|Oh! What a Lovely War|
John Littlewood & The Theatre Workshop Group
Regional theatre was in its squawling infancy in the 1960s. Very little professional theatre existed outside of New York City. Shows were "taken on the road," either to Eastern cities before opening on Broadway or across the country by companies spun off from successful shows after their New York runs. When the Broadway season was over, summer stock sometimes played in tents or stuffy make-shift buildings outside New York, but most stages around the country were peopled by students or amateurs.
Margo Jones, who founded Theatre '47 in Dallas, was a passionate believer in regional theatre. In 1951, she published Theatre-in-the-Round, which describes the development of her theatre. While her notion of an organized network of national theatres rooted in their communities has yet to inspire complete federal funding of small theatres around the country, her book may have stimulated private and public support of local art and probably had a great deal to do with the creation of new theatres in theatre-starved towns all over the country.
|The Private Ear and The Public Eye|
Lawrence Pressman, Barbara Caruso
One such creation was Webster College's Theatre Impact, which was an ensemble of professional actors and students who performed chiefly classical plays in an outdoor summer theatre run by the college's theatre arts department from 1961 to 1966. Theatre Impact was so popular with St. Louis audiences that it was self-supporting, explained in part, perhaps, by a thesis advanced by Eva Le Gallienne.
In the 25th Anniversary edition of American Theatre magazine of November 1986, Eva Le Gallienne, classical actress and author, wrote of "a large group of people that might well be called 'the forgotten public.' These are the people who...represent perhaps the most enlightened and cultivated section of our population, yet they are almost completely ignored by those who control all branches of our entertainment world. They are unquestionably a minority group...but a group large enough to be important, and it is wrong that their needs should be denied." It was people such as these who invented regional theatre in the United States.
Miss Le Gallienne may have been too modest to acknowledge that it is not only "the forgotten public" that was often ignored, but dedicated and committed theatre people as well. Where could they play the classics? Where could they perform new, challenging drama that was not necessarily going to make investors a fortune? Where could they be on stage, before an audience, for the sheer joy of it?
|A Streetcar Named Desire|
Marian Mercer, Robert Murch
Regional theatre was certainly an idea whose time had come, but nobody knew how to make it happen, much less how to keep it going. Nevertheless, in a small college in the Midwest, encouraged by the availability of funds from the Ford Foundation, by some seed money from a new federal agency called the National Endowment for the Arts, and by the conviction that serious art could be popular in middle America, a Sisters of Loretto nun who wanted her theatre students to have a new acting space appealed to fellow sisters who got money to build a place that exceeded all their wildest dreams.
Ask any ten people who were involved with The Rep in its early days, "Why do we have this theatre here?" and you may get ten distinctly different answers.
- "The nuns at the college wanted to expand the theatre arts experience for the girls who went to school there."
- "The Sisters of Loretto wanted to give something special to the whole community."
- "The national climate, perhaps encouraged by Jackie Kennedy's inventive and well-publicized introduction of serious art into the White House, was highly conducive to widespread interest in the arts."
- "We were finally recovering from World War II and the Korean War, and peacetime funds were freed up to make art readily available throughout the country. Plus, the GI Bill had given a whole new segment of the American population a liberal arts education and all the arts became better understood, and sought after, as a result."
- "Directors and actors were looking for new audiences and new opportunities for the profession outside of New York."
- "America was growing more secular, but still yearning for spiritual food. The arts offered that."
- "Television's early, live productions may have whetted people's appetites for high quality classical or modern drama."
- "Regional theatre offered a wealth of possibilities which the Broadway theatre no longer made available and which excited nearly everyone involved in theatre."
- "St. Louisans had flocked to light opera for years and had developed a solid appreciation for live performances."
- "Regional theatre developed for many, many reasons, but mostly it was the brainchild of theatre people who wanted to keep professional theatre alive in this country."
|Ring 'Round the Moon|
George Addis, Robert Murch
Mixing all these opinions and needs well, and combining them with compromises, hard work, time and money, has created The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, one of America's most successful professional nonprofit regional theatres.
The Rep is still driven by much of its originating inspiration, which was articulated by Sir Tyrone Guthrie. In his book A New Theatre, he wrote of The Guthrie Theater's beginnings in Minneapolis in 1963, "It will be our aim not to uplift or to instruct, but to entertain, to delight. A good performance of a great play cannot, in our view, fail to instruct. But this should not the conscious aim of the interpreters, any more than it has been that of the authors...An artist...is not entitled to assume that his public is, in general, less intelligent or sensitive than himself; or that well-off, well-educated people are more intelligent and sensitive than others who have not enjoyed the same advantages."
The Rep's commitment to its community of theatre professionals and patrons, and to its educational mandate among all ages, remains while it responds with reliable consistency to new needs and fresh challenges. The Rep grows, as all living things must, and it changes, but its mature face still reflects the features and the promise of its infancy.