Freedome Bradley-Ballentine

From a 2015 profile in the San Diego Union-Tribune

Freedome Bradley-Ballentine has a laugh that ratchets up like a roller coaster ascending that first stretch of track — clack clack clack — before rushing out in a prolonged whoosh of enthusiasm.

The Old Globe Theatre’s new director of arts engagement has a singular name to match.

It comes from his father, whom Bradley-Ballentine didn’t meet until he was in his 20s (he had been adopted as a child and went by the name Dwayne for most of his life).

“My father, when I met him, said that if he had been in my life, he had wanted to name me Freedome,” Bradley-Ballentine says now. “So I changed my name to that. He told me he would’ve spelled it that way as a free thinker.”

It seems a suitable moniker for a man who’ll be leading a major rethinking of how the Old Globe connects with the San Diego community — a task the theater is giving him significant freedom to accomplish.

“It’s a huge undertaking, what we’re doing here,” he says. “We’re fundamentally changing how we’re creating art, and how people are consuming art.

“We’re taking our venue outside, but we’re also taking people from the outside and trying to bring them inside.”

When Bradley-Ballentine steps into the newly created post, he’ll be guiding an outreach mission that’s been more or less in the making since Barry Edelstein took over as Globe artistic director three years ago.

The ambitious initiative received a huge boost in October via a $1.725 million, three-year grant from the James Irvine Foundation to “advance sustainable organizational transformation that leads to expanded arts engagement.”

(The Globe received the largest such grant in the state; La Jolla Playhouse was awarded $1.55 million for the same general purpose.)

The most visible part of the theater’s outreach efforts under Edelstein so far has been Globe for All, a program that tours stripped-down Shakespeare productions to unconventional, underserved venues as homeless shelters, veterans centers and even state prisons.

But the projects and changes Bradley-Ballentine will oversee are much more sweeping; they’re part of a large-scale reorganization at the Globe that will place existing educational and humanities programs under the expanded “engagement” umbrella.

It’s a fairly massive task to take on, particularly for someone who’d never been to San Diego before and knew the place mostly for the military, the zoo and Comic-Con. (Plus some theater, too.)

But it’s an area of endeavor in which he has deep experience. Bradley-Ballentine spent eight years as director of theatrical programs for the City Parks Foundation, a New York nonprofit that brings arts programs into parks across the city’s five boroughs.

During that time, he created the Summerstage theater program and expanded it from a single venue in Central Park to 17 locations around the city.

That’s where he was working when he and Edelstein first met. At the time, Edelstein was still head of the Shakespeare Initiative at New York’s Public Theater, and was beginning to put together that institution’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit (which eventually would serve as a model for Globe for All).

So the city parks department arranged for Bradley-Ballentine, who was born in Manhattan’s Hells Kitchen neighborhood, to show Edelstein and his Public colleagues around.

“It was this extraordinary day,” Edelstein recalls. “We got in a parks department van, with Freedome behind the wheel, and for six hours he gave us this tour of the five boroughs — parts of the city I’d never been to,” despite being a longtime New Yorker himself.

“That was the beginning of our friendship.”

It so happens that Bradley-Ballentine owes his own start in theater to the Public. He was studying education at New York University, planning to become a social-studies teacher, when a former professor told him he had a connection at the theater who could get him a job there.

“So I went around the corner and started working at the Public Theater. I wasn’t even an usher — I wasn’t that high. I was a lobby guy.”

Still, he found himself instantly smitten by the creative work around him. That passion grew even as he finished his degree and did a stint in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia. When he returned, he enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College, earned an MFA in theater, launched his own company (Creative Stages) and never looked back.

“Connecting communities with art — changing lives through art” is what Bradley-Ballentine says drives him. And he senses the Globe is a place where the power of that concept can take root.

He’s enough of a believer that he and his wife, the accomplished director Patricia McGregor, have pulled up their own New York roots and begun a new life in San Diego — with an abbreviated, five-month detour to Maui, where McGregor has family and where Bradley-Ballentine took up surfing as he contemplated his next move.

The Globe “plays a really important part in the lives of people in San Diego,” he says. “An incredible role. I take that really seriously.

“I knew when I did this kind of work again, I needed to be in a place that was really special. That was fully committed to doing this, to doing great theater. And where excellence is demanded and expected.

“That’s what the Old Globe is.”

NFT Credits

Credit Type Production Season
Director Amarie 2008-09 Season