theatrical complex.
I had wanted to see the results of the recently completed $22 million renovations. For anyone accustomed to associating just one name with this place — Cassius Carter, a Shakespeare lover and district attorney active in San Diego in the early 1900s whose name was given to the theater-in-the-round that opened in 1969 — the new appellations are a little head-spinning. The whole complex has now been named after local philanthropist Conrad Prebys, who kicked in $10.4 million of the construction funds. The Globe’s directors used that money to demolish the Carter and replace it with a new theater that’s been named for $6 million donors Sheryl and Harvey White. Also new is an education center named after Karen and Donald Cohn ($5.35 mil) and a events room named after Kathryn Hattox ($5 mil). Even the lobby has been christened after Erna and Andrew Viterbi ($2 mil). It seems almost miraculous that the new bathrooms incorporated into the White Theater don’t have namesakes too.
Although the new theater at first glance resembles the Carter (it’s still a theater-in-the-round), it now boasts more than just those bathrooms (which the old facility lacked). Entrances and exits have been greatly improved and 30 seats added, including some that are wider. (There’s even a loveseat to accommodate jumbo-sized theatrical patrons.)
The tour took in more than just the new stuff, including lots of inside touches. We were led into the actors’ green room, dressing rooms, and the costuming department, which has a year-round staff of 16 and can balloon up to more than 60 people during the busiest times of the year. The latter yielded a particularly fascinating factoid, namely that misting vodka on smelly clothes removes the body odor without leaving any stain. I also learned that the Globe never uses as an on-stage prop any book published after the date of the time portrayed in the play. Our guide mentioned that the first incarnation of San Diego’s Old Globe was designed for the 1935 Exposition by Thomas Wood Stevens as a copy of one built for the Chicago world’s fair, which in turn was a copy of the Globe in London. Quite the huckster, Stevens presented up to 6 severely abridged (50-minute-long) Shakespearean plays a day.
Although I took the tour with a group from the San Diego Professional Tour Guide Association, the Globe offers the backstage tours at 10:30 a.m. many Saturdays and Sundays year-round. The charge is $5 per person; $3 for students and folks aged 60 and older. No reservation is necessary, but call (619) 231-1941 to make sure tours are planned for any given weekend.