Little Theatres



  • Small independent theater companies relying upon unpaid volunteersand financial support from subscribers. In America the Little Theatremovement began at the turn of the century in emulation of the newEuropean art theaters, such as the Moscow Art Theatre. Theimpact of the first companies, which performed in any available venue(from stables to churches) with a minimum of scenery, was especiallyfelt between 1912 - 20, when they introduced experimental playsand staging techniques.

    The movement began with such companies as The Players in Providence,Rhode Island (1909) and the Wisconsin Dramatic Society in Madisonand Milwaukee (1911). Three important groups were founded in 1912:the Toy Theatre in Boston, '47 Workshop at Harvard University,and the Little Theatre in Chicago. In 1915 three more well-known companieswere set up: the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Washington SquarePlayers, both in New York, and the Provincetown Players in Provincetown,Massachusetts (which launched the career of Eugene O'Neill).The famous Pasadena Playhouse opened in 1918 (closing in 1970).

    The movement has continued to boom, with the number of LittleTheatres increasing from about 50 in 1917 to more than 5000 today;some now have their own venues while others are based on universitycampuses. A number have acquired professional status. The Little Theatremovement has been supported by such organizations as the Drama Leagueof America (1910 - 31), the American Community Theatre Association(ACTA; founded in 1958), and the American Association of CommunityTheatres (founded in 1985). The companies are mostly based outsideNew York, many being designated civic theaters.

    Britain's first theater of this kind was the Stockport GarrickSociety, founded in 1901, but the movement did not begin in earnestuntil the 1920s with the establishment of such companies as MaddermarketTheatre, Norwich (1921), the Village Players of Great Hucklow, Buxton,Derbyshire (1927), which has no members or subscribers and does notlist actors' names in the programme, and the Questors Theatre, London(1929). Later companies include the Mountview Theatre, London (1947),which has had its own drama school since 1963, and the Tavistock RepertoryCompany, London (1932; revived in 1952). The British groups tend toproduce from four to eight plays annually, while some also run coursesfor actors and directors. Most are affiliated to the Little TheatreGuild of Great Britain, established in 1946, which provides advice,information, and other assistance.

    The Little Theatre movement was also significant in Canada,especially during the 1920s. Among the important Canadian companiesare the Hart house Theatre in Toronto and the French-language Compagnonsde Saint-Laurent.