Irvine Barclay president recalls seasons of success

In September 1990, a Los Angeles Times headline declared, "Irvine Barclay Theatre Debuts on Schedule, on Budget and on Solid Ground."

Schedule, budget and solid ground. Yep, that's about a day's work for Douglas Rankin.

The president of the venue on the UC Irvine campus has hosted celebrities from Don McLean to Judy Collins to Arlo Guthrie, screened live broadcasts of British theater and packed dance, spoken word, classical, pop and more into a typical season. This fall, the theater will kick off its 25th go-round. In the meantime, the National Choreographers Initiative, which presents newly created works by dance masters, will offer its latest production Saturday.

A few days after the Barclay announced its upcoming season lineup, Rankin spoke with the Daily Pilot about his life as a theater president. The following are excerpts from the conversation:


In a lot of fields, there's kind of an icon of success. If you're a rock band starting out, you might dream of being the Beatles. If you're a basketball player, you might dream of being Michael Jordan. How about venue owners? Is there an icon for theater owners as well?

Let's see. Interesting question. I don't think I've ever been asked that before, so I'll have to make something up, and let's hope I'm feeling creative enough to do that. In the classical music world, I guess that would be like a Carnegie Hall; in our field, I believe more like a Lincoln Center or a Kennedy Center. At our scale, given the kind of programming, I'm not sure there is such an icon, but I'll go with the Lincoln Center and Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, the icon being one that represents longevity and quality and audience and community acceptance.

Do you have a favorite venue to visit aside from the Barclay?

One place I like a lot is the Joyce Theater in New York. It's one of the leading dance halls — and by dance hall, I don't mean the kind of place where you go to dance, but the kind of place that specializes in interesting dance work from around the world. I like the Santa Fe Opera, a pretty beautiful setting. And just because of my upbringing, I like Zellerbach Hall on the Berkeley campus.

Before the Barclay, you oversaw the Woodstock Opera House in Illinois. Was that a childhood dream of yours, to run a theater when you grew up?

Well, no actually. I came across the field of arts administration when I was a student at Berkeley, as a matter of fact. I was actually studying architecture and economics, and I just became aware of a new program at UCLA. I had some music education in my background, but it was one of those "a-ha" moments where I became aware of the arts administration program at UCLA, and I was like, "Well, I've got that skill and I've got that background, and gee, this must be something for me."

Obviously, most of what the public sees regarding the Barclay is onstage, and you and your colleagues work behind the scenes a lot of the time. Give me an idea of what a typical working day is like for you.

What's probably fair is a typical working week. For instance, my chairman and I are currently engaged in meetings with, on the one hand, our partner, UCI, with administration, officials there. And on the other side of the street, if you will, my chairman and I are currently making courtesy calls to the City Council members, sort of expressing our appreciation for their support and laying out what we see the future to be and enlisting their continued support. So there's one aspect of what people don't see and don't know about.

But in fact, I spend maybe a quarter of my time this week and last and next engaged in conversations with artists directly or with their management companies or agencies. Of course, there's a staff and I'm the chief of staff, so there's a staff that's looking for some direction or at least some response to their work on a daily and weekly basis. And there are always the numbers. I spend a surprisingly — well, I think most people, if they knew how much time I spend with the numbers, they'd be surprised.

The Barclay opened in 1990 with a show by the South Coast Symphony. Do you remember much about your mind-set on that opening day?

Well, actually, the opening day was Sept. 30, 1990, and I recall it rather vividly. That was a big open house for the general public. And then, exactly one week later, which would have been the 7th, I want to say, was the big opening fundraiser, and then, I believe, the first community organization to use the theater was South Coast Symphony. So, yeah, I have some pretty vivid memories of that whole period of time.

Did you have butterflies?

Um, no. Quite frankly, I was so tired, so busy, that it just started to roll of its own accord. Its own weight.

The first major celebrity you had at the Barclay was Judy Collins. Is there a major celebrity that you're still hoping to get to play at the Barclay?

We always want Yo-Yo Ma. Yo-Yo Ma holds a very special place here for a number of reasons, which would be a little complicated to go into, but we're always hoping to have him return. He's now been here twice for special occasions. So there is one and — well, everyone's welcome back.

I noticed that Arlo Guthrie is back this year. When he was here last time, it was for "Here Comes the Kid," Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday, and then for this coming year, it's the 50th anniversary of "Alice's Restaurant." Did he get a really big reaction the last time he was here?

Yes, he was sold-out, and it was a lovely performance. His upcoming performance here is very consistent with sort of a theme we have set for the 25th season, and that is, to some degree, to sprinkle throughout the season our significant artists who have been here before. We call them our old friends, and clearly Arlo would be one of those.

Another example of an old friend coming back is the Hawaiian band HAPA. When we first explored the Hawaiian music scene, they were the first group we brought in. So we have an affection, let's say, for that particular group, and we were the first people to introduce Mark Morris Dance Group to Southern California back in the early '90s as part of our initial contemporary dance efforts, and so that company's back with their iconic "Dido and Aeneas." So there's that theme of bringing back people who have assisted us in exploring way back when, interesting program ideas that have since gone on to become successful.

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