A rendering of the new entry for University Heights’ Diversionary Theatre. Photo credit: Courtesy, Diversionary Theatre

Diversionary Theatre, the nation’s third oldest LGBTQ theater, is pushing to complete a $2.5 million fundraising campaign to support theatre upgrades, a new cabaret venue and more.

The University Heights theater also plans a new education center to support an increase in their free arts programs for youth and seniors, and COVID-era safety improvements to “ensure the safest theatrical re-opening possible.”

Construction has begun and is expected to be completed in June, making the theatre ready to reopen with new safety features as soon as state and county mandates allow.

The theater has raised 85% of the $2.5 million goal for the “Securing Our Future” campaign.

Executive artistic director Matt M. Morrow called the project “a dream come true for our Diversionary family,” and also noted the cabaret piano bar, which will allow for one-night performances and other short-run entertainment.

“This new space honors and celebrates the LGBTQ community’s history of communing and organizing our movement in the iconic ‘gay bar’ space that has become increasingly rare,” Morrow said. 

The new performance space will be called the Austin and Joann Clark Cabaret, while the center will be named the Randy Clark & Tom Maddox, M.D. Education Center. It also will be a resource for Lambda Archives of San Diego.

Other plans include:

  • Redefining the theatre entrance, exterior and marquee and updating the lobby with the Stuart Schwartz & Karl Peterson Box Office.
  • Remodeling the Black Box Theatre into the Reuel K. Olin New Play Development Center.
  • Expanding the Robert L. Granat & Alfred J. Mazur Mainstage and increasing seating size.
  • Adding a new bar area in honor of LGBTQ history – Ye Olde Gay Bar, and
  • Upgrading the scenic shop, sound, lighting and production equipment.

New safety features include optimized air circulation, via new filtration and ionization units, touch-less facilities in restrooms and at entrances, sanitizing stations and improved accessibility features.

“When we are able to return to live performances again safely, Diversionary Theatre will be a safe harbor for artists and audiences alike,” said managing director Jenny Case.

The theater, founded in 1986, was prepared to celebrate its 35th anniversary this year. The pandemic altered plans, but as Diversionary’s board president,  Scott Williford, said our community has rallied behind us like never before to ensure our important arts education programming continues to uplift, and our theatre will continue to tell our important stories that shine a light on diversity, inclusion and equity.”

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