We all know that Catholicism encompasses far more than its basic, core tenets. Like most religions, its beliefs, customs and observances have influenced the world far into the secular realm: literature, food, music, architecture and education are but a few examples.
As such, Christ Cathedral’s Cultural Center serves as a meeting place for the Catholic community – and everyone in the area – to enjoy spiritual, cultural or secular performances and events. This includes feature films, live stage and musical performances, provocative lectures and more.
The Freed Theater is central to the Cultural Center’s efforts.
“Every cultural center needs a space like the Freed Theater to showcase a wide variety of events,” says Hector Pantoja, Christ Cathedral’s events manager. “We’re prepared to host movies, theater productions, presentations, speakers and so forth. The theater really ties down the whole Cultural Center on the Campus.”
The Freed Theater is located in the Cultural Center’s lower level, next to the Susan and Timothy Strader Family Atrium and an outdoor patio. “The outdoor area is used for pre- and post-event receptions, things like wine-and-cheese gatherings,” Pantoja says.
Named after a donor who funded the theater for Dr. Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral Ministries, the 307-seat venue furnishes a projector (it emerges from and retracts into the ceiling) that displays images on a screen that covers the theater’s entire stage. Resources are available for all manner of performances.
While the theater’s overall structure has remained the same since the Diocese purchased the Crystal Cathedral property, “We’ve done some cosmetic work,” says Marcia Vojtech, Christ Cathedral’s campus operations manager. “We have new carpeting and new seats [others have been reupholstered]. And we’re going to upgrade the audio, but not in the immediate future.”
Diocese-related events have included the popular Bishop’s Lecture Series, which features talks by notables in the Catholic community near and far. Bestselling and prolific author Scott Hahn spoke on June 5 about his most recent work, “The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order.”
Freed events have included advance screenings of films that focus on Catholic moral and social teaching, such as “Unplanned,” based on the experiences of a Planned Parenthood staffer who adopted a pro-life stance; “Breakthrough,” the story about how one mother’s unwavering faith and prayer helped avert a tragedy; and “Convinced,” a documentary about atheists who have found the Catholic faith. These screenings help get the word out and create a buzz about these important films. Pantoja notes that Mel Gibson in 2016 screened “Hacksaw Ridge” in the Freed Theater and later discussed its meaning and importance with the audience.
Upcoming events include the Diocesan Ministries Celebration, which until this year took place at Mater Dei High School, Pantoja notes.
However, not all events at the venue are Diocese-related. “Our main goal of the campus is to evangelize,” Pantoja says. “But we also like to provide the Freed Theater, and the entire Cultural Center, to outside groups.”
In fact, Vojtech notes, Diocese-related events comprise only about half of the theater’s gatherings. Other organizations rent the space, and proceeds help fund the Cultural Center. “We have some clients who are not part of the Diocese but have been here for many years,” Vojtech says. “Local community theaters rent it for a period of time, often over a weekend.”
For example, The Music Room School of Performing Arts has rented the Freed Theater a few times a year to stage musical theater shows by TMR’s Show Biz Kids program. The Orange-based school has performed there for the last two years and recently signed on for another two, Vojtech notes.
And this year marks the fifth that Santa Ana–based Prelude String Orchestra has performed at the theater. Composed of kids from second through eighth grades, “The group really stands out for me,” Pantoja says. “They do a wonderful concert every year. The kids are really impressive.”
The young classical musicians have adopted the Freed Theater as a home away from home. “The kids love it here,” Pantoja says. “I’ve heard some say, ‘This is our theater, this is our home.’” Like The Music Room, the Prelude String Orchestra has extended its contract for another two years.
It’s easy to contend that the Freed Theater – and the Campus’ Cultural Center as a whole – is not just important to the local Catholic community; it’s essential.
“One of the pillars of our overall strategic plan is community outreach,” Vojtech says. “So we provide multiuse facilities that can help with our evangelization efforts, as well as events for the ecumenical community at large.”
And if the Catholic faith happens to “rub off” on to secular visitors and performers – well that’s fine too.
Besides, Vojtech says, “A lot of places in the area simply don’t have their own theaters. So we’re helping to serve the local community.”