Old Globe adjusts to new restrictions with an eye toward on-stage return


SAN DIEGO – At the Old Globe, theater matters. And despite being shuttered for the longest period in its 86-year history, the Balboa Park-based performing arts theater still has made it matter to a global audience.

From plays to podcasts, about 250 hours worth of the theater’s material has been added online this past year, including such hits as Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” over the holidays. Soon, the theater plans to release a radio production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

To date, overall viewership of the digital work has reached more than half a million people, a significantly larger audience than ever could be seated at the Old Globe.

Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director Barry Edelstein said its online presence has helped keep the lights on.

Still, keeping the historic theater built in the 1930s and its staff going has been a struggle, he said.

“The harder news is that it’s really hit the place very, very powerfully,” Edelstein said.

About 70% of the theater’s staff is on furlough, according to Edelstein.

“It’s extremely painful to think about our incredibly talented, brilliant network of people who are the lifeblood of the place that are on unemployment and struggling to make ends meet and trying to figure out how to get through this tough period,” he said. “Thousands of volunteers who sustain the Old Globe by helping out as ushers, they’re not here. They’re not home.

“And, of course, dozens of artists who we had hoped would be here making beautiful theater are at home as well. From a jobs perspective, it’s been tough.”

The California Department of Public Health recently loosened some pandemic rules, but for now, indoor theater is not permitted in California, even with the county’s shift to the state’s red tier for COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, movie theaters are being allowed to reopen at 25% capacity in the red tier.

The Globe can at least carry on the Shakespearean tradition of outdoor performances, Edelstein says, but the capacity limits permitted by the state are “severe.” Some of the exact guidelines are still being ironed out, but Edelstein is hopeful for a summer season with at least some feeling of normalcy.

For now, the theater has announced a program of six shows for the upcoming season, though they’re currently undated, as so many details hang in the air. The slate of shows includes some Shakespeare and the musical “Hair.” To learn more, you can visit the theater’s website.

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