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Taking its first bow

October 06, 2002

Young Chang

Like expectant fathers, David Emmes and Martin Benson stood in the

gut of a barely-there theater last April and spoke of a stage that

soon would exist.

They beamed in a dusty, hollow shell of a place. They patted, or

was it more like petted, a wooden fence that separated the soon-to-be

stage section from the audience. They boasted that the space between

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would be, at most, 39 feet from anywhere in the house.

For a year now, the founders and artistic directors of South Coast

Repertory have celebrated first steps -- the groundbreaking, the

placing of the last steel beam on the Julianne Argyros Stage and the

naming of the various parts of SCR's new Folino Theatre Center. And

for a year, they have announced all the good things -- all the

dollars and donors and endowment plans and new programs -- that have

and will come with a $19-million expansion project.

Like dads, they have been gushing good news.

Their baby, meanwhile, has grown up just the way architect Cesar

Pelli's portraits promised it would.

What was for so long just a massive mess of noise and

Home-Depot-esque corners suddenly got a face this month, a sleek and

modern one with a whole lot of windows and silver steel borders. The

three theaters -- the Segerstrom Stage, the Julianne Argyros Stage

and the Nicholas Studio -- grew personalities. And the fancy,

windowed lobby stretching across the whole complex began to assume

enough shape to do its job, to hug its three stages.

On Saturday, the new theater complex embraced its first official

visitors as the creme de la creme of Newport-Mesa society arrived to

take part in SCR's "Light the Night" Gala Ball. The glittering crowd

paid between $500 and $750 per person to be the first to glimpse the

theater company's new home.

FINISHING ON DEADLINE

Dennis Astl, project manager for construction company Snyder

Langston, said the pressure to finish on deadline weighed heavy on

his staff. It wasn't a matter of tenants who were promised the space

by a certain day. It was, instead, an engagement scheduled to attract

Orange County's who's who that propelled Astl and his crew to make

sure patrons decked out in frills and cuffs wouldn't arrive onto an

unfinished, gravelly theater.

What they floated into instead was an elegantly lit Folino Theatre

Center.

"It was an aggressive schedule to start with, so we've been

pushing very, very hard here at the end," the project manager said

last week. "We're not at a point where we think there are only the

small things left. That'll be Oct. 5."

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