A new model for regional theaters
It all started with an article on the drama page of the New York Times, September 30, 1959. "Stage Unit Slated Outside of City," the headline read. "Guthrie among Planners of Permanent Company That Would Perform Classics."
The article described a plan by "three prominent show people," including director Tyrone Guthrie, to cultivate artists and build audiences beyond the increasingly commercialized Broadway networks that dominated the theatrical world. Guthrie and his colleagues proposed a regional theater with a resident company that would maintain the highest professional standards and seven cities expressed interest in supporting one: Waltham, Massachusetts, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, San Francisco . . . and Minneapolis.
Four years later, George Grizzard took the stage in the title role of the Guthrie Theater's inaugural production of Hamlet, accompanied by Ellen Geer as Ophelia and Jessica Tandy as Gertrude. "The Guthrie Theater is off to a happy start," wrote Dan Sullivan of the Minneapolis Tribune. Sullivan noted that Tyrone Guthrie made "audacious use of his semi-arena stage," a reference to the theater's distinctive thrust stage, partially surrounded by seating. This innovative design, which extended to the building's starkly modern exterior, resulted from a collaboration between Guthrie and Ralph Rapson, a leading Modernist architect who headed the University of Minnesota's School of Architecture.
Flash forward forty-three years. The spirit of Sir Tyrone Guthrie looms large over the Minneapolis riverfront, where his image is one of several emblazoned on the exterior walls of the new Guthrie Theater. It is, in the words of artistic director Joe Dowling, "a permanent reflection of the incredible spirit of openness and respect for the art of theater that [Guthrie] found here in the early 1960s and that continue to delight and amaze me every day."
"But the river is what most charmed and amazed us. It had not yet frozen over and was flowing with a lively sparkle through winding gorges which are still beautiful, although here, as everywhere else, the convenience of the waterway has been exploited. . . . Of course it will not always be so. Eventually the Twin Cities will realize that their river can be, and ought to be, a wonderful and life-giving amenity without losing any of its utility."
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