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Collection on the Guthrie Theater

Identifier: M/A 0276

Description of Contents

The Guthrie Theater Collection consists of 11 boxes and 30 scrapbook volumes. Boxes 1 and 2 include news releases from 1963 to 1989. Boxes 3-6 consist of newspaper clippings, with general clippings arranged by date. Additional clippings are arranged by subject and include articles on the actors, staff, buildings, and projects such as Guthrie Two and Guthrie Lab. Boxes 7-8 include advertisements, mailers and other promotional material, season brochures, newsletters, annual reports, and resources on the building, costume designs, and general company history. Boxes 9 and 10 include a nearly complete set of performance programs. Box 11 contains photographic prints and video recordings. The scrapbooks date from 1959 to 1985 and include primarily newspaper clippings with some programs and ticket stubs.

Materials in this collection have accumulated over several decades from multiple sources. The collection is compiled and organized by Special Collections staff.


  • 1959 - 2012


Access Restrictions

The collection is available for use in Special Collections during the department's open hours.


The Guthrie Theater was started by the Irishman Sir Tyrone Guthrie who wanted to found a new theater in a community unexposed to professional theater, yet willing to support a company of its own. Many cities showed interest in the project, but it was Minneapolis that won them over. After significant funds were raised, ground broke on a site beside the Walker Arts Center, which was donated by the T.B. Walker Foundation. The theater, designed by architect Ralph Rapson, was complete by 1963. The space featured a 1,441 seat theater with a thrust stage, a seven sided asymmetrical platform raised three feet above the ground, which jutted into the audience, providing viewpoints from three sides. The Company presented its first offering, a highly controversial production of Hamlet, in May 1963.

Tyrone Guthrie served as artistic director from 1963 to 1965, at which point, his protégé, Douglas Campbell took over as artistic director of the Theater. When managing director Oliver Rea resigned in 1966, Peter Zeisler was left as the sole managing director. And when Campbell left only a year later, Zeisler hired two additional managing directors, leaving the company without an artistic director for three seasons. Mr. Guthrie would come a direct a play each year after he retired until his death in 1971.

In 1968, the Guthrie began presenting works on different stages, a tradition that has continued throughout the years. The first one took place in the spring of 1968 at the Crawford- Livingston Theater in St. Paul. In the late 1960s, the Guthrie decided it was time to expand. This provide the opportunity to add a set shop, rehearsal space, and administrative offices that were not there before because of the cut building costs for the original building. The Guthrie received one million dollars in the Walker/Guthrie fund drive, and when the remodeled theater opened in 1970, the two organizations shared an entrance and common lobby. In 1969, the theater began facing major financial problems. The original company had left and the funds from the Ford Company were gone, leaving the company with no plan in place to make up the losses.

Enter Michael Langham from Britain, the new artistic director who started in the midst of this finical crisis in 1971. Langham devised a plan and also instated some classic plays with new twists that the audience loved and through the 1970s the Guthrie prided itself in being debt free. Langham also improved the touring program, which expanded and grew all the way through the 1980s and provided extra income that the Guthrie needed. In 1972, the Guthrie received a grant from the Ford Foundation and this also helped secure its financial future. A second theater, the Guthrie 2, was started during this time, created to showcase aspiring new writers, directors, and actors. Guthrie 2 continued until 1978.

After Langham left in 1977, the board appointed the theater's first American artistic director, Alvin Epstein, in 1978. During his 18 month stay at the Guthrie, he introduced many new programs, ideas, and plays to the audience. He left in 1979. Liviu Ciulei was Epstein's successor in 1980, and Ciulei made many changes to the stage area itself. He modified the acting platform so the stage could be a different size and shape for each play if need be and he also opened up the backstage area to allow for greater depth. Ciulei was known for how he reinterpreted the classic plays of theater for new audiences.

In 1982 the Guthrie received a Tony Award for its outstanding contribution to the American theater. As the Guthrie got close to using up all of the Ford Foundation money, again, they came up with a plan to strengthen their financial base by expanding the annual fundraising campaign. The amount of contributors grew from 3,000 in 1981 to 12,000 in 1986. After Ciulei resigned in 1985, the board decided that the new artistic director would also be C.E.O of the organization. After a worldwide search, Garland Wright was selected in 1986 to be the new artistic director. In 1987, the Board of Directors adopted a long range plan, and also launched a program of artistic development and the $25 million Campaign for Artistic Excellence. The Plan has proven a reliable guide to the Guthrie's progress. Consistently high levels of productions, a resident acting company, and a loyal audience were the trademarks of this area in the Guthrie’s history.

Wright also pushed for a second performance stage, which when created, was called the Laboratory, and which was primarily used to debut new plays and artists. Wright was also very active in getting school aged kids excited for plays. He encouraged them to attend and he also set up programs for high school students. In 1992, the Guthrie completed its 5 year Campaign for Artistic Excellence, receiving $26,114,345 in pledges, which was a record for any American theater at that time. The following February, the Guthrie underwent much needed renovations, 3.5 million dollars' worth. Improvements included better acoustics, an expanded theater with more seats, a larger concessions stand, larger bathrooms, and many other renovations as well.

Wright announced his resignation in 1994 and his successo, Joe Dowling, renowned director from Ireland, was picked in 1995. As the Guthrie entered the new Millennium, it planned to open a new multi stage theater center on the banks of the Mississippi River. It would have 3 different stages, each focusing on a different type of theater. The building, designed by architect Jean Nouvel, was finished in 2006 and cost $125 million. The three stages are the thrust stage, seating 1,100, a 700-seat proscenium stage, and a black-box studio with flexible seating. It also has a 178-foot cantilevered bridge (called the "Endless Bridge") which reaches out towards the Mississippi. The Guthrie Theater remains one of the preeminent theater companies nationally and internationally.

Artistic Directors: Tyrone Guthrie, 1963–1966 Douglas Campbell, 1966–1967 position not filled, 1968–1970 Michael Langham, 1971–1977 Alvin Epstein, 1978–1980 Liviu Ciulei, 1980–1985 Garland Wright, 1986–1995 Joe Dowling, 1995–present


8.67 Linear Feet (11 boxes, 30 volumes)

Language of Materials


Donor Information

Materials in this collection have accumulated over several decades from multiple sources. The collection is compiled and organized by Special Collections staff.

Collection on the Guthrie Theater
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Hennepin County Library Special Collections Repository

Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis MN 55401 U.S.A.