The Irvine Barclay Theatre: probably one of the most interesting places on campus that you have never been to. It is that large building next to the Watson Bridge that you passed the other day on your way to get some Lee’s sandwiches and wondered why there was a bunch of well-dressed old people hanging out in the lobby.
You may not think the Barclay has the type of entertainment that caters to the youthful masses, but it has developed a reputation for serious talent and sophistication when it comes to theater culture, which can be credited greatly to Barclay President Douglas Rankin, who will celebrate his 20th year at the Barclay this September.
‘I never would have expected to be here this long,’ Rankin said.
A true California boy, Rankin grew up in San Jose before attending UC Berkeley for his undergraduate studies and then coming south to UCLA for his masters.
After working in the Bay Area for a brief period of time, Rankin moved to Chicago, Ill. where he worked to restore a 100-year-old landmark theater, the Woodstock Opera House. Following soon after, Rankin came back out west to work at UC Irvine.
‘I was recruited,’ Rankin said politely.
This seems to be a smart move on the part of the Barclay, seeing that Rankin had run the theater in a way that it has become a highly respected place for talented artists to bring their work.
One of Rankin’s greatest coups came this year with Savion Glover, one of, if not the greatest, contemporary tap dancers with ‘Classical Savion,’ in his Orange County premiere.
‘I just happened to be in New York for the opening night for [‘Classical Savion’] and I just happened to have his manager on one side and his agent on the other side,’ Rankin said. ‘Before the end of the night I said, ‘Do you think we could get him to do that in Irvine?”
Glover’s agent agreed, putting in motion a deal that would garner some great press for the Barclay and one of the best shows in recent years for the Irvine community. Ultimately, though, it was the reputation of the theatre, a product of Rankin’s work, that sealed the deal with Glover.
‘Fortunately, one person sitting next to me knew the [Barclay] and knew the quality of the work we do and knew that the show would be handled well. They knew the stage crew would make it look as good or better than it was in New York, which is important,’ Rankin said.
Rankin has continued his professional relationship with Glover in a somewhat creative sense with next year’s Flamenco Festival.
‘I had this crazy idea. You know [Glover’s] feet and he’s a great improvisational artist and flamenco is about improvisation. So I suggested to [the artistic director], ‘What do you think about working with this guy, if we asked him and he agreed?” Rankin said.
The artistic director was interested and Glover agreed despite having no experience with flamenco dancing.
‘It will either be a revelation or an artistic catastrophe,’ Rankin said.
Despite working in a very corporate office building across the street from the Barclay, Rankin’s position forces him to be quite worldly, almost like a James Bond of the high culture.
‘I float through festivals around the country and the world for that matter,’ Rankin said. ‘I am going to the Canadian Dance festival. [A contact said] this is really an extraordinary performance worth being seen in your country. And they put it that way, ‘your country.”
Rankin has developed a network of colleagues and artists over the years, with whom he communicates in order to develop the right combination of eclectic and classical at the Barclay.
‘And then there is a whole business, a whole industry of agents that are always trying to pitch or sell you things,’ Rankin said. ‘I would say probably one out of every 100 calls [is one of these agents]. Maybe one out of a 1000 calls, or e-mails for that matter, now that e-mails are the preferred mode of communication.’
The most recent challenge for Rankin, one most relevant for UCI specifically, has been tackling the issue of student attendance.
‘Of our total audience, for the presented artists, it’s probably about 5 percent,’ Rankin said. ‘We can compare relatively favorably. But it is still low.’
Even with a 50 percent discount for students in advance, the low turnout seems to be an issue of taste and lack of information.
‘I think it’s partly curriculum-driven. Part of the university is still so science-driven. And sometimes [with] left-brain, right-brain, it takes a while to get those together. Partly it is either our inability or our added lack of incentive to consistently reach the student population,’ Rankin said.
Rankin is addressing the issue of student attendance with several ideas, on of which involves looking to someone at UCI for help.
‘What I will be looking for soon is advice within the university community,’ Rankin said.
The relationship between the university and the Barclay is very reciprocal, both providing a purpose for the other, a role, for Rankin, which is very important.
‘Every great university in the system, whether it’s UCLA or Berkeley, has an extraordinary artist’s program, which not only provides satisfaction to current faculty members or those who are a student, but it helps to attract in the future better students and better faculty. That is something I am concerned about, which we have to address seriously,’ Rankin said.
Over the years, Rankin has won many battles with the Irvine Theatre, and the upcoming year that won’t disappoint with shows like the flamenco festival with Savion Glover and the World Stages Series. Rankin definitely knows how to do his job well, but ultimately is looking to the students of UCI as his next challenge.
‘If there is one thing, I am trying to communicate to students from their narrow frame of reference,’ Rankin said. ‘Whether it is the music or the movements, it actually crosses over into their interest more than they might think.’
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