“The Old Globe believes that theatre matters, and our commitment is to make it matter to more people,” says Barry Edelstein, artistic director of San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre. “We’re chartered to provide theatre as a public good. We’re a public institution, publicly funded. We stand on public land, in the middle of a great public park. And we’re trying to make theatre mean something to as much of the public as possible.”
His audiences, he says, are often not representative of the city—one of the most diverse in California. So Edelstein says that future productions are “going to be among the most diverse the Globe has programmed [with] primary creative people who are women and people of color in much higher numbers than before.”
Recent productions, he says, have proved that such programming works. “We saw it with Allegiance, the George Takei musical about World War II Japanese-American internment camps. The Asian-American audience showed up in bigger numbers than ever. With Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew,” a play about autoworkers in economically devastated Detroit that was staged this spring, “the African-American audience showed up in greater numbers than before.”
Diversity also means “we have to have different actors in our shows. We did Picasso at the Lapin Agile this year and more than half the company were actors of color. And that makes a difference. The community tells us they appreciate that by showing up and by writing to us and saying, ‘Good for you.’”
Picasso was, in fact, “the highest-grossing play in the theatre’s history,” Edelstein says.
The “legacy audience” Edelstein has referred to dates to 1935, when the original San Diego Old Globe opened. Its design was based on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, and it was built specifically to present shortened versions of the Bard’s works as part of the California Pacific International Exposition. The Old Globe today offers 15 productions in a full-year season on three stages in Balboa Park, including a 605-seat outdoor stage that’s home to its Summer Shakespeare Festival. More than 20 productions—including the Tony-winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder—have headed from the Old Globe to Broadway or Off-Broadway stages, winning 13 Tony Awards.
Shakespeare remains an integral part of the company, with two productions each year in the outdoor venue. This summer features Robert Sean Leonard as King Richard II, through July 16, and Edelstein directing Hamlet in August and September.
The Old Globe, he says, “is still the Old Globe. We’re still one of the flagship United States regional theatres, a theatre that generations of audiences have recognized for world-class work. We’re just trying to include different communities in that work.”