Repertory theatre

"Repertory" redirects here. For the set of works one is ready to perform or are typically performed, see repertoire.

A repertory theatre (also called repertory, rep or stock) can be a Western theatre or opera production in which a resident company presents works from a specified repertoire, usually in alternation or rotation. In the British system, however, it used to be that even quite small towns would support a rep, and the resident company would present a different play every week, either a revival from the full range of classics or, if given the chance, a new play, once the rights had been released after a West End or Broadway run. However, the companies were not known for trying out untried new work. The methods, now seldom seen, would also be used in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Resident company

The acting company would usually consist of a leading lady, a leading man, a set of juveniles (one male and one female ingenue for the young often romantic role(s)), a character actor and actress (for the older or eccentric parts) and perhaps a vain and girlish soubrette. The company might occasionally bring in a guest star to increase interest, albeit in exchange for a cost increase often large enough to offset the rise in revenues brought by any increase in attendance. The resident cast would number seven, plus the resident director, usually serving as the artistic director in charge of the whole enterprise. Additionally there would be the stage director, the assistant stage manager (ASM), some unpaid apprentices, and light and sound technicians. Newcomers to the profession would often start their careers in this fashion, and members would gain a foundation upon which to base their future careers. Paid members could also be sure of a steady income for one or more seasons, which might last for six months. Examples of performers who went on to universal recognition are Errol Flynn, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier, Jeremy Brett, Judi Dench, Rosemary Harris, Ian McKellen, Peter O'Toole, Christopher Plummer, Harold Pinter, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Redgrave, Arthur Lowe, Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Stewart, Geraldine McEwan and Ronnie Barker. Dirk Bogarde wrote about his start at tiny Amersham rep in 1939, and Michael Caine has recounted his time spent at Horsham rep in the early fifties.

Weekly rehearsal schedule

For weekly rep and for a typical three-act play, the actors' week would start on Tuesday, and go as follows:

Tuesday: notes on last night's opening of the current play from the director, then a sit-down read-through of the next week's play with some discussion by the director, on-the-feet blocking of the moves for Act I, with a few questions from the actors, followed by the second performance of the current play (which would also occupy every evening up to and including Saturday).

Wednesday: run Act I of next week's play and start to block Act II, but break early because there would be a matinée of the current play.

Thursday: finish blocking Act II of next week's play, run Act II and block Act III.

Friday: run Act III, run through the entire play with no scripts in hand, and technicals – meaning lights and sound – to watch, and write down cues.

Saturday: run through again, stop and go to test lighting and sound cues; costumes may be used if ready. Two shows today, including a matinée; the evening show closes the current play. After the last show, the set would be struck (taken down) by the crew - usually apprentices – and the stage manager.

Sunday: for actors, an opportunity to brush up on lines and moves, and for private rehearsals. However, for the crew it would mean putting up the new sets, hanging and focusing lights, and setting sound equipment.

Monday: in the morning, a run-through, usually without costumes (to save wear and tear), mainly for the technicals. In the afternoon: a "Full Perfect" dress rehearsal, maybe with a few friends seated in front to gauge reaction, then copious notes. In the evening, 8 o'clock opening night, followed by notes from the director, visits with friends from the audience and maybe a party nearby. The process would start all over again on Tuesday.

Audience and management

From the audience's point of view, local communities would become fans, and champion their favourites who would be treated as celebrities. Sometimes entire families would make a visit to their local rep part of the weekly routine, like going to church, and for the young people it could became part of their future appreciation for live "legitimate" theatre.

During the forties, fifties and sixties, two impresarios dominated the field of British rep, mostly in the North. They were Harry Hanson and his Court players, and Frank H. Fortescue's Famous Players, with Arthur Brough in Folkestone for the South. Their system was the toughest of all, for if you joined one of their companies, it could mean "twice-nightly" shows, and a new play to learn every week. Rosemary Harris has told of her 50 consecutive weeks of doing just that at Bedford rep. That cannot happen any more, owing to the restrictions of British Equity which came to mandate just eight shows a week, including perhaps two matinées. Fortescue, who died in 1957, was known to be a strict and upright man. When Pygmalion was playing at one of his theatres, the sign "FOR ADULTS ONLY!" would be posted in the front of house, because of Eliza Doolittle's line "Not bloody likely!".

Today's practice

Not to be overlooked is a form of touring rep known as "bus and truck", which involves transporting the actors and sets for about five different plays which can be performed in smaller communities on consecutive nights.

In Russia and much of Eastern Europe, repertory theatre is based on the idea that each company maintains a number of productions which are performed on a rotating basis. Each production’s life span is determined by its success with the audience. However, many productions remain in repertory for years as this approach presents each piece a few times in a given season, not enough to exhaust the potential audience pool. After the fall of the Soviet regime and the substantial diminution of government subsidy, the repertory practice has required re-examination. Moscow Art Theatre and Lev Dodin’s Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg are the world’s most notable practitioners of this approach.

In German-speaking countries, most opera companies function in a similar way, too.


Today in the UK, the practice of rep is more likely to be seen in large cities in the manner applied by such well-known established companies as Birmingham Rep in the Midlands of England, which states in its programmes: ""The REP" presents a season with each play generally having an unbroken run of between three and six weeks. This is the form of repertory theatre that the majority of theatres like The REP — which are also called producing theatres — now follow." Actors have the luxury of at least three weeks of rehearsal, and audiences see better shows. Repertory can still be found in the UK in a variation of guises; in Sidmouth (12 plays), Wolverhampton (eight), Burslem and Taunton (four each). The Sheringham Little Theatre produces an in-house repertory season each summer, running from June until September. Weekly repertory theatre is also produced by the Summer Theatre season at Frinton-on-Sea. This season has been running for 77 seasons now, and until recently maintained its links with the oldest traditions of British commercial theatre by being run by the actor Jack Watling, his son Giles and his son-in-law Seymour Matthews. In 2004 it was taken over by Edward Max, who ran it alone until 2012. For the next two years it was run by mtp Ltd. Now Clive Brill is the producer, working with Edward as General Manager. The recent 75th anniversary season was marked with a stage appearance by Richard Wilson, who has since become the Patron of the Friends of Frinton Theatre.

Frinton saw the early launch of actors such as Michael Denison, Vanessa Redgrave, David Suchet, Jack Klaff, Neil Dudgeon, Owen Teale and Lynda Bellingham. Theatre practices like this remain popular within theatre communities, and continue to give first jobs to graduating drama students.

The Company season at the Liverpool Everyman will launch in January 2017 and run until July, with 14 actors performing a season of five shows.

United States

In the United States, the repertory system has also found a base to compete with commercial theatre. Repertory theatre with mostly changing casts and longer running plays, perhaps better classed as "provincial" or "non-profit" theatre, has made a big come-back, in cities such as Little Rock, AR, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, Houston, Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, Buffalo, Kansas City, and Seattle. Festival theatre now provides actors with work in the summer.

America's oldest resident repertory theatre, Hedgerow Theatre, is located in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. It was founded by actor Jasper Deeter in 1923. The present Producing Artistic Director is actress and director Penelope Reed. Other notable repertory theatres include the Guthrie Theatre, which was set up as regional repertory theatre concept that is free from commercial constraints in the choice of repertoire.[1] It is aligned in objectives to the repertory and resident theatre movement that emerged in the United States in the 1960s. This sought to establish an alternative and decentralized theater network outside of New York, one with non-profit-making status and focused instead on the art of the theatre as well as the development of artists, craftsmen, and administrators.[2] Publicly-funded theatres that belong to this type have been receiving erratic support since the 1980s.

The Association of Producing Artists (APA) was one of the most successful repertory theatres in the United States, touring for four years and holding residencies in several cities before finally joining the Phoenix Theatre in New York, where it was known for staging plays with modest prices.[3] Currently, the American Repertory Theatre is considered one of the most distinguished repertory theatres in the United States. Since its foundation in 1979, it has earned several awards including a Pulitzer Prize (1982), a Tony Award (1986), and a Jujamcyn Award (1985).[4]


The crowning achievement of repertory theatres in Canada are the world-renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival, founded in 1953 to primarily present productions of William Shakespeare's plays and the Shaw Festival, founded in 1962, which presents plays written or set during the lifetime of George Bernard Shaw or following Shaw's ideal of socially provactive theatre.

The Vagabond Repertory Theatre Company was formed in March 2009 by artistic directors Nathaniel Fried and Ryan LaPlante, and currently resides and performs in Kingston, Ontario. However, the old English-style repertory theatres such as Ottawa's CRT (Canadian Repertory Theatre), and Toronto's Crest Theatre no longer exist—although they did have a version of summer theatre in smaller holiday districts, such as the "Straw Hat" players of Gravenhurst and Port Carling at Ontario's vacation Muskoka Lakes area.

Pros and cons

Among the benefits of such a system are increased variety and better quality, due to fresh actors and shopped in directors. The theatre can afford to take risks, and a show that is likely to attract a large audience will effectively subsidize a show that is less likely, especially if season tickets are sold.

Drawbacks to the repertoire system are increased production costs as each show will need separate sets, props, costumes and actors, (although sometimes an actor will be engaged to play in more than one production). Many such companies are large, and are able to have a smaller space available to workshop an experimental production or present playreadings. But the standard should be higher than under the old-time repertory system, because there will be more time for rehearsal. Also, many repertoire companies today have non-profit status, so that budgets and income should be higher because they will not just depend upon ticket sales. However, the downside is that promotional costs will also be much higher, due to having to employ a separate staff.

In April 2017, Glenda Jackson blamed the increase in TV viewers being unable to understand what actors are saying on the decline of the repertory system.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Chambers, Colin (2002). Continuum Companion to Twentieth Century Theatre. London: Continuum. p. 335. ISBN 9781847140012.
  2. ^ Stanton, Sarah; Banham, Martin (1996). The Cambridge Paperback Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 309. ISBN 0521446546.
  3. ^ Wilmeth, Don; Bigsby, Christopher (1998). The Cambridge History of American Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 250. ISBN 0521651794.
  4. ^ Mitgang, Herbert. "JUJAMCYN AWARD TO AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATER". Retrieved 2018-08-03.
  5. ^ Rainbird, Ashleigh (2017-04-07). "Oscar winner Glenda Jackson says BBC's 'mumblegate' is result of young actors' missing out on stage work". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 2017-04-08. “Clearly for young, up and coming actors there is far less opportunity to them to work on the stage because the old rep system has been gone for decades,” Glenda explains.

Murray, Stephen. Taking Our Amusements Seriously. LAP, 2010. ISBN 978-3-8383-7608-0.

External links

Artists Repertory Theatre

Artists Repertory Theatre (Artists Rep) is a professional non-profit theatre located in Portland, Oregon, United States. The company was established in 1982 and focuses on presenting the works of contemporary playwrights, including world premieres. In addition to producing six to eight productions in Portland annually, the company runs special programming and collaborations. They tour productions nationally with the support and collaboration of partnering theatre companies and the National Endowment for the Arts.Founded in 1982, Artists Repertory Theatre is the longest-running professional theatre company in Portland, led by Artistic Director/Interim Managing Director Dámaso Rodriguez.

Artists Rep's mission is to produce intimate, provocative theatre and provide a home for artists and audiences of varied backgrounds to take creative risks.

Asolo Repertory Theatre

The Asolo Repertory Theatre or Asolo Rep (AKA: Asolo Theatre Company, Inc.) is a professional theater in Sarasota, Florida. It is the largest Equity theatre in Florida, and the largest Repertory theatre in the Southeastern United States. Asolo Rep is a resident regional theatre company which also invites in guest artists. It works in conjunction with Florida State University's MFA Acting program, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training. It is currently housed in the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts, which is a multi-theater complex, located on the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art property. The 2008–2009 season marked Asolo Rep's 50th anniversary.

August Strindberg Repertory Theatre

The August Strindberg Repertory Theatre is the resident company at the Gene Frankel Theatre.

Bailiwick Repertory Theatre

The Bailiwick Repertory Theatre is a theater company in Chicago founded in 1982 that produces eclectic works. It stages productions at the Bailiwick Arts Center 41.9398°N 87.6602°W / 41.9398; -87.6602, its home since 1995.In 2007, it presented the American premiere of Jerry Springer - The Opera.Bailiwick Repertory Theater was officially dissolved in the Fall of 2009. At that time, many of the company's former artists got together to create a new company, to continue to Bailiwick's legacy of producing daring and risky musicals and plays.

This new company is called Bailiwick Chicago, launched on November 8, 2009. Bailiwick Chicago is producing non-equity musicals and plays, with a special emphasis on cultural, social and sexual diversity. There is no brick & mortar location for the company at this time. Productions are mounted at various locations around Chicago.

The former location of the Bailiwick Arts Center at 1229 W. Belmont Ave is now owned and operated by Theater Wit.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Berkeley Repertory Theatre is a regional theater company located in Berkeley, California. It runs seven productions each season from its two stages in Downtown Berkeley.

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Birmingham Repertory Theatre, commonly called Birmingham Rep or just The Rep, is a producing theatre based on Centenary Square in Birmingham, England. It is the longest-established of Britain's building-based theatre companies and one of its most consistently innovative.Today The Rep produces a wide range of drama in its three auditoria – The House with 825 seats, The Studio with 300 seats and The Door with 140 seats – much of which goes on to tour nationally and internationally. The company retains its commitment to new writing and in the five years to 2013 commissioned and produced 130 new plays.

Dundee Repertory Theatre

Dundee Repertory Theatre or Dundee Rep is a theatre and arts company in the city of Dundee, Scotland. It operates as both a producing house - staging at least six of its own productions each year, and a receiving house - hosting work from visiting companies throughout Scotland and the United Kingdom including drama, musicals, contemporary & classical dance, children’s theatre, comedy, jazz and opera. It is home to the Dundee Rep Ensemble, Scotland’s only full-time company of actors, as well as Scotland’s principal contemporary dance company, Scottish Dance Theatre. ‘’’The Rep’’’ building is located in Tay Square at the centre of the city’s "cultural quarter" in the West End.

Recognised to be among the top regional theatres in the UK, it plays to an average audience of over 70,000 people a year attracting a very broad cross-section of the local population in terms of age and occupation.

Eva Le Gallienne

Eva Le Gallienne (January 11, 1899 – June 3, 1991) was a British-born American stage actress, producer, director, translator, and author. A Broadway star by age 21, Le Gallienne consciously ended her work on Broadway to devote herself to founding the Civic Repertory Theatre, in which she was both director, producer, and lead actress. Noted for her boldness and idealism, she became a pioneering figure in the American Repertory Movement, which enabled today's Off-Broadway. A versatile and eloquent actress herself (playing everything from Peter Pan to Hamlet), Le Gallienne also became a respected stage coach, director, producer and manager.

Ms. Le Gallienne consciously devoted herself to the Art of the Theatre as opposed to the Show Business of Broadway and dedicated herself to upgrading the quality of the stage. She ran the Civic Repertory Theatre Company for 10 years (1926–1936), producing 37 plays during that time. She managed Broadway's 1100-seat Civic Repertory Theatre at 107 West 14th Street from 1926–32, which was home to her company whose actors included herself, Burgess Meredith, John Garfield, J. Edward Bromberg, Paul Leyssac, Florida Friebus, David Manners, and Leona Roberts.

Irish Repertory Theatre

The Irish Repertory Theatre is an Off Broadway theatre founded in 1988.

La Boite Theatre Company

La Boite Theatre Company is a major Australian theatre company based in Brisbane, Queensland. La Boite is the second largest theatre company in Queensland. Established in 1925, it occupies an important place in Queensland's cultural history. It is known for its bold, contemporary approach towards theatrical texts, and its development of new Australian work. Its declared mission is to "produce and present exhilarating theatre that is alive to the present, extends and inspires artists, and invigorates the hearts and minds of audiences".La Boite's mainstage production series is augmented by presentations of independent theatre work. In 2010, there were eleven productions, as well as various creative development and education programs.

La Boite is based at Brisbane's Roundhouse Theatre, Australia's only purpose-built theatre-in-the-round. Located in the Kelvin Grove, Queensland. It seats 400, or 340 in thrust staging. The company moved into this new venue in February 2004, leaving its former smaller theatre-in-the-round building, the La Boite Theatre Building, in Hale Street, Milton, where it had been since 1972.

Previous Artistic Directors include David Berthold (2008-2014)Sean Mee (2000–2008) and Sue Rider (1993–2000).

Old Rep

The Old Rep (originally Birmingham Repertory Theatre) is the United Kingdom's first ever purpose-built repertory theatre, constructed in 1913, located on Station Street in Birmingham, England. The theatre was a permanent home for Barry Jackson's increasingly well established amateur theatre group, The Pilgrim Players, later known as Birmingham Repertory Company. Barry Jackson funded the construction of the theatre and established his professional company there.

Architect S. N. Cooke, a colleague from the Birmingham School of Art collaborated with Barry Jackson in the creation of the theatre. Both Jackson and Cooke took inspiration from the democratic nature of theatres they had visited in Germany. The design of The Old Rep was particularly influenced by Max Littmann's 1908 Künstlertheater in Munich.In 2014, Birmingham Ormiston Academy, also known as BOA, successfully tendered for The Old Rep Theatre.

The theatre is situated just opposite New Street Station, from which a blue plaque, above the theatre's first floor windows, to Barry Jackson can be seen. Two doors down is Britain's oldest working cinema, the Electric Cinema.

Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre

Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre is a series of four 12" long playing vinyl albums recorded in Los Angeles in 1963. The four albums were sold through mail order as a box set in 1963, then released separately to retail in 1964. They were conceived and produced by Frank Sinatra. Morris Stoloff was the musical director and the A&R Director was Sonny Burke.

The four discs feature the scores of four popular Broadway musicals of the time, namely Finian's Rainbow (1947), Kiss Me, Kate (1948), South Pacific (1949) and Guys and Dolls (1950).

The "Guys and Dolls" album was issued on CD in 1992 when the musical itself was enjoying a revival. All the albums were re-released in a box set on September 26, 2000.

San Jose Repertory Theatre

The San Jose Repertory Theatre (a.k.a. San Jose Rep) was the first resident professional theatre company in San Jose, California. It was founded in 1980 by James P. Reber. In 2008, after the demise of the American Musical Theatre of San Jose, the San Jose Rep became the largest non-profit, professional theatre company in the South Bay with an annual operating budget of $5 million. In 2006, it was saved from impending insolvency by a $2 million bailout loan from the city of San Jose; this was later restructured into a long-term loan similar to a mortgage.

On June 11, 2014, San Jose Rep ceased operations and filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Seattle Repertory Theatre

Seattle Repertory Theatre (familiarly known as "The Rep") is a major regional theatre located in Seattle, Washington, at the Seattle Center. It is a member of Theatre Puget Sound and Theatre Communications Group. Founded in 1963, it is led by Artistic Director Braden Abraham and Managing Director Jeffrey Herrmann. It received the 1990 Regional Theatre Tony Award.

Soho Repertory Theatre

The Soho Repertory Theatre, known as Soho Rep, is an Off-Broadway theater company with a 65-seat space located at 46 Walker Street in the TriBeCa district of Manhattan, New York City. The non-profit theater company was founded in 1975 by Jerry Engelbach and Marlene Swartz in an old hat warehouse on Mercer Street, in SoHo. With a founding mission to produce rarely seen classical works, the theater company has grown from an Off-Off Broadway house in Soho, through multiple locations, to its current home in a 65-seat theatre located at 46 Walker Street between Broadway and Church Street in Tribeca, where they now produce mainly new works on an Off Broadway contract. They are an award-winning theater company which has won multiple prizes, including Obie Awards, Drama Desk Awards, Drama Critics' Circle Awards, and awards from The New York Times.

As of 2018, Soho Rep has an annual budget of $1.6 million, and employs a full-time staff of four.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The St. Louis Repertory Theater is a repertory theater, based in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. It is often referred to locally simply as "The Rep".The Rep is an award-winning venue, and is well regarded in the St. Louis community, as well as the greater metropolitan area and throughout Missouri.

Trinity Repertory Company

Trinity Repertory Company (commonly abbreviated as Trinity Rep) is a non-profit regional theater located at 201 Washington Street in Providence, Rhode Island. The theater is a member of the League of Resident Theatres. Founded in 1963, the theater is "one of the most respected regional theatres in the country". Featuring the last longstanding Resident Acting Company in the U.S., Trinity Rep presents a balance of world premiere, contemporary, and classic works, including an annual production of A Christmas Carol, for an estimated annual audience of 110,000. In its 52-year history, the theater has produced nearly 67 world premieres, mounted national and international tours and, through its MFA program, trained hundreds of new actors and directors. Project Discovery, Trinity Rep's pioneering educational outreach program launched in 1966, annually introduces over 15,000 Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut high school students to live theater through matinees as well as in-school residencies and workshops (See: YASI). As of 2016, Trinity Rep's educational programs serve students in around 60% of Rhode Island schools, its executive director is Tom Parrish, and it has a 9 million USD annual budget.

University of Pittsburgh Stages

University of Pittsburgh Stages, previously known as the University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre or Pitt Rep, is the flagship production company for the University of Pittsburgh Department of Theatre Arts. Pitt Stages features students on stage with professional actors and teaching artists staging public performances of classic masterpieces, contemporary productions, and student-directed labs. The company's primary performance spaces include the University's Stephen Foster Memorial and Cathedral of Learning.

Yale Repertory Theatre

Yale Repertory Theatre at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut was founded by Robert Brustein, dean of Yale School of Drama, in 1966, with the goal of facilitating a meaningful collaboration between theatre professionals and talented students. In the process it has become one of the first distinguished regional theatres. Located at the edge of Yale's main downtown campus, it occupies the former Calvary Baptist Church.

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