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Modeled after Shakespeare’s Old Globe in London, the Old Globe Theatre was built in 1935 for the presentation of abridged versions of Shakespeare’s plays as part of the California Pacific International Exposition. At the conclusion of the exposition in 1937, a non-profit producing corporation, the San Diego Community Theatre, leased the theatre and adjacent buildings from the City of San Diego (an arrangement that continues today) and renovated the theatre for ongoing use.
On December 2, 1937, the remodeled Old Globe Theatre opened with a production of John Van Druten’s The Distaff Side. In the cast was a young actor named Craig Noel, whose presence as an actor, director, and artistic leader would guide the theatre’s growth through more than five decades of continuous production.
In 1969 the original restaurant facility adjacent to the Old Globe Theatre, known as the Falstaff Tavern, was remodeled to become the 225-seat Cassius Carter Centre Stage, an intimate space devoted to the production of new and experimental theatre.
On March 8, 1978, an arson fire destroyed the landmark Old Globe Theatre. Fortunately, the administrative offices, rehearsal hall, dressing rooms, scenery and costume shops, and the Cassius Carter Centre Stage were spared from the flames. While plans to rebuild the Globe were put into action, the immediate need for a space to produce that summer’s San Diego National Shakespeare Festival resulted in the construction of the Festival Stage, an award-winning outdoor theatre.
In January 1981, the theatre’s board of directors established the Globe as a year-round professional company, initiating more than a decade of extraordinary growth. In 1982, the new 580-seat Old Globe Theatre opened with a production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. When the Festival Stage was destroyed by another arson fire in 1984, the new 620-seat Lowell Davies Festival Theatre was constructed in 1985.
In 2006, the organization, now called The Old Globe, publicly launched a five-year, $75 million capital and endowment campaign to secure its long-term stability through an increased endowment, new facilities, and enhanced funding for annual programs. The stage of the Old Globe Theatre was named the Donald and Darlene Shiley stage to honor the Shiley family’s $20 million commitment. In 2009 the Globe unveiled its redesigned campus with the opening of the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center, featuring the new Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Karen and Donald Cohn Education Center, and Hattox Hall. The White Theatre replaced the Cassius Carter Centre Stage and was inaugurated with a production of the musical I Do! I Do!
The Old Globe has been home to the most acclaimed national artists, designers, directors, and playwrights in the theatre industry. More than 20 productions produced at The Old Globe have gone on to play Broadway and Off Broadway, garnering 13 Tony Awards and numerous nominations. In 1984 the Globe was the recipient of the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre for its contribution to the development of the art form. These awards bring world attention not only to The Old Globe but also to San Diego’s rich cultural landscape.
The Old Globe annually produces 15 mainstage productions from all periods and styles, ranging from Shakespeare to an ongoing emphasis on the development and production of new works, along with the annual family musical Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! With a current operating budget of approximately $20 million, the Globe is one of San Diego’s largest arts institutions, its leading arts employer, and among the nation’s top-ranked regional theatres. More than 250,000 people annually attend Globe productions and participate in the theatre’s arts engagement programs and outreach services.
For a more in-depth look at The Old Globe’s rich 80-year history, please read Darlene Davies’s article for Ranch & Coast Magazine, “80 Years in the Making.”