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Life After 50

Seven resident theatres celebrate their gold anniversary.

“We don’t do anniversaries.” If you’re a press rep at a TCG member theatre somewhere in America, you’ve probably heard that caveat from somebody on the staff of American Theatre magazine. But this 2013–14 season is different: A remarkable array of U.S. theatres date their founding moment to 1963 and ’64, and reaching the half-century mark has provoked not only widespread celebrations of tenacity and accomplishment, but renewed self-examination among theatre organizations and the artists who work there. Breaking with our own tradition, we asked the artistic leaders of seven major companies to talk about how they marked the 50-year milestone, and how they intend to keep their work youthful and relevant to our changing times.

Curt Columbus, artistic director, Trinity Repertory Company, Providence, R.I.
The driving force at Trinity has always been its resident acting company and their groundbreaking house style. We’ve added three new company members to celebrate our 50th, and they have already brought incredible energy and passion to the work this season. It’s this kind of built-in renewal that’s kept Trinity always looking forward.

Joe Dowling, artistic director, Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis
The opening of the new Guthrie Theater in 2006, with three theatres and a vital training program, has expanded our mission and introduced both new work and international work to our audiences. In our 2012–13 50th-anniversary season, we did more new work than at any time in our history—and with the all-male Propeller Theatre Company from London doing a Shakespeare double bill and the incomparable Mark Rylance creating a new piece, our programming was very up-to-date and innovative. Our celebrations included a great party that united staff from all 50 years; a gala event directed by Peter Flynn and featuring such Guthrie alumni as Whoopi Goldberg, T.R. Knight, Peter Michael Goetz and Zoe Caldwell; and a big open house event that brought over 10,000 visitors to our beautiful Jean Nouvel building on the banks of the Mississippi on a sunny day in June.

Jerry Manning, artistic director, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Washington
Seattle Rep launched its 50th year last season with a brand new American play by our resident playwright Cheryl L. West—the world premiere of Pullman Porter Blues. We made a deliberate choice at that landmark moment to look forward rather than backward, not to recycle our greatest works but to continue our mission to create a new repertory. The fact is that we’ve done well over the years under the leadership of such great artists and managers as Dan Sullivan, Sharon Ott and Benjamin Moore. We intend to continue that success by keeping the personality and the programming of our theatre youthful—and that’s exemplified by the three brand new works on this season’s lineup.

Marc Masterson, artistic director, South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Doing five world premieres in one season with a lineup of young writers should keep our personality youthful! In addition, we are engaged in major community-based work in Santa Ana, a new playwright residency with Julie Marie Myatt, and the expansion of our presence in Orange County through the Time Warner CrossRoads commissioning project, bringing eight diverse playwrights on site for residencies in partnership with community groups. We’re celebrating by honoring our past while looking to the future—mounting classics like Death of a Salesman and Tartuffe (the first play SCR ever produced) and The Light in the Piazza, alongside the healthy mix of work that has distinguished SCR for five decades. Incidentally, our facility has been renamed the David Emmes and Martin Benson Theatre Center, in honor of the founders that built the platform that we stand on now. Oh, and we threw one hell of a 50th-anniversary party!

Eric Rosen, artistic director, Kansas City Repertory, Mo.
Kansas City Rep, founded as Missouri Rep, has had only four artistic directors in five decades. So each of us has brought a unique contribution—and mine is to place the Rep on the national scene by being a home to established and emerging artists who are creating new work and new interpretations of classics. Keeping the programming current has been remarkably easy, as Kansas City is really an art-first town, and our audience is truly adventurous. But that’s not because of me: What Patricia McIlrath set out to do 50 years ago is our DNA. She did Marat/Sade in her second season! If I did what she did in her early years, I’d be run out of town! But it’s in our blood to be adventurous and progressive and to break new ground. How are we marking our 50th? By kicking ass, and taking names! We are nearly a year out from the anniversary season, so everything is in process—but it’s going to be epic! Our goal is to make Kansas City America’s next great theatre town.

Darko Tresnjak, artistic director, Hartford Stage, Conn.
We have an education department that reaches more than 20,000 students in the state—recently many of them enjoyed our Macbeth—and we’re ending the 2013–14 season with another musical comedy,Love and Other Fables, which comes on the heels of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder(currently running at the Walter Kerr on Broadway). Our Nov. 4 benefit featured Dana Ivey, Richard Thomas, Novella Nelson, Maureen Anderman, Mark Lamos and many other great actors performing scenes and monologues from the plays they did at Hartford Stage over the past five decades. There’s also a wonderful exhibit we’re taking to six different Connecticut museums, celebrating 50 years of great costume design at Hartford Stage.

Les Waters, artistic director, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ky.
At Actors Theatre, our 40-plus acting apprentices and interns bring a fresh blast of energy and passion for making theatre every season. And, of course, there’s this year’s Humana Festival of New American Plays, at which we’ll be delighted to welcome back old friends who’ve been crucial to the theatre’s artistic development, and proud to champion important contemporary new voices. (It’s the 38th anniversary of Humana, and that too is a mighty achievement!) We launched this season with a block party attended by more than 10,500 people and involving more than 25 other arts and entertainment groups from the city. An elegant black-tie gala celebrated some of those individuals who helped shape the theatre and on whose shoulders we stand. And we’ll close this year’s festival with what I’m sure will be a fabulous party—the Humana Bash.

For more about these and other 50th-annversary theatres, go here.

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