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The Old Globe’s head honcho, Lou Spisto, is stepping aside, leaving one of San Diego’s most prestigious theaters in better financial shape than when he found it. Union-Tribune theater writer James Hebert profiles Spisto’s tenure, saying he grew weary of representing the Globe throughout his quotidian tasks:

“You have to walk, live, breathe the job. If you’re at the cleaners in the morning and you’re wearing a track suit or whatever, and people say, ‘Oh, you’re the guy from the Globe,’ and they want to talk about the Globe, you’ve got to talk about the Globe. You don’t get away from it.

“It is a life, not a job.”

As he leaves, the theater faces decisions that “could affect its trajectory for decades to come.” Spisto carried dual roles of deciding what plays and musicals the theater should do while balancing the financial and administrative duties. Most regional theaters, like the La Jolla Playhouse, split those up, with one person minding the theater’s artistic mission while the other makes sure it stays financially afloat. It’s yet unclear whether the Globe will hire two people to lead it forward.

A common hope in the local theater community is that the Globe hones its focus on developing a stronger local community of actors, directors and playwrights rather than pulling people in from out of town.

“What I’m (hoping) happens is that we get back to being a regional theater, and stop hoping everything we do goes to New York,” says frequent Globe actor Kandis Chappell. “That’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to give great theater to San Diego, which we’ve done for many years.”

You’re reading the Arts Report, voiceofsandiego.org’s weekly compilation of the region’s arts and culture news. The Arts Report will be taking a wintry jaunt to Canada next Tuesday but we’ll be back in the New Year.

Beloved Shows

• This is the sixth and final year for the heartwarming staged radio-play version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Cygnet Theatre. Though the core actors are sad to leave the production after this year, the force behind Ma Bailey told us it’s part of Cygnet’s character to make room for something new.

“Artistically, and philosophically, don’t we want to do something?” said local actor Veronica Murphy in this week’s Behind the Scene TV. “Don’t we want to step out? Don’t we want to take a new risk?”

 

(Photo by Daren Scott, courtesy of Cygnet Theatre Company)

Two local museum exhibitions were among the best art in Southern California in 2011, according to the L.A. Times. We gave you unconventional looks at both: The preparations for the San Diego Museum of Art’s show of Thomas Gainsborough paintings, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s “Phenomenal” exhibition.

History Painted Over

• Fundraising efforts didn’t go far enough to build a gamma-ray camera to find out once and for all whether a lost da Vinci painting is hidden behind another centuries-old mural in Italy. UCSD professor Maurizio Seracini has riled up hundreds in the art world when his team announced it will drill holes into the front painting to send in an endoscopic probe.

 

• It’s been a tough year for art in the streets in Encinitas. First Surfing Madonna, and now this: A group of artists will have to black out the image on the banners they’re installing on the lampposts in downtown because they feature a drawing of late City Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan, who died of cancer in the fall.

Mayor Jerome Stocks, who was “often at odds with Houlihan,” said the banners display “political imagery” on public property and thus flout city law. “It’s not about personalities … it’s about the rule of the law,” he said. (North County Times and 10News)

• The city of San Diego’s plans to allow a company to paint over a decades-old mural on the side of the California Theater sparked a fight and an online petition that the mural be saved. A company wanted to hang a Newcastle Brown Ale advertisement on the wall that’s home to a mural for the Agua Caliente racetrack. Now Newcastle doesn’t want anything to do with it, and the city said it’s reconsidering the permit to paint over the mural “in light of concerns raised by the public“. (KPBS, CityBeat, U-T and change.org)

Legroom for Art

• Alexander Salazar opened a new arts exhibition space in La Jolla. His art empire now spans six spaces and more than 30,000 square feet, mostly downtown. (La Jolla Patch)

• A musical theater troupe announced they’re moving into the Birch North Park Theater — which is open despite its owners’ bankruptcy — for three shows in 2012. San Diego Musical Theatre most recently performed its shows at the Lyceum in downtown, which has 540 seats. The Birch has 725 seats. Erin Lewis from the company admitted the new digs present some challenges: “The Birch is a bigger theater,” Lewis noted, “and the rent is going to be bigger. With the economy being what it is, we’re going to be scrambling.” (U-T)

Made in San Diego

• A ballroom dancer originally from Pennsylvania is teaching salsa dancing to recovering veterans at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. Some soldiers bring their wives and girlfriends to class. (Daily Local News, Pennsylvania)

“When someone comes back from deployment from what I hear it’s really hard to connect again,” Ables said of those with PTSD, “but with dancing you can be quiet and still connect.”

• The best actors, directors and entire productions are honored every year in the Craig Noel Awards, named by the San Diego Theater Critics Circle. The group named its nominees today and will give the awards in a ceremony on Feb. 6. Who do you think should win?

• Des McAnuff was 30 when he took over the La Jolla Playhouse, resurrecting it after an 18-year hiatus. We’ve got more digits to help quantify McAnuff’s footprint. His “Jesus Christ Superstar” restaging is onstage through the end of the month at the La Jolla Playhouse. The L.A. Times named it one of the best pieces of theater in 2011 for the region.

 

(Photo by David Hou, courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse)

Reader Tom Shepard comments on McAnuff’s time in San Diego:

… my fondest memory is of an early rehearsal of Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays, before several of the sketches were cut because of time constraints. When we walked out for intermission, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was the most moving piece of theater I’ve ever experienced.

What’s yours? Leave us a note.

Ideas and Discoveries

• Can computers be creative? Here’s an intriguing radio story about artist Harold Cohen, based in San Diego since the late ’60s. Cohen created a computer named AARON and has been teaching it to paint for 40 years. Now, AARON’s work looks a lot like what a human might paint. But “having a brain and having a life are two different things,” Cohen says. (Public Radio International)

• Researchers at UCSD have made “living neon” out of “millions of bacterial cells that periodically fluoresce in unison like blinking light bulbs.” You can see a video of the so-called biopixels here. (UCSD)

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Kelly Bennett is the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach her directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531. Or you can keep up with her on Twitter @kellyrbennett or on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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