We Love South Coast Repertory’s New Artistic Director

Photo by Tim Fuller

Growing up a self-described theater nerd in Calabasas, David Ivers thought theater was what most people think theater is: big, touring productions stopping for a while in a city, then moving on.

But one day in 1987, he and a group of friends decided to take the 70-mile trek to check out a theater they knew little about: South Coast Repertory.

“I had never seen anything like it,” says Ivers, who was named SCR’s artistic director last week. “I didn’t know much about regional theater. I’d go to the Ahmanson [Theatre in LA] and see the big road shows, and then I came [to SCR], and it was a whole different thing. They built [the shows] here, and they had a staff, and it just opened my eyes to the possibility of [working] with a company. . . . I was hooked.”

With some 30 years of theater credits on his résumé, Ivers officially takes over next March, after his contract at the Arizona Theater Co. expires. He is the fourth artistic director in SCR’s 54-year history, and he joins Marc Masterson (2011-2017) as the only artistic directors who were not also an SCR founder. Martin Benson and David Emmes, both San Francisco State graduates, had served in that role since launching SCR in 1964. In 1978, they moved the company into its present location in Costa Mesa, right across the street from South Coast Plaza.

And while others, such as longtime managing director Paula Tomei and its literary department, have played enormous roles in the company’s success, no one who works at SCR can escape the legacy of those two founding members, as well as their continual presence. Their names are not only on the building, but they also remain very involved, each having a seat on the 36-member board. And those voices surely are heard clearer than anyone else’s.

Ivers visited SCR on Sept. 21, the day after he was named artistic director. When asked if he was already trembling at the thought of running the artistic side of a theater whose founders are still involved, he laughed and said anyone who doesn’t take advantage of listening to those two voices is missing a huge opportunity. “It’s a big deal, man; there’s a lot of legacy there,” he says, mere moments before officially meeting the staff for the first time as their next boss. “I just saw them downstairs. But I have huge love and respect for those two guys. The only shaking is in filling their shoes. But it’s not about being intimidated. They are so open and available and willing to help shape the future [of the theater] by being a sounding board. . . . I’m a person of the theater. . . . I’m not afraid to make the big decisions, but collaboration and, most important, listening . . . is the [best] way for me to execute my vision.”

For his part, Benson has nothing but praise for Ivers, who was chosen among an “extraordinarily” high number of candidates for the job (19). “David was clearly the best choice,” Benson says. “He is such a dynamic individual, a true artist in the sense that he is an artistic director, a director [Ivers directed One Man, Two Guvnors at SCR three years ago] and an accomplished actor. He’s a tremendously warm individual, just impressive. . . . He’s a big guy, an athlete, and just eager to work.”

Ivers, who is in the early stages of figuring out the lay of the land (comparing past gigs in Arizona and Utah, he believes OC is a bastion of liberalism), says he plans to bring to SCR the aggressive community outreach he implemented in his previous stops, including the Utah Shakespeare Festival, where he was artistic director for six years. Development of new plays and new voices remains paramount, he says, and he also intends to continue the company’s mix of “classics and modern masterpieces,” as well as its commitment to diversity, such as more women and people of color playwrights. “That’s not an initiative; that’s not a strategy,” Ivers says of diversity. “It’s essential to who we are as human beings, [reflecting] the kaleidoscope of existence.”

One day after the announcement, Benson says he is more than confident that he and Emmes’ baby is in good hands. “He just did a really impressive greeting to our entire staff,” Benson says. “How the quality of the work onstage must be our primary focus, but how everyone, regardless of their job—from an assistant marketing director to someone making props—is as vital as anyone else . . . [and] how he wants to promote, get out into the community. That’s something he is passionate about. To get people in the community to see this 54-year-old theater anew, with a brand-new, fresh face.”

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