In the world of theatre, sometimes it seems like Broadway is the only place to be, but these regional theatres around the country prove that is far from true. These regional houses keep theatre alive across the country—from fostering new work to providing Broadway-bound venues for out-of-town tryouts, from innovating the art form to creating a local hub for culture and business. Here are 20 regional theatres you should know (and check out!):
These theatres practically created regional theatre in the United States. Most of them are among the oldest still in operation, but all of them are bonafide American theatrical institutions.
Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California
Originally built as a recreation of London’s Globe Theatre (where Shakespeare famously premiered much of his works), the Old Globe Theatre has been an institution of the American theatre since 1935. The three-theatre complex presents 15 productions annually, with an emphasis on developing and producing new works. Broadway productions that got their start at the Old Globe include Bright Star, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (co-produced by Hartford Stage), The Piano Lesson, and Into the Woods. The Old Globe was awarded the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 1984.
Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois
Founded in 1925, the Goodman is Chicago’s oldest nonprofit theatre still actively producing. The house presents new productions of classics as well as a healthy amount of world premiere works, many of which have gone on to be produced by other regional theatres and on Broadway. They became the first theatre to mount August Wilson’s entire Pittsburgh Cycle, a ten-play series that includes Fences, Jitney, and Radio Golf, in 2007. The Goodman also premiered such musicals as The Light in the Piazza and War Paint. They were awarded the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 1992.
Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota
As Broadway became more and more commercial, the Guthrie was founded in 1963 to offer an alternative. The brainchild of Sir Tyrone Guthrie, the theatre hosted a resident acting company that could perform excellent productions of the classics in repertory. They had an early success with a production of The House of Atreus that later toured to New York and Los Angeles, the first such tour for a resident theatre. In the 1980s, the theatre opened the Guthrie Lab, which has become a place to explore new work and performance techniques. They were awarded the regional theatre Tony Award in 1982.
Theatre Under the Stars in Houston, Texas
Originally conceived as a presenter of annual free outdoor summer musicals (hence the name), Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) quickly became a year-round theatrical force. They have premiered such works as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the Maury Yeston Phantom, and have also launched prominent international tours of such shows as The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Mame, and Man of La Mancha. TUTS also has an active education department which provides dramatic training for more than 1,700 students annually through onsite audition-based classes and community outreach programs that go out to local schools.
The Muny in St. Louis, Missouri
In operation since 1919, the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre, or “The Muny,” produces musicals in a giant outdoor amphitheatre. Their summer seasons usually include performances from Broadway favorites, a tradition Jay Armstrong Johnson (On the Town, Hands on a Hardbody) continued when he led the 2017 production of Newsies along with Emily Skinner (Side Show, Prince of Broadway) in The Little Mermaid. In earlier days, Ethel Merman recreated her Tony-winning performance in Call Me Madam for The Muny in 1968.
Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine
Though summer theatre peppers the U.S.—particularly in the northeast—Ogunquit is one of the only remaining original summer stock theatres from the Straw Hat Circuit. Summer stock is now where many up-and-coming performers begin their careers, but in its heyday it wasn’t unusual to see a major Broadway star like Mary Martin or John Raitt heading up stock productions, often of musicals they’d starred in on Broadway. Summer stock is an important part of American theatre history, which was recognized when Ogunquit’s theatre was added to the national register of historic places, raised to National Level of Significance “in consideration of the significant contributions made…to Performing Arts Education throughout the nation” in 2015.
The Broadway Incubators
These theatres have become the go-to places for Broadway shows to work out kinks before coming to the Main Stem. If you want to know what’s coming next to Broadway, pay attention to their seasons!
American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Housed at Harvard University, American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) has developed a reputation for presenting new American works in addition to under-produced existing works and new interpretations of the classics. Shortly after being founded in 1980, many A.R.T. premiere productions found their way to Broadway, including Grown Ups, ‘night mother, and a 1984 revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten. Diane Paulus’ appointment as artistic director in 2008 has led to several more pre-Broadway productions at A.R.T., including Porgy and Bess, Pippin, The Glass Menagerie, Finding Neverland, Waitress, and most recently Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. The theatre was awarded the 1986 regional theatre Tony Award.
La Jolla Playhouse in La Jolla, California
Founded by Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, and Mel Ferrer in 1947, the La Jolla Playhouse offered many golden-age Hollywood actors stage opportunities, including Vivian Vance, Eve Arden, Robert Alda, and Charlton Heston, to name a few. After nearly 25 years of inactivity, director Des McAnuff brought the theatre back in 1983, and his tenure established La Jolla as one of the most fertile testing grounds for Broadway productions. Shows that started at La Jolla include Big River, The Who’s Tommy, the 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Jersey Boys, Memphis, Peter and the Starcatcher, Hands on a Hardbody, Side Show, Come From Away, and this season’s Latin History for Morons and Junk. Escape to Margaritaville just finished its run at La Jolla—their best-selling production ever—ahead of its Broadway bow this season. La Jolla was the 1993 winner of the regional theatre Tony Award.
Hartford Stage in Hartford, Connecticut
Operating since 1963, Hartford Stage has long been dedicated to both classic and contemporary works. Broadway productions of Is There Life After High School?, Enchanted April, and The Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythm began at Hartford Stage, with productions of The Carpetbaggers Children and Tea at Five making the journey Off-Broadway as well. The arrival of Darko Tresnjak as artistic director in 2011 began a new period of pre-Broadway development for the theatre, including A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Anastasia, and the still-in-development stage adaptation of Rear Window. Hartford Stage won the regional theatre Tony Award in 1989.
Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
Founded in 1950, Arena Stage is one of the country’s first not-for-profit theatres, and the first regional theatre to transfer a production to Broadway, The Great White Hope starring James Earl Jones. They were also the first regional theatre Tony Award winner when the honor was created in 1976. The theatre has served as a developmental center for 22 Broadway productions, including Dear Evan Hansen, Sweat, The Velocity of Autumn, Next to Normal, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Tintypes, The 1940’s Radio Hour, and Raisin. Arena was awarded the regional theatre Tony Award in 1976.
Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle, Washington
Seattle Rep has been a major force nearly since it was founded in the early 1960s, but their Broadway experience began with the short-lived musical adaptation of Twelfth Night titled Music Is. 1985’s I’m Not Rappaport was a much bigger success, and Seattle Rep went on to premiere or help develop such works as The Heidi Chronicles, Conversations with My Father, Two Trains Running, The Sisters Rosensweig, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, The Good Body, and most recently Come From Away. They were awarded the regional theatre Tony Award in 1990.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, Illinois
Founded in 1974 by Gary Sinise, Terry Kinney, and Jeff Perry, Steppenwolf Theatre Company is a legendary producing force and ensemble that includes actors like John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, Amy Morton, Austin Pendleton, Lois Smith, and Martha Plimpton amongst its ranks. Playwrights Tina Landau, Pulitzer winner Tracy Letts, and Pulitzer winner Bruce Norris are also members. In their more-than-40 years of operation, Steppenwolf has become world renowned for their productions, many of which have found their way to Broadway, including the Tony Award-winning Best Plays The Grapes of Wrath and August: Osage County, the 2012 revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and 2015’s Airline Highway. Steppenwolf won the Tony Award for regional theatre in 1985.
Innovating the Artform
Many of these theatres represent newer regional companies, but all of them commit to taking the genre of live theatre into new territory.
Serenbe Playhouse in Atlanta, Georgia
Founded in 2009, Serenbe Playhouse immediately expanded the idea of site specific and environmental theatre to a new scale. Serenbe’s productions are performed outdoors, with the specific aim of making nature a part of the experience. Executive/artistic director Brian Clowdus sets each new production on a new acre of land and accomplishes feats of design—be it landing a real helicopter for Miss Saigon or created a full-scale carnival with carousel for Carousel. Elaborate and visually stunning productions of Evita and Miss Saigon garnered major attention for the theatre in 2015 and 2016, but environmental spectacle is only part of what makes Serenbe notable. They are also committed to using primarily environmentally friendly materials like LED theatrical lighting, reclaimed and recycled materials, and repurposed existing set pieces, all of which are able to be easily disassembled so as to minimize the production’s impact on the environment.
Firebrand Theatre in Chicago, Illinois
When it comes to fledgling theatre companies, it doesn’t get much newer than Firebrand Theatre, which launched just nine months ago. Firebrand founders France and Danni Smith bring something quite new to the regional theatre scene: feminism. Any musical they present has to pass the self-written Firebrand Test—not to be confused with the Bechdel test—which is to say the piece must have at least as many women as men in the cast, lend itself to diverse casting, and empower women. They have plans in the future to develop new work and reexamine classic shows with a feminist bent, rendering Firebrand one to watch in the regional theatre scene.
Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia
Though Alliance’s early history included the world premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Tiger Tail and Come Back to the Give and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, it was when Kenny Leon was appointed artistic director in 1988 that the theatre grew in major ways. Leon brought a diverse voice to the Alliance, which allowed it to find an audience in Atlanta’s African-American community. They staged world premieres of works like The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Aida, and The Color Purple. They also notably presented a pre-Broadway production of Sister Act in 2007, the same year the theatre was awarded the regional theatre Tony Award.
IAMA Theatre Company in Los Angeles, California
IAMA describes the company as “an ensemble of theater artists seeking to connect and cultivate a new generation of audiences.” That mission led IAMA to become a major force in independent L.A. theatre, known for producing work that creates dialogue. In their ten years, their influence has grown beyond theatre, with many of its members featured in TV and film, particularly projects headed by Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes was drawn to the company when she sensed a shared purpose, eventually signing on to support the company both artistically and monetarily. Rhimes support is specifically going to fund new play development with a culturally diverse group of voices, making IAMA a company should be particularly interesting to look out for in the coming seasons.
Fostering New Work
Known for giving artists a place to develop new work, keep an eye on these houses—even before Broadway producers catch wind.
Actors Theatre of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky
Actors Theatre is probably best known for its Humana Festival of new American plays, an annual event that has introduced over 400 plays in its more than 40 years, including three future Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, The Gin Game, Crimes of the Heart, and Dinner with Friends. Playwrights who have had works premiered at Humana include Marsha Norman, Theresa Rebeck, Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, and Lucas Hnath. The theatre is also home to one of the nation’s best known pre-professional training company, the Professional Training Company. They won the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 1980.
Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, California
Housed by UCLA, Geffen Playhouse is another of the Hollywood-adjacent regional theatres offering film and TV actors a chance to hit the stage, including Jason Alexander, Annette Bening, David Hyde Pierce, Jane Kaczmarek, Martin Short, Alicia Silverstone, and Rita Wilson. The theatre was named for producer David Geffen after a $5 million donation—one of the largest single donations made to a theatre company in history—established the company in 1995. Since then, the Geffen has expanded to two performance spaces that offer eight plays a season. They’re known for offering intimate productions of classic and contemporary works, while also commissioning and developing new work and often offering new plays developed at other theatres their second production. Geffen commissions have included The Quality of Life, Time Stands Still, and Wait Until Dark. They also produced world premieres of Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, The Country House, and In & Of Itself.
Dallas Theater Center in Dallas, Texas
Founded in 1959, Dallas Theater Center was initially housed in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and it became a conservatory company known for producing experimental interpretations of classics as well as offering world premieres of works like Blood Money and A Texas Trilogy. More recently, they have offered developmental productions of works like Giant, Fly By Night, and Fortress of Solitude, all of which went on to be produced Off-Broadway. DTC won the most recent regional Tony Award in 2017.
Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Connecticut
Formed in 1959, Goodspeed Musicals made a name for itself by dusting off older musicals that had fallen out of common repertory and presenting them for modern audiences. They also have a long history of developing new works, like Man of La Mancha and Annie, both of which had their world premieres at the Goodspeed. These days, Goodspeed produces mostly musical revivals on their main opera house stage, with a second venue in Chester, Connecticut that presents solely new work. The theatre has been awarded with two Tony Awards, the regional theatre award in 1995 and a Special Tony Award in 1980 for outstanding contributions to American musicals.