By Kristina Houck
North Coast Repertory Theatre has been a staple of Solana Beach and North San Diego County for more than 30 years.
The theater’s continued success is thanks in large part to David Ellenstein, who has been artistic director for a decade. From choosing plays and hiring directors, to meeting with donors and board members, Ellenstein is responsible for “setting the theater’s tone.”
“I like being the person who is responsible for making sure the experience of coming to North Coast Rep is a satisfying and fulfilling one,” Ellenstein said. “Seeing people have that experience makes me really happy that we’re doing a good job and a good thing.”
Committed to promoting theater arts, North Coast Repertory Theatre produces seven main stage productions each season. The nonprofit organization also offers a holiday show, off-night events and a theater school.
“I like to say we’re not a community theater; we’re a theater for the community,” Ellenstein said. “We create the best possible thing, drawing from the best local talent and the best national talent.”
A longtime actor and director, Ellenstein directs three of the theater’s plays each season. The 56-year-old also acts in at least one play every year.
“I still love being a director and I still love being an actor. I’ll always love that,” said Ellenstein, who lives with his wife and two sons in Carlsbad. “If I ever stop being an artistic director, I’d still act and I’d still direct.”
Born into a theatrical family, Ellenstein is a veteran of more than 200 theatrical productions. He has been on the stage since he was 4 and began working as a paid actor by 17.
“I grew up in it,” said Ellenstein, who is the son of the late Robert Ellenstein, a well-known actor, director and artistic director. “At 4 years old, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to do what my dad was doing. He was having so much fun doing it; that’s what I wanted to do.”
Although his film and television credits include more than three dozen roles, Ellenstein has always enjoyed theater more than film and television.
“Really, what I much prefer is the life,” said Ellenstein, who noted Hamlet has been his favorite role. He’s played the title character in three different productions at three different venues.
“When you’re working in the theater, you spend your time doing what you love. When you’re working in film or TV, you spend your time looking for the jobs.”
Before joining North Coast Repertory Theatre in January 2003, Ellenstein simultaneously served as artistic director for the Los Angeles Repertory Company, which his father co-founded, and the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company.
When the curtains close on Aug. 11 for the comedy “Perfect Wedding,” it will mark the end of North Coast Repertory Theatre’s 31st season and Ellenstein’s 10th anniversary.
Already planning the 33rd season, Ellenstein is looking forward to next season’s lineup.
“I’ve got seven really great plays that people may not have seen before,” Ellenstein said. “I’ve got two musicals, two plays that involve history, three comedies, one dark play, one intellectual play, two San Diego premiers and two other world premiers.
“It’s really going to be an eye-opening season for people because they’re going to be seeing a bunch of stuff that they’re not familiar with — it’s really good stuff!”
When Ellenstein became artistic director 10 years ago, two of his three goals were to establish North Coast Repertory Theatre as a professional-grade operation, and join the Actors’ Equity Association, which promotes fair pay, working conditions and benefits for actors and stage managers. Ellenstein achieved these goals within his first two years at the theater, but still has a goal to build a new home for the organization, which is currently housed in a 194-seat venue at Lomas Santa Fe Shopping Plaza. Ellenstein said North Coast Repertory Theatre has “a very attractive offer” to build a new theater on the property from American Assets Inc., which owns the shopping center.
Until enough funds are raised, however, Ellenstein said he will continue to push the theater forward artistically. And while North Coast Repertory Theatre attracts roughly 50,000 people per season, Ellenstein wants to raise its visibility in the local community.
“So many people in this community have heard of North Coast Rep and have never been here,” Ellenstein said. “I just ask them to come try it once.
“We’re the best kept secret to some of the people that live around here.”
To learn more about North Coast Repertory Theatre, visit