2014 Marks a Coming of Age in #SDTheatre

by Tim West

in National Conference

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(The following post is part of a series highlighting and celebrating the theatres and theatre people of San Diego as part of the 2014 TCG National Conference in San Diego. Email Gus Schulenburg if you’d like to participate.)

Pictured: Tim West

Next year, the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego celebrates the 80th anniversary of the day in May, 1935, when it opened its doors as part of the Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park, the growing city’s cultural center. Amateur theatricals can be traced back to soldier’s entertainments staged in Mission Valley’s eponymous chapel. The city’s professional theatrics date back to the Tanner Troupe’s 1868 performances in Old Town. The Old Globe, though, is where the city’s growing reputation as a theatre town originated.

For this reason, the San Diego Critic’s Circle named their annuals awards after local legend and beloved director Craig Noel, who assumed leadership of The Old Globe sixty-five years ago and remained in an active role until he passed away four years ago, at the age of 94.

georgebushCraig Noel receiving a National Medal of Arts in a ceremony in the East Room with President George W. Bush, November 15, 2007. (Photo by Michael Stewart)

The 12th Annual Craig Noel Awards Ceremony was held Monday, February 10th at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. Multiple honors went to the Globe’s San Diego premiere production of the current Broadway hit, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. There were delightful acceptance speeches from actor Jefferson Mays, a former San Diegan–as one of a number of characters he portrays in the show, drolly bemoaning the snow as he sat in his dressing room at the Walter Kerr Theatre–and director Darko Tresnjak (like fellow former Globe Artistic Director Jack O’Brien, seldom seen without his adorable dog) who shared via video from The Great White Way. Other productions garnering multiple accolades included La Jolla Playhouse’s Sideshow, San Diego Repertory Theatre’s In the Heights, and San Diego Musical Theatre’s The Sound of Music.

Top honors went to a theatrical adaptation of the Toni Morrison novel The Bluest Eye, a co-production between Moxie Theatre and Mo’oleleo Performing Arts, noted for Outstanding Dramatic Production, Outstanding Ensemble, and Outstanding Direction of a Play. Moxie Theatre exemplifies “How We Do Theatre in Paradise.”

The mix of acknowledgements for theatres large and small is representative of the San Diego’s growth since the years when The Old Globe singularly defined professional theatre in the city. Both Barry Edelstein and Christopher Ashley, Artistic Directors of The Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse, respectively, noted this development at the event. The two leaders, former New Yorkers who have noted the importance of this ferment here before, were instrumental in bringing TCG’s 2014 Conference to San Diego.

Craig Noel Awards for Outstanding Special Events underlined the point, with the La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls site-specific initiative sharing honors with the nascent San Diego Fringe Festival, now in its second year. Outstanding Solo Performance went to the co-creator of Baby Redboots’ Revenge, which helped kick-off the Fringe’s first year in 2013. Sean Sullivan, who the Village Voice acclaimed for “breathtaking agility, magnificent diction and [a] flair for the bizarre” grew up in San Diego, son of Evening-Tribune columnist John Sinor and The Old Globe’s long-time Education Director, Diane Sinor, who’s association with the venerable theatre began in 1960 and spanned 47 years. Ms. Sinor’s death at 83 was mourned by the community in 2010. Actor of the Year was awarded for the first time, to Linda Libby and Randall Dodge. Notably, neither artist’s award-winning body of work was at a LORT venue.

Perhaps the most auspicious sign of San Diego’s coming of age as a theatre town, is to be found in the recipient the Sandra Ellis Troy Scholarship –named for a beloved actress whose sudden death in 2010 at the age of 68 shocked the community. The award, given to it’s youngest recipient yet, went to 10-year-old Abby DeSpain.

littlekid“I love New Village Arts!” Miss DeSpain gushed, in a charming tribute to the small ensemble company founded around the time she was learning to walk. If there’s a theatre heaven, Miss Ellis-Troy, an NVA Founding Ensemble Member and active in a number of area theatres whose sway doesn’t extend to the Great White Way, certainly deserved to take a bow. Watch her family’s loving video tribute to Sandy here.

In truth, the perception that San Diego has ‘come of age’ –like awards and reviews and applause— is more a matter of acknowledgement than of perfection. We’re still growing. TCG’s visit is just the next picture we display in our proud family album. As our relations working on the Great White Way tromp their way through the snow to auditions, rehearsals and performances, we look forward to welcoming TCG to a family picnic in the sun.

TIM WEST is a San Diego theatre artist who celebrates his first professional production and international tour, twenty-five years ago this spring. The first professional production he saw featured Anthony Zerbe as Richard III, at the Old Globe Theatre’s Summer Shakespeare Festival in 1972.