We Tour the Inside of this OC’s Famous Center
Written By: Susan Krupa Behind the Scenes at Segerstrom Center for the Arts
How do you design a building for lions and aliens, missionaries and nuns, witches and magicians, sweethearts and lovers? In the early 1980s, the Segerstrom family and other generous donors made such a venue possible. The Center serves as Orange County’s destination for touring Broadway shows such as Disney’s The Lion King, The Book of Mormon, The Illusionists and WICKED in addition to dance, jazz, classical music, cabaret, family entertainment and others – all live performances. Free weekly public tours, such as the one I took, take you behind-the-scenes and on stage to show you what goes into to keeping the largest theater in Orange County running.
When the idea for building a theater in Orange County was conceived, one of the first considerations was to the performers and stage crews who would come. To that end, letters were sent to all the major touring productions at the time asking for a wish list of design elements. The results of this survey were incorporated into the design of Segerstrom Hall. These included generous stage wings, loading docks with easy access to the stage and large work areas for storage and for crews to assemble sets and props. Although not glamourous, these considerations make Segerstrom Center a favorite with national touring Broadway shows. Larger wings mean that the ‘animals’ in Disney’s The Lion King can be kept close to the stage and avoid being transported through narrow hallways during the show.
Segerstrom Hall was designed by Charles Lawrence and contains elements the casual theatergoer may never notice For example, there are more than 500 mirrors lining the walls of the grand staircase that leads to the various lobby areas. If you pause on one landing and look up, the mirrors create a kaleidoscope effect which looks very different from day to night.
Perhaps the most iconic of these decorative elements is the two-ton sculpture that hangs in the Segerstrom Hall arch, or Grand Portal, as it is known. Richard Lipoid’s geometric masterpiece, Fire Bird, extends from the interior of the building and through the windows. Even more interesting, the sculpture appears to be composed of multicolored metal triangles attached to rods. However, the color is an illusion: the triangles are not colored at all but are all silver. As a result of their reflective properties and the colored metal supports around them that play with the light from both the sun and the interior, they appear to be many different vibrant colors, as if they were on fire.
Inside, Segerstrom Hall’s orchestra level features continental seating, meaning there is no center row. Prime locations in theaters with center aisles are just empty spaces, but in Segerstrom Hall those aisles become spectacular seats. Segerstrom Center is more than just venues for the performing arts.
It’s also the home to American Ballet Theatre William J. Gillespie School for classical ballet. The school, which is operated by the Center in partnership with ABT, includes dance studios just steps from the main stage. Sharing space with the world’s most famous dancers and ballet companies inspires young dancers of the possibilities before them. It also means that students here have the opportunity to perform with the professionals in productions such as American Ballet Theatre’s The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, as they did last year.
This is just a fraction of what lays behind the scenes of Segerstrom Center for the arts. Twice weekly, free public tours led by docents take you to dressing rooms, backstage, rehearsal spaces and on stage at this amazing facility. For anyone who has ever dreamed of being on stage or just loves the performing arts, put this tour on list of things to do.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
600 Town Center Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626