Onstage and at Home at the Civic

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Written by: Joseph Shumate

California Ballet Company has been the resident ballet company at the San Diego Civic Theatre for over 30 years. The company’s entire main stage season is presented at the Civic each year, and the dancers are proud to call it home. But, what makes the theatre so special?

I’ve been appearing on the Civic Theatre’s stage with California Ballet since my very first The Nutcracker in 1988. I was a boy in the Family Scene back then, and I can vividly remember my first time walking across that enormous stage. The main curtain was open, all the backdrops and legs were up, there were no sets on the stage. In front of me was a broad expanse of marley, red velvet seats, and open air.

To this day, my parents love telling the story of how I marched straight to the edge of the stage, staring out at the 3,000 seat audience with wide, bewildered eyes. After a full minute of awed silence, I turned to my mom and dad and said, “Look at all the people I get to dance for!”

I’ve been on stages and in theaters across the world, but from that moment until the day I retired in May of 2013, the Civic was my favorite. It was my home. There’s something about the size of the audience, the elegance of the lobby, the industrial decor of backstage that makes it unique. And once that audience is filled with 3,000 pairs of eyes, applauding hands, and smiling lips - no other feeling in life can compare with the solid wall of adulation that a Civic Theatre audience can produce.

What makes the Civic Theatre special?

Since retiring, I’ve come to appreciate the theater on a whole new level. It brings our company a sense of prestige. It allows the ballet company to sell thousands more tickets than any other in the city. It provides an opportunity to create arts education outreach on an epic scale with thousands of donated tickets each year.

As a dancer, it’s a different story. It’s the whole experience: atmosphere, audience, anticipation, and adrenaline. Only a performer would truly understand: the Civic Theatre will always be that magical place that caused a young boy of nine to stand in open-mouthed awe, and realize exactly what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

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