New Old Globe artistic director sees theater as property of all
By Anthony King | SDUN Editor
The Old Globe Theatre’s new artistic director has quickly and quietly charmed San Diego, highlighted at this year’s San Diego Critics Craig Noel Awards. The company won 10 awards that night, but the entire audience was won over as well, when Barry Edelstein, who took over at The Old Globe late last year, spoke.
Edelstein, who moved to South Park with his wife and two children from New York City, brings a lot to the table of the Balboa Park theater company, one of the largest in the United States. Edelstein called it a “cultural institution with a civic mandate,” and has been taking his new position very seriously.
“Part of the way that you make a gigantic institution like this thrive is by making it the first place where people ever have an experience of the theater,” Edelstein said. “It means getting families in here to see shows, because remember, nobody ever goes to the theater. They’re only ever taken to the theater for the first time.”
Edelstein experienced that first-hand when he would take his daughter to shows on Broadway. His family moved to South Park from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, after an extensive and exhaustive search for a new artistic director. Announced October 2012, he took the position Nov. 1, 2012.
Edelstein joins The Old Globe family after several years with New York’s Public Theater. His most recent position in New York was director of the company’s Shakespeare Initiative, where he oversaw all the company’s Shakespearean productions.
His career is based in part on Shakespeare’s work, as Edelstein is well known as a leader in staging the bard’s work, and is also the author of two books on the subject, both used in actor training courses.
“I had reached a point in my career where I thought I really wanted to try and run one of these big institutions,” Edelstein said. “I had no idea it would end up being one as august and spectacular as this one, but I knew that was the next logical step in my career.”
Recognizing that he is the CEO of a large organization, Edelstein said the simple answer to what he does on a typical day is to be the “custodian of the artistic life” of The Old Globe, including overseeing current productions, managing the organization with Managing Director Michael Murphy and keeping contact with artists, writers, donors and civic leaders.
“There’re two ways to look at the job. One is I [have to] put on great shows done by great artists that a lot of people are going to want to see. That’s it,” he said. “I also run a cultural institution that sits on public land in one of the great parks in the United States, and there’s a community obligation to make sure I’m serving the entire City, and indeed County, of San Diego.”
It is an obligation he discussed in depth, as earnestly as he sees how theater has served the purpose of providing a forum for people to come together to discuss “great issues that are facing them,” he said.
One of those issues is representation, a focus for Edelstein in his new position.
“It’s no secret to say the audience does not represent the entire diverse spectrum of the community of San Diego,” he said, “so there’s work that has to be done to make sure that this institution becomes the property of everybody in San Diego in the same way that Balboa Park is the property of everybody in San Diego, not just the exclusive province of the educated, the wealthy [and] the white.”
“Getting out there,” as Edelstein called it, is more than visiting the vast number of theater companies throughout San Diego County, which he said was one thing he wanted to do.
“There are communities who don’t feel welcome in a big … formal institution like this,” he said. “We have to get out to them.” Edelstein has already started, saying he was currently working on a “Shakespeare project” that would get some of The Old Globe’s productions out of Balboa Park, free of charge.
“I think it’s important to see the whole thing as one,” he said.
His family’s reception in all of San Diego, including South Park, has been overwhelmingly positive and humbling, and Edelstein said he is happy with his family’s new city.
“That’s the sort of bonus about this,” he said. “It’s one thing to be asked to run a great institution, it’s another thing that that great institution is located in one of the most liveable cities.”
There is one more bonus, he said: seven minutes “door to door” from his office in Balboa Park to his home.
“My kids are young,” he said, “so that means I can put in a full day at work, go home for dinner and come back for an eight o’clock curtain.”