North Coast Rep leadership team will now run Laguna Playhouse, as well
Also this week, The Old Globe hosts the Frontera Project for a four-day run
North Coast Repertory Theatre’s artistic director David Ellenstein and its managing director, Bill Kerlin, have been hired to take the helm of Orange County’s Laguna Playhouse. The duo plan to run both theaters simultaneously.
Last fall, Ellenstein stepped in at Laguna to serve as a part-time interim artistic director while a search was under way for new leadership. He replaced Anne E. Wareham, who resigned in 2021. To do both jobs, Ellenstein split his work days driving between the two theaters in Solana Beach and Laguna Beach.
Originally, Ellenstein had planned to help out at Laguna only through Jan. 1, but he stayed on in 2023. In April, North Coast Rep unveiled its ‘23-’24 season, which includes two plays — “The Angel Next Door” and “Tartuffe” — that will originate at North Coast Rep, then have a second run at Laguna. Finally, on May 17, Laguna Playhouse’s board announced that Ellenstein and Kerlin would become its permanent, though part time, leadership team.
As a sign that the two theaters’ programming may become further intertwined in the future, Laguna Playhouse just opened “Murder on the Links,” Steven Dietz’s murder-mystery spoof which made its world premiere April 19 at North Coast Rep. It’s billed on the Laguna website as a “transfer” production, with all of the original North Coast cast.
Also on Laguna’s website is its ‘23-’24 season announcement, which besides the previously announced transfers of North Coast Rep’s “The Angel Next Door” and “Tartuffe,” will also include shows that have been produced in recent years at North Coast, including “2 Pianos, 4 Hands”; “Holmes and Watson”; and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
Founded in 1920, Laguna Playhouse has a $5.5 million annual budget. Over its 102-year history, the playhouse has had only a small handful of artistic directors, including Wareham and, before her, Andrew Barnicle, who led the Laguna theater from 1991 to 2010. Barnicle has been a frequent guest director at North Coast Rep.
The novel plan by two theaters to share leadership and productions is one of many ways American theaters are rebounding from the pandemic. Most theaters survived the nearly 18-month shutdown with the help of federal paycheck protection and shuttered venue grants. But as that money ran out, labor costs skyrocketed and audiences failed to return in the numbers seen in 2019, theaters across the country have been finding ways to trim budgets.
Theatre Communications Group, an industry trade organization with more than 500 member theaters, reported last fall that the total number of shows being produced by its members in 2022 was down 40 percent from 2019. Other cost-cutting measures theaters have made include producing more and shorter solo and small-cast plays, and fewer musicals. Many theaters have replaced live musicians with recorded tracks, and some theaters have shut down altogether, like San Diego Repertory Theatre in 2022. Just this month, OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista put the rest of its 2023 season ice to embark on an emergency $150,000 fundraising campaign.
Old Globe hosts ‘Frontera Project
Frontera Project, a bilingual troupe of theater and music artists from the San Diego-Tijuana area, will present four performances at the Old Globe, June 1 through 4.
Last seen locally at La Jolla Playhouse’s 2022 Without Walls Festival (WOW) at Liberty Station, the Frontera Project was created by Tijuana Hace Teatro in Mexico and New Feet Productions in New York. Frontera presents original, audience-interactive bilingual stories and songs performed by actors who have spent much or all of their lives on the south side of the San Diego-Tijuana border. The scripts focuses on the actors’ cross-border lives.
Performances are at 7 p.m. June 1-3 and 2 p.m. June 4 at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. Tickets are just $12. Visit: https://bit.ly/3Mr8OMq.
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