The non-profit organization began when a pair of theatre companies, Actors, Inc. and Theatre Louisville, merged under the title Actors Theatre of Louisville. Housed in a tiny loft, formally the Gypsy Tea Room at 617 1/2 S Fourth Street, the company’s founding directors were Richard Block and Ewel Cornett. Quickly outgrowing its 100-seat domicile, the fledgling troupe moved to an abandoned Illinois Central Railroad Station at Seventh Street and the Ohio River. Louisville architect Jasper D. Ward converted the building into a 350-seat theatre, preserving most of the station’s interior structure.
In May 1969, Jon Jory was appointed the theatre’s new producing director. Jory’s October 1969 Louisville directing debut with Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood marked a renaissance for the organization. Alexander Speer, former executive director whose tenure of forty years began in 1965, became Jory’s partner.
Due to demolition of the station to make way for a connector highway, the company’s final production at the station was Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in May 1972. As final performances were presented, sentimental audiences recalled how the station had been a good home—a place where Actors Theatre had grown from several hundred season subscribers to over 9,000, and where over 65 productions had been staged.
In 2006, Jennifer Bielstein joined the Actors Theatre leadership team as Managing Director, replacing the retired Executive Director Alexander Speer, who served the theatre for 40 years.
In 2011, after 11 vibrant seasons, Marc Masterson announced his departure from Actors Theatre to transition to the Artistic Director position of South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California.
In 2012, after an exciting and lengthy search, Obie Award-winning director Les Waters joined the Actors Theatre leadership team as the new Artistic Director. Waters most recently served as the Associate Artistic Director at Berkeley Repertory Theatre from 2003 to 2011. Water’s rich directorial history and fruitful artistic partnerships nationally and internationally will be a strong benefit to Actors Theatre as the organization looks towards celebrating their 50th Anniversary Season in 2013.
Acclaimed for its artistic programming and business acumen, Actors Theatre presents over 500 performances of about 20 productions during its year-round season composed of a diverse array of contemporary and classical fare. It boasts one of the largest per capita season ticket holder audiences in the country and logs an annual attendance of over 200,000.
The theatre’s other community outreach offerings include free apprentice showcase productions; public seminars and workshops; pre-and post-performance discussions; facility tours; discounted season tickets plans for students, senior citizens, people with disabilities and educators; audio described performances for low vision patrons and performances interpreted in American Sign Language. Works by distinguished local and regional visual artists are showcased during the season in a free gallery located throughout the theatre’s lobbies.
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