May 8, 1963
The Guthrie Theater, named for its founder and first artistic directory, Sir Tyrone Guthrie, opens in Minneapolis with a performance of Hamlet. Known as an innovator “interested in places that aren’t central marketplaces of theater,” Guthrie assembles a distinguished repertory company that includes George Grizzard, Hume Cronyn, and Jessica Tandy. *
In a private conversation over breakfast, three friends despaired the commercialization of Broadway. This triumvirate, composed of uber director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, stage manager Peter Zeisler, and producer Oliver Rea, committed to move elsewhere and build a theatrical community of their own design. ** They were determined to bring gravitas, excellence, and elevation to audiences not exposed to classical theatre.
To be more precise, Mr. Guthrie gave the following quote as to why he saw a promising future of theatre in the Twin Cities.
“We believe that something here (Minneapolis-St. Paul) had a chance growing into an institution where we did not believe that such a growth was absolutely possible on Broadway. The over competitive, over stimulated, over crowded nature of the Broadway theatre makes it impossible to take a longer view than Thursday next.” **
In Minnesota, these men found a fertile soil to plant their theatre. Local businesses and foundations donated exploratory money and land. Renowned local architect Ralph Rapson was tapped to provide his forward-thinking concepts to the building, and Tanya Moiseiwitsch designed the thrust stage.,* Public support was profound, and Minnesotans volunteered to boost ticket sales, and raised $2.2 million to establish the project.****
To embellish this point further, Dr. Guthrie gave the following answer to local Minnesota students when asked about the importance of “this kind” of theatre. His reply reveals his heart to inspire.
“Plays are meant to be acted, not dissected in a classroom…Just as a community needs a public library where great books are available, or an art museum where you can see great pictures, or a symphony orchestra where you can hear great music, so you need a theatre where great plays can be brought to life.” *
So we turn to You, Host of History, to remember this moment when a theatre is born. No one but You can write a script eons long, heighten the drama of the human experience, or provide the unexpected denouement of our Christ! Today, we remember You, first, as the Supreme Author and Director of the drama of life. Be forever praised!
We applaud Sir Guthrie’s efforts to establish a beachhead of this art form within the seas of entertainment of the 1960’s. Bravissimo! Has he captured Your heart when he stated, “Plays are meant to be acted not dissected in a classroom…”? We see something very sacred here; when one acts, they are placing their whole being in participation of a storyline while potentially engaging both themselves and their audience very deeply with the virtues of a great script. Engagement through action involves risk. Yet, the potential for learning at a much deeper level, and the rewards of making a brave journey are only known by those who partake. So, we thank You for this moment that sparked this vision in the Guthrie Theatre Company, its patrons and volunteers, and its impact on Minnesota of 1963!
It is apparent that this venture, which has captured the hearts of at least two generations of Minnesotans, had to battle through the seas of modernity. Since the era of movies and television, theatre has been largely monetized. Where can we find a place where “stories for the sake of stories” exist?
Although they can and do exist in live venues, we still and feel the encroaching arms of influencers. Playwrights become famous, often, when they sell their rights to make a movie of their scripts. All kinds of foundations seek writers, directors, dancers, and theatre companies who will bend a story to their liking. Even political and spiritual groups are in on the game; i.e. “we will fund you if you heighten this issue, let’s call it “Issue X”, in the public’s mind through your artistry.” Good G-d, have we moved an inch as artists from being the court jesters, poet laureates, or entertainers of the aristocracy?
But You, our Prophet of Parables, taught us in a similar way except You forsook our purse strings for our heart strings! Help me remember a few, Lord?
The Lamp-Matthew 5:14-16
The Mustard Seed-Mark 4:30-34
The Good Samaritan-Luke10:29-37
The Prodigal Son-Luke 15:11-32
The Sheep, Shepherd, and Gate-John 10:1-18
Though these fables and apologues were given to mostly agricultural Semetic people groups over fifty generations ago; they retain Your genius today for those not familiar with those sub-cultures! Conversely, the Messiah also intersected in parable with the educated and worldly within Israel, and freely spoke with relevance to Arabian, Persian, Greeks, and Romans. You spoke in parables to portray the unspeakable words of our hearts to us. Those not ready to engage with You heard a good story, while those who were found themselves exposed before Wisdom Eternal.
Will You forgive us our judgments past of a man who desired cultural engagement in greatness through the means of the Guthrie Theatre? Will You forgive us our misapplications of artistry, through all aspects of theatre, towards the highest bidder? Will You guide us as playwrights, actors, directors, crew members, costumers to “allow” our audiences to feel rather than emotionally manipulating what they “should” feel? Will You bless Minnesota theatre to go beyond Guthrie’s vision of greatness and into the Messiah’s chesed of heart?
Lord, I leave You with a story, (I’m sure You know it), and a prayer. About a century ago, three children climbed a hill outside Fatima, Portugal; Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. There, they encountered an angel who taught them this prayer. I wonder if it was to buffer the suffering of the Great War? Today I echo this prayer which I amend only slightly.
“My G-d, I believe (in theatre and story), I adore, I hope, and I love Thee. I ask for pardon for those who do not believe (in theatre and story), do not adore, do not hope, and do not love Thee.”
P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
** O’Neill, Hannah. “An Englishman in Minneapolis: Sir Tyrone Guthrie”. May 12, 2017. Internet. https://www.continuum.umn.edu/2017/05/englishman-minneapolis-sir-tyrone-guthrie/
*** Combs, Marianne. “Architect Ralph Rapson at 91”. September 13, 2005. Minnesota Public Radio. Internet. http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2005/09/13_combsm_rapson/
**** A brief history of the Guthrie.https://www.guthrietheater.org/globalassets/pdf/guthrie_history.pdf
* “Guthrie Theater: Miracle in Minnesota”. (The Minnesota Theatre Company)1963. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkIXv_L3QHQ&t=456s