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Grants of $800,000 Back Laguna Playhouse Addition

Times Staff Writer

Orange County’s theater pot continued to boil with the announcement Tuesday of $800,000 in grants for a second stage and new theater center for the Laguna Playhouse.

On Monday, a Mission Viejo City Council member raised the possibility of a 1,500-seat performing arts center in that city, perhaps on the campus of Saddleback College, which has long planned such a facility.

Today, officials of the Orange County Performing Arts Center will unveil a marketing study on the county’s arts needs that will include recommendations regarding a second theater for the Center. Already being built is a 750-seat, $17.9-million, multipurpose theater on the UC Irvine campus.

The grants for the Laguna Playhouse’s capital campaign include a 5-year, $500,000 challenge grant from the Harry & Grace Steele Foundation; $250,000 from artist Carl Broderick, for whom the lobby gallery will be named; $25,000 from the Festival of the Arts for installation of an elevator; $10,000 from Vern and Cherry Spitaleri; $10,000 from the First Interstate Bank Foundation, and $5,000 from Security Pacific Foundation.

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Jody Johnston Davidson, general manager of the Laguna Playhouse, said $300,000 of the grants announced Tuesday can be applied to the Steele Foundation’s matching grant on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Nearly $2 million more needs to be raised to complete the capital campaign’s current phase.

The money will go toward buying and renovating the 17,000-square-foot General Telephone building at 480 Mermaid St. The structure will include a new, 228-seat theater, two rehearsal halls, a second scene shop, a new costume shop and storage space. These will allow productions to be changed more rapidly at the 418-seat Moulton Theatre, the 69-year-old community playhouse’s main venue, three blocks away.

With the new stage and the old one, the playhouse will double its offerings, from five to 10 plays a year, Davidson said. While the Moulton will continue to present such productions as “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” to a broad-based audience, the second stage will offer more experimental fare.

“The new plays will be focused on more contemporary, issue-oriented works, complementing the entertainment-oriented work at the Moulton Theatre,” said Brian Murphy, a spokesman for the Playhouse.

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“The small theater will not play commercial favorites but will focus on new works and plays that challenge both the actor and the audience, as together they evaluate the human spirit.”

The second stage will operate under an Actors Equity contract, he said.


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