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Regional Theatre

Regional Theatre: The Revolutionary Stage

Foreword by Alan Schneider
Copyright Date: 1973
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Regional Theatre
    Book Description:

    This is a social history of a recent American cultural phenomenon -- the development since World War II of numerous nonprofit regional theatres which, as a group, have changed the complexion of the American theatre. It is the story of a revolution, now over, and a call for a new purpose to follow it. After a discussion of the background against which the regional theatre movement began, the author traces the histories of individual theatre companies. And yet the book is less about actors, directors, and productions than it is about the struggle to create and sustain new cultural forms, and the tension between regional and central phenomena. Mr. Zeigler sees several related themes: institutionalism -- theatre as a continuing creative organism; decentralization -- the bringing of theatre to all areas of the country; and the development of a National Theatre to serve the entire country. A significant element in the book consists of examination of some of the important funding programs which have aided the development of regional theatres.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6498-6
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xvi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  3. 1 Defining a Revolution
    (pp. 1-5)

    After decades of urging by leaders and visionaries, there is finally in America an alternative to the theatre of Broadway. It is the regional theatre, a network of professional groups located in major cities around the country: Washington, Baltimore, New Haven, Providence, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and many others. Actors’ Equity Association, the professional actors’ union, now lists approximately forty such theatres, while a scant two decades ago there were fewer than a dozen.Variety, the theatrical trade newspaper, was forced to admit as early as 1966 that there are more professional actors working outside...

  4. 2 Antecedents: A World Elsewhere
    (pp. 6-16)

    When teacher-critic Norris Houghton called in 1941 for a serious, professional, and permanent decentralization of the American theatre, he was renewing a plea which had often been voiced in the theatrical world. In fact, at the turn of the century, there had been decentralization of a sort: hundreds of legitimate professional theatres in the United States, many in small, out-of-the-way communities. Those were the days when even minor towns boasted elegant opera houses; when James O’Neill, Eugene’s father, was squandering his considerable talent in endless tours ofThe Count of Monte Cristo; when J. Forbes-Robertson, Richard Mansfield, Joseph Jefferson, and...

  5. 3 Margo Jones: Legacy and Legend
    (pp. 17-23)

    The modern American regional theatre began with Margo Jones in Dallas in 1947, and through its history until her death in 1955 Margo served as high priestess of the movement and a measure for all others. Even those of us who never knew her think of her on an affectionate, first-name basis. As critic Brooks Atkinson has noted, “Everyone agreed on one thing about Margo Jones. She was a dynamo. She was a vivid woman. She energized everyone and everything she came in contact with. Margo’s vision, skill and vitality stimulated not only her audience but resident theatres in other...

  6. 4 Acorns: Theatres before 1960
    (pp. 24-61)

    The handful of leaders who immediately followed the example of Margo Jones created the theatres which were to form the backbone of the regional theatre revolution. For such people, in the words of critic Martin Gottfried, “the theatre was hardly more than a dream held together by half-a-shoestring.”¹ In each case, the theatres created by this select group started out being small, highly personal, and essentially private. Despite the group effort involved, there were few ties to the community at large and none to the nation as a whole. The theatres did not turn into public phenomena or become formal...

  7. 5 Oak Trees: The Guthrie Theater and What Came After
    (pp. 62-87)

    The advent of the Kennedy administration in 1961 introduced a new tone to American cultural life. After the apple-pie nonintellectualism of the Eisenhower years, there was at last a new young awareness in Washington. Robert Frost was invited to read a poem at the inauguration; Pablo Casals was not only a familiar name but an honored guest in the White House. Kennedy himself wrote, “To further the appreciation of culture among all the people, to increase respect for the creative individual, to widen participation by all the processes and fulfillments of art—this is one of the fascinating challenges of...

  8. 6 Saplings: Small Theatres of the 1960s
    (pp. 88-117)

    With the legitimatizing of the regional theatre form by the entry of philanthropy and the opening of the Guthrie, and with the presumed cultural explosion to justify the need for theatres and to make communities feel guilty if they did not have them, there was a near rash of new regional theatres during the 1960s. Because of the change in the climate, communities were more receptive to attempts to start theatres (though not necessarily more willing to support them financially once they had begun), and there came to be a new breed of theatre leaders who, while young, were surprisingly...

  9. 7 Stabs at a National Theatre
    (pp. 118-141)

    The large regional theatres of the 1960s included two special kinds of theatre which, like the Guthrie, seemed to offer the possibility that a National Theatre might develop from them: the festival theatres and the nomadic theatres. The festival theatres were summertime operations outside large cities which featured strictly classical programs; the nomadic theatres operated either year-round or in the winter months, presenting a more eclectic repertoire and serving mostly major urban centers.

    The American festival theatres sought to equal the standing of one of the most successful theatrical ventures in North America, the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Ontario, which...

  10. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  11. 8 To Save the World: The Actor’s Workshop Moves East
    (pp. 142-155)

    When the time came for a deliberate attempt at creating a National Theatre, the most unlikely regional theatre was chosen for the job: The Actor’s Workshop. To understand the irony of this choice, we must go back to the beginnings of the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center, to understand them as we already understand the beginnings of the Workshop.

    Like the American Shakespeare Festival a decade before it, the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center was a child of the Establishment. At the very top was John D. Rockefeller, chairman of all Lincoln Center. At the top of the Repertory Theater...

  12. 9 Up against the Marble Wall: The Loss of The Actor’s Workshop
    (pp. 156-169)

    For those regional theatre leaders who had been hoping that the National Theatre of America would evolve out of their individual theatres, the move of Jules Irving and Herbert Blau to the marble splendor of Lincoln Center was a severe jolt. Many felt that Irving and Blau had deserted the movement which had made them what they were and that they had also betrayed their colleagues in the movement. They may also have resented the fact that they had not been chosen instead. Among ambitious people who have risen from anonymity in hostile situations, there is sometimes little room for...

  13. 10 The Establishment Theatre
    (pp. 170-187)

    By 1965, there had been three major turning points in the regional theatre revolution: the entry of the Ford Foundation in 1957, which legitimatized the form and set it on the course of institutionalism; the opening of The Guthrie Theater in 1963, which gave the form national attention and introduced the hope of a single National Theatre; and the move to Lincoln Center of The Actor’s Workshop in 1965, which encouraged the assumption that the regional theatre could be the savior of the American theatre overall. Also by 1965, there had developed a change which was much more subtle, much...

  14. 11 New Plays and New Ploys
    (pp. 188-198)

    More than any other artistic element, the attitudes toward the production of new plays in the regional theatre have undergone sweeping change in the twenty-five-year history of the form: from dream through lip-service to a major emphasis. The changing attitudes toward new plays are directly related to the regional theatre’s changing relationship to the Establishment.

    It must have been clear to those early leaders who learned from Margo Jones that the emphasis in her theatre was upon the production of new plays. Yet for most of the twenty-year period between 1947 and 1967, American regional theatres reversed her doctrine, concentrating...

  15. 12 The Regional Dilemma
    (pp. 199-209)

    The development of the regional theatre can be viewed as a series of three spiraling thrusts. Each thrust overlapped the next, but each had its own period of primacy. While primary, each thrust was synonymous with the compelling dream of the theatre leader whose personality shaped his or her institution.

    The first thrust of the regional theatre was towardstability, and it was primary from the beginnings of the form until the middle of the 1960s. The stability thrust was characterized by the overriding concern of each theatre for its own survival and security. This was the period of struggle...

  16. 13 Storming the Citadel: The Theatres Go to New York
    (pp. 210-233)

    Two distinct but intertwined desires assured the attempt to centralize the decentralized theatre. One was the desire of individual theatres to function in a national context that could spell permanent influence. The other was the hunger of individual artists for the corroboration, the acclaim, and the power that only recognition in New York can bring. For the theatres, of course, approval in the tough New York marketplace could prove their worth and justify their requests for financial help and loyalty at home. In the words of Barton Emmet, a former manager at both The Guthrie Theater and the Trinity Square...

  17. 14 A More Suitable Dream
    (pp. 234-252)

    As in a well-made play, there came, after the climax, a catharsis. Once it became clear that no one institution from outside New York would be hailed as the American National Theatre, the regional theatre movement could become a more civil and polite world. There had been intense competition among theatres during the late 1960s—for talent, for new plays, and particularly for national attention; but in the early 1970s individual theatres were cooperating more with each other. Each leader, knowing that he was not going to be quickly outdistanced by another, seemed willing to share more of himself and...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 255-261)
  19. Suggestions for Additional Reading
    (pp. 262-264)
  20. Index
    (pp. 265-277)