In a world where arts organizations and facilities routinely scrounge out a hand-to-mouth existence, the new Orange County Performing Arts Center is a rarity - an experience in opulence and plenty.
With its impressive agenda of artistic events, wide range of nearby accommodations, and proximity to the relatively peaceful John Wayne Airport, the Orange County Center might make a welcome destination for arts-minded Utahns, seeking an alternative to the hustle and risks of downtown Los Angeles. At the center, you can find an intriguing musical event most any weekend.The hall is stunning, both inside and out. In front, a great arch made from Swedish red granite rises almost 12 stories high. It frames as if in a proscenium a festive mobile sculpture of red, gold and silver metals - the Fire Bird, by Richard Lippold. By night the hall becomes a symphony of red, gold, and brown reflections, shining through the archway.
Inside, carpet in earthtones and chipped stone tiling combine with imported light teakwood in the capacious lobbies. Stairways and hallways lined with narrow slabs of mirror reflect the passing parade, highlighting concert-goers in an ever-changing mosaic of movement.
The jewel of the facility is Segerstrom Hall, which comfortably seats nearly 3,000 in an orchestra section and three asymmetrical, traylike tiers, thus combining the unobstructed sightlines of a fanshaped theater with the acoustic excellence of a long, narrow hall. Decorated in warm woodtones and red velvet, the hall is surprisingly intimate for its size.
Amenities include a stage 125 feet wide by 64 feet deep, 19 dressingrooms, a backstage area almost as big as the auditorium with carpentry and costume shops, a Founder's Hall that will seat 900, big rehearsal halls with hardwood floors, and comfortable lounge.
The Orange County Center rose with amazing speed, on a site that was originally a beanfield - part of the ancestral holdings of the Segerstrom family, who kept their land when many others sold out. The Segerstroms, who developed the nearby luxurious Gold Coast shopping plaza, gave land worth $5 million, and start-up money of $6 million for the center.
"They are community leaders of great vision," said Richard Bryant, director of publicity for the center. "But they had plenty of help. The $73 million needed was quickly forthcoming. By opening night in September, 1986, we had a total of 10,973 gifts, including 781 donors of $10,000 or more, and 18 donors of $1 million or more. Indeed, there is no public money in this hall; it all came from private sources, and we already has a substantial endowment fund as well.
"Orange County is affluent, fueled by an economic engine, and its growth has been extraordinary. We draw on a population base of 5 million, and individuals who have prospered want to build our arts here, and not have to drive to Los Angeles. This county has an appetite for quality, for what is good, what is best, and people here are able and willing to pay."
Yet the speed with which Orange County Center has come to almost full capacity has astonished both public and staff. "Our average occupancy is up to 80 percent already," said Bryant. "We are two years ahead of projected usage, and we are looking at the feasibility of building yet another hall."
The center is a welcome rental facility for presenters who previously offered programs in high school auditoriums and churches.
Center Presentations, the Hall's own management, brings in musical theater, ballet, jazz, big band and novelty events. "This county has a serious ballet habit; it's almost as popular as Broadway shows, our dance series has 11,000 subscriptions, with great interest in touring groups," said Bryant. "We have had American Ballet Theatre premiering its new `Swan Lake,' the New York City Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet. In August we will have the Kirov Ballet in one of its four engagements in the U.S., including the Met in New York, Kennedy Center, and the San Francisco Opera."
Opera Pacific has a three-production season. The Master Chorale of Orange County and Pacific Chorale regularly appear, plus numerous independent events.
"When the hall opened, these organizations had total combined subscriptions of 5,000. They are now up to 60,000 combined, and still growing," said Bryant. "We had 253 performances in 1988, playing to a total of 640,000 people, including our children's events."