That tiny theater turned 50 on Wednesday, and the late Lowell Davies, whose life enriched and was enriched by it, was honored by the dedication of a playhouse in his name. By now the nation knows that the sight lines of the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park are second to none, stretching back to a colorful past and forward to a seemingly boundless future.
So on Wednesday morning, the theater’s staff, supporters and dignitaries feted the Globe with a gala “Encaenia"--Latin for “a dedicatory festival.” They also renamed the Festival Stage--which has been rebuilt since an October fire--the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, in honor of the San Diego attorney who led the Globe for more than 40 years, first as a board member and then as its president.
Davies’ insistence on artistic integrity combined with the skill and energy of the Globe’s resident director and now executive producer, Craig Noel, to produce half a century of memorable productions highlighted by countless versions of Shakespeare’s plays. Such stars as Jon Voight, Christopher Reeve, Daniel J. Travanti, Marion Ross and numerous others gained important early recognition through Globe appearances.
For the last five years, Globe artistic director Jack O’Brien has led the theater to such firsts as a nationally televised 1983 production of Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth.”
“Lowell Davies will occupy an immortal place in my memory book,” said Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), the former San Diego mayor who was a junior partner in Davies’ law firm. “He contributed immeasurably to this city’s cultural life and forged a partnership with another man, Craig Noel, that raised the Globe to national prominence. He was a man with a twinkle in his eye, an insatiable appetite for excellence in the theater.”
The Globe’s history began May 29, 1935, when a group of actors called the Globe Players began regaling visitors to the California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park with mini-versions of Shakespeare’s plays performed on a small replica of London’s Globe Theatre. San Diego fell in love with the idea, and since then the tiny replica has grown into a three-theater complex, officially the Simon Edison Centre for the Performing Arts, and recognized by a 1984 Tony Award as the nation’s pre-eminent regional professional theater.
The Old Globe has survived two major fires --one in 1978 that leveled the original theater, and the second, in October, destroyed the outdoor Festival Stage, which had been built as temporary relief after the 1978 fire. In both cases, community support rallied quickly to help rebuild the theaters even more impressively than before. With a combined total of about 50,000 subscribers to its summer and winter seasons, the Old Globe boasts that it has the largest subscription base of any regional theater in the nation.
Mayor Roger Hedgecock officially proclaimed Wednesday “Old Globe-Lowell Davies Day” in San Diego, and County Supervisor Susan Golding tendered a plaque proclaiming Monday as “Old Globe Day.”
“I came to the Old Globe to perform a show I had been developing, and I found a home here,” said actress-comedienne Lily Tomlin, who emceed the “Encaenia” and charmed its audience with some offhand humor. “I love the theater, and I know this place as a haven where actors can come and take risks with their craft, with the support of other actors and the support of patrons.”
Also honored at Monday’s ceremonies were 10 members of the 1935 Globe Players, among them actresses Martha Scott and Irene Tedrow. A photographic portrait of Lowell Davies was unveiled by Wilson and Davies’ widow, Darlene, who called her late husband “an oak tree of life.” Also unveiled were photos of the late Thomas Wood Stevens, who founded the 1935 Globe Players, and B. Iden Payne, the world-renowned British director who began staging Shakespearean plays for the Globe in 1949.
“One thing I loathe and despise are birthdays,” Craig Noel said. “But today I’m going along with this Jubilee for this woman (the Old Globe) I’ve shared 50 years with. She’s had several face lifts, and a complete overhaul . . . but we grew and became more enriched. This summer John Houseman will direct ‘Richard III'--our 500th production. And we’ll be forever beholden to Lowell Davies for his high principles. He insisted that artistic decisions be left to the artists.”
O’Brien noted: “To know where we are, we must touch base with where we’ve been. For what connects 1935 to 1985 is a commitment to Shakespeare, to excellence.”
Outside, Wilson dedicated and unveiled the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre sign, and O’Brien announced the 1986 Old Globe winter season.
Plays scheduled for 1986 at the Globe include the American premiere of Robert Lord’s “Bert and Maisy”; a production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”; Eric Overmyer’s “On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning”; the Stewart Parker/Jimmy Kennedy play with music, “Spokesong”; Jim Wann’s off-Broadway musical hit “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” and a co-production with the Mark Taper Forum of Los Angeles of Peter Parnelli’s ambitious off-Broadway hit, “Romance Language.”
The Globe’s summer season begins Wednesday, with the comedy “Greater Tuna” at the Cassius Carter Centre Stage, followed June 7 by Jack O’Brien’s staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the inaugural production at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre.