Long a tradition of San Diego’s finest in live theater, the Old Globe Theatre has a storied history replete with celebrated productions, actors and actresses, as well as various events that threatened its very existence. Originally constructed in 1935 and fashioned after Shakespeare’s Old Globe in London, its premise was to perform condensed accounts of Shakespeare’s plays as an aspect of the California Pacific International Exposition. The San Diego Community Theatre leased the theatre subsequent to the exposition in 1937 as a non-profit corporation. In addition, it attained some of the nearby buildings from the city, remodeled the theatre, and this long-lasting relationship with the city continues to this day, bringing the finest in merriment to San Diegans and visitors to San Diego alike.
The remodeled Old Globe Theatre opened with its first production of John Van Druten’s The Distaff Side on December 2, 1937. A notable cast member was Craig Noel, whose impressive presence as an actor, director, and artistic leader steered the theatre’s development for some fifty plus continuous years of productions and festivities.
San Diego residents recall that the old Falstaff Tavern next to the Old Globe was subsequently refurbished in 1969 and became the 225-seat Cassius Carter Centre Stage, a now cherished space dedicated to the production of new, exciting experimental theatre.
Disaster struck The Old Globe on March 8, 1978 when arson devastated the theatre. Only by good fortune and perhaps the watchful eye of Shakespeare himself, were the important administrative functions, rehearsal hall, dressing rooms, scenery and costume shops, as well as the Cassius Carter Centre Stage saved from the blaze that threatened the historic landmark. Undaunted, plans were soon underway to rebuild, and in the interim, that summer the San Diego National Shakespeare Festival was held at the award-winning outdoor theatre Festival Stage.
The years 1981 and 1982 witnessed significant changes for The Old Globe. In 1981, it became a year-round venue, and in 1982, a newly refurbished 580-seat capacity theatre opened with Shakespeare’s As You Like It. When arson reared its ugly head again in 1984, destroying the Festival Stage, undeterred, a new 620-seat Lowell Davies Festival Theatre was subsequently raised in 1985 to the delight of the San Diego arts community.
Now called The Old Globe, a publicly funded five-year, $75 million capital and endowment campaign to safeguard its long-term stability began. Consequently, the stage of the Old Globe Theatre was dubbed the Donald and Darlene Shiley stage to honor the family’s $20 million pledge. In 2009, the Globe made public its remodeled campus with the maiden Conrad Prebys Theatre Center, featuring the new Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Karen and Donald Cohn Education Center, and Hattox Hall.
Historically, The Old Globe has been a veritable family of some of the more celebrated national artists, innovative designers, directors, and playwrights in the entire theatre business. Indeed, productions produced at The Old Globe have gone on to play on Broadway and Off Broadway, reaping an impressive 13 Tony Awards, as well as considerable nominations. Some of these include The Full Monty, Damn Yankees and Julius Caesar. These many awards and acknowledgments have brought world attention to San Diego as a result of its continuous artistic community and are a lasting testament to San Diego’s finest in the performing arts.
Today, The Old Globe produces 15 main stage productions each and every year ranging from all periods and styles, from Shakespearean masterpieces to an enduring emphasis with respect to the development and production of new and exciting works.
The current operating budget exceeds $20 million, thus making The Old Globe one of San Diego’s principal institutions regarding the performing arts, the leading employer of the arts, as well as one of the nation’s premiere theatres. As a testament to this fact, some 250,000 plus individuals of all ages attend Globe productions, as well as partake in the theatre’s arts engagement programs and outreach services. Truly, The Old Globe is San Diego’s finest of the performing arts.
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