Regional Theater

February 12, 1969

Report Outline
Spreading Out of Professional Theater
Changing Patterns in Regional Theater
Problems of Non-Commercial Theater

Spreading Out of Professional Theater

Implications in Growth of Regional Companies

Recent growth of what has come to be called regional theater denotes not only a geographical redistribution of theatrical activity in the United States. It marks also a significant change in the character of the over-all effort of the American theater. The regional theater is, by and large, non-commercial, while the Broadway theater—once the theater in the United States—is “operated primarily as a profit venture.” The spreading out of theatrical endeavor to other parts of the country therefore enlarges the opportunities for originality and experimentation in the staging of live drama. The regional theater is important in another way; it wants to cultivate new playwrights, new actors, and new directors. Perhaps its greatest achievement will be to enlarge the American audience for good theater and for new forms of theatrical expression that diverge from the staid tradition of the well-made play and the standardized musical.

Regional theater is not necessarily off-beat theater; much of it is devoted to presenting established literature of the art-stage—Shakespeare, Chekhov, Shaw are staples—and revivals of past Broadway shows. But it is far more open to avant garde influence than the commercial theater, and it functions in a different context from that of “show business.” Believers in the future of regional theater expect it to restore to live drama the vital place it held in the life of the American people in the pre-television, pre-motion picture years. Some hope the “new theater,” as it develops in a nurturing non-commercial atmosphere, will become as integral a part of the life of the people as the theater of Greece was in classic times.

However, the regional theater faces serious obstacles to attainment of its goals. The root problem is, of course, financial—how to fill the gap between box-office receipts and the costs of maintaining a theater of high caliber, especially one lacking big-name stars and given to gambling on innovations and the works of unknown playwrights. A major question concerns the degree of the public's interest: whether love of good, live theater, in the present era of widely available (and cheaper) mass entertainment, can be sufficiently cultivated to assure community support for these ventures—or whether live theater has had its day as a popular art form.

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