Civic Repertory Theatre


Civic Repertory Theatre
(CRT)
   One of several attempts to establish a repertory theatre in New York City patterned on the English repertory system, the CRT was a signal forerunner of the American repertory movement that flourished after 1960. Established by Eva Le Gallienne, who directed and/or starred in most of its productions, the CRT addressed the need for American actors to develop their craft by playing diverse classical and contemporary roles in a repertory structure. Troubled from its start, but sustained by Otto Kahn's philanthropy, the CRT suffered from its original location at the Fourteenth Street Theatre, situated away from most Broadway theatres. The CRT's first season commenced with a production of Spanish dramatist Jacinto Benavente's Saturday Night, much admired by critics, followed by similarly well-received productions of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters, Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder and John Gabriel Borkman, and Carlo Goldoni's La Locandriera.
   The CRT survived for 10 tumultuous, financially strained seasons, producing 37 plays in all, including much-admired productions of The Good Hope, Peter Pan, Hedda Gabler, Romeo and Juliet, and Camille. Modernist classics, especially works by Chekhov and Ibsen (five Ibsen dramas were produced during CRT's tenure) were emphasized, but the theatre also premiered of three American plays, notably Susan Glaspell's Alison's House,* winner of the 1931 Pulitzer Prize. The CRT company included Alla Nazimova, Burgess Meredith,* and Jacob Ben-Ami, but Le Gallienne remained the dominant attraction. The CRT's emphasis on women professionals provided important early opportunities to designers Aline Bernstein and Irene Sharaff,* among others.
   Le Gallienne's desire to keep ticket prices low while offering first-rate productions consigned the CRT to persistent financial difficulties exacerbated by the Great Depression. A surprise hit with Le Gallienne's 1933 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland provided a temporary reprieve when it transferred to a Broadway theatre for an extended run. Unable to keep the company afloat despite this success, Le Gallienne disbanded the CRT in 1933, but not before inspiring the Theatre Guild and The Group Theatre,* among other serious-minded theatre organizations. Along with Cheryl Crawford* and Margaret Webster,* Le Gallienne attempted to resuscitate the CRT model as the American Repertory Theatre* in 1946, but it was a short-lived experiment.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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