Outside SCR: South Coast Repertory’s Partnership with Mission San Juan Capistrano

South Coast Repertory Creative Director David Ivers discusses the theater’s summer collaboration with Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Outside SCR will be heading into its third season next summer. How did the idea come about?

I came into this job (less than a year) before the pandemic, and I didn’t make it through the first season I programmed as artistic director. I had always thought about the fact that there wasn’t much outdoor theater in Orange County, since I have a background in that with things like Shakespeare festivals. So in the early days of COVID-19, I thought, “Well we’re not going to be producing inside; this is the perfect opportunity to engage with the community in new ways.”

Photograph by Jenny Graham, Courtesy of South Coast Repertory

What was it like putting together the first show?

It was galvanizing, daunting, terrifying, exciting. The Mission is really the most perfect partner. I walked into the courtyard and said, “This is it!” And we didn’t look back.

How different is it from putting together the regular season?

We do a lot of heavy hitting plays at South Coast Repertory, many that are emotional and challenging. This is an opportunity to have a pleasant evening out. The sort of joke I tell about what we’re looking for with Outside SCR is, “What would go (well) with a beach chair and a margarita or a glass of chardonnay?” I’m sort of joking, but kind of not. I want people to feel like they can be in flip-flops and bring their home-cooked meal and be exposed to theater in a way you can’t be anywhere else. 

This year’s show, “Million Dollar Quartet,” was a big hit—what might be next?

Yes, there aren’t a lot of perfect jukebox musicals, but that was about as close as it comes. Hit after hit and based on a real story. I can’t say what’s next, yet, but I will say we’re always looking for stuff that folds in more than one discipline. With theater outdoors, the magic has to come not just from the story but also the environment. We don’t control the lighting until 9 o’clock. So if you have heightened stuff like music, dance, or heightened speech like with Shakespeare, you have so many experiences to enjoy. Stuff that will wrap its arms around the community, that the whole family will enjoy.

What started as a pandemic necessity now seems to have evolved beyond that. Was it an easy decision to keep Outside SCR going?

It was a pretty easy thing for us to commit to because I came into this job with a vision of deepening our connection to the community, reflecting where we live, and getting new butts in seats. So when the first markers came back that 30 to 40 percent of the audience had never been to a show at South Coast Repertory, and when I saw the multigenerational families gathered, it was an emotional and powerful experience.

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