Taking to the boards


Cal Son has explained that some geographers might describe all the settlements and cities south of Los Angeles as part of Greater Greater LA…


Freeways and towns, colleges and infrastructure spill south from the Los Angeles Basin down over brush covered hills and through urbanised valleys towards and beyond San Marcos.

You can drive along freeways round here but barely notice signs that indicate that the city of San Marcos has blended into Vista to the north west, Carlsbad to the west and into Escondido to the south east…

Escondido is an older town than San Marcos; it was mainly an agricultural area and still grows avocados, citrus fruits and grapes in vineyards. According to Wikipedia  Escondido is one of the oldest cities in San Diego County. Its population was recorded as 151,038 in the 2020 Census making it larger than its San Marcos neighbour. The Downtown area is pretty flat with a recognisable main street, independent shops lining one side and restaurants the other. Away from the central area, however, some of the residential streets are accessed via short sharp hill rises.

Cal Guy Snr had a plan – “If I can fix it, get permission, get some keys, what do you think, Granny…?”

What was he proposing…?

High school students have to accumulate a certain number of points or credits in a range of different areas.  Cal Guy Snr amassed many, many hours (and points) in his high school’s theatre doing lighting, electrics, audio, scenery construction and becoming a general all-round Mr Fix It.

He earned himself an internship at the California Center for the Arts which sits in Grape Day Park in Escondido .  Now fully qualified and registered as an “IATSE* stage hand” Cal Guy has huge affection for what is an impressive arts campus.

His plan involved a full tour of the California Center for the Arts.  Ten years ago he first fell in love with sound boards. (pic from Cal Son). Five years ago he had organised a front and backstage tour of his school theatre (reminder here: ). Now he was driving us in his car along the freeway to inspect a 1500 seat concert hall…

The Center sits beside the vast concrete-lined channel that contains and directs the city section of the 26 mile Escondido Creek as it flows down from the foothills to the Pacific Ocean.

Right across the Creek Bridge is a large building – and a Stage Door. Our guide led us into a corridor that ran between offices and workrooms.

Then the big moment – stepping out onto the stage…

This is the view from the Concert Hall stage, from which performers can face a capacity audience of 1,523 people. The stage is wide (68 feet) and deep (63 feet 8 inches). Arrays of ropes on stage left are used to fly in scenery and backdrops. Cal Guy Snr waxed lyrical about sound systems, lighting set ups and the loading bay; then he explained how the five front rows of seating can be disappeared to form an orchestral pit. The facilities are large enough to host Broadway shows – and in January ‘Shen Yun’, an elaborate Chinese dance show will run its annual season. . Before then ‘The Nutcracker’ (a firm winter holiday favourite in California) will be danced on stage.

The Center is used by schools in the local school districts: all three of the Cal Clan younger generation have participated in a school band concert on this stage.

Nate (the IATSE union steward) was on stage during our visit: “Yes, I went to school locally here and performed on this stage. Now I’m here all the time!” It was great to talk to him and gain a sense of how this lovely building is used and appreciated by the local population. Too far from San Diego or from Los Angeles it doesn’t get sufficient audience numbers to attract the big touring Broadway shows…

There is a new sound board at the back of the auditorium – how Cal Guy Snr’s fingers must have been itching to operate it…

Out of the auditorium then to the public lobby; it’s an elegant space, deserted on a Monday morning, apart from the presence of this, a Mexican figure representing Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a festival celebrated at the beginning of November.

From the Concert Hall the tour went across a courtyard to the smaller Center Theater where a studio-type auditorium has a maximum seating capacity of 404. Up on stage you sensed the intimacy this performance space would offer. Again ropes and rigging allowed for plenty of scenery changes. Back stage it was easy to visualise excited tutu-wearing student dancers keen to take to the boards…

Clean geometric shapes in the Center Theater’s public lobby are pleasing on the eye.

The campus tour continued; there’s a museum and conference centre on site, four “black box” small theatre spaces  and also plenty of public art work.

Back at the Concert Hall it was time to hand in the keys and the walkie talkie. On the big stage there had been a great chat with Nate and it was fascinating to hear from Leigh (the Center’s Technical Director) how her career has developed. After much talk of seasonal ‘Nutcrackers’ she vowed to go away and investigate British pantomime tradition…

Many thanks to Cal Guy Snr for arranging a very special treat


And then – six days later, during a visit to Balboa Park  down in San Diego (this time with Cal Gal), there were reminders of the local passion for ‘The Nutcracker’. The ballet is billed at the Casa del Prado Theater for 6th -17th December.

The regular Sunday afternoon free organ recital


had a lengthy ballet interlude and excerpts were danced from, guess what, ‘The Nutcracker’.  


Dancers from the Land of Sweets:

So it was true, San Diego County audiences really do lap up ‘Nutcracker’ shows in all sorts of venues… The dancers of San Diego Civic Youth Ballet put on a creditable open air performance, despite the rather erratic sound system…

Once back in the UK there’ll be much to remember and much to miss, not least perhaps the animated highly technical conversations between Cal Son (who had worked professionally as a sound engineer before moving into the IT world) and Cal Guy Snr (now employable as a stage and sound technician)…

*IATSE: International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees

ADDENDUM: Photos from Cal Guy Snr’s archive:

Young brother /sole figure on the large Escondido Concert Hall stage

Views from the sound board and from the highest lighting position:

Concert Hall stage in use:

Artificial snow falling in the smaller Center Theater:

Outdoor event in front of the Arts Center:


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