In American theatre, Broadway is more than a street name in New York City. It’s the epicenter of theatrical activity where artists in the industry dream of working. The first theatre opened there in 1735, and it has since forged an extraordinary legacy of artistic performance. But from the 1940s and into the 1970s, the U.S. experienced a shift that fundamentally changed the industry: the regional theatre movement. Below are tips to help you add regional theatre to your gig-life approach, followed by a fascinating history of how regional theatre helped shaped American theatre.

Tips to Make a Living in Regional Theatre

  • Dedicate yourself to the craft. The regional theatre movement set the standards high for professionalism and quality, so always be ready to bring your A-game.
  • Network, network, network. For Broadway and beyond, folks in this industry tend to work with people they already know and trust. The more people you know, the higher your chances are to get steady work.
  • Audition and/or apply for internships and fellowships. Regional theatres often employ interns, fellows, and apprentices for acting, directing, stage managing, and other roles on a seasonal basis. This provides real-world experience, invaluable networking opportunities and perhaps a smoother pipeline to your major professional break.
  • Work toward a union membership. The perks of having a union-backed contract include bargaining rights, healthcare, minimum-pay rates, safer and more stable working conditions (because of union regulations) and better access for employment, among others.
  • Become financially savvy. While this is true about adulthood in general, working as a theatre artist means living in a gig economy. The gig economy can mean periods of uncertainty which can greatly impact your finances, your lifestyle, and your career.
  • Get signed with an agent. They help artists find jobs and opportunities, while also developing their skills and career trajectory.
  • Be kind, professional, and respectful. The theatre industry is fueled by personal recommendations and experiences. If an artist fails to treat others with respect or demonstrates poor behavior in rehearsals, they diminish their chances of getting hired again.

How (and Why) Regional Theatre Was Created

Before the movement, there were two categories of professional theatre work: Broadway and “the Road.” Artists either made it to the Great White Way, or they toured the country and performed with summer stock companies. Some theatres like Cleveland Play House and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago were the few exceptions where artists could work and audiences could be entertained. But by and large, professional theatre was limited to New York City.

That changed when a group of professional theatre artists decided to expand their horizons. They were hardly inspired by Broadway themselves — after World War II, producers began focusing their attention on glitzy musicals and easy comedies to bring in major revenue from ticket sales. They rarely produced classic works and even more rarely produced thought-provoking new plays. The industry had become more commercial than artistic, leaving many directors, writers, and performers uninspired and disenchanted with the industry.

Who Led the Regional Theatre Movement

Eager to produce and perform different work, a collective of artists looked to other parts of the country. They wanted to establish not-for-profit resident theatres that took storytelling seriously and prioritized quality of craft over commercial ticket sales. They also wanted to follow the repertory model in which the same performers and artists would work together regularly. This approach helped to nurture one another’s skills and talents.

In 1947, Margo Jones created Theatre ’47 in Dallas. It was the first professional troupe outside of New York. Nina Vance, who was raised in Texas and performed under Jones, founded Houston’s Alley Theatre in 1947. Zelda Fichlander founded Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. in 1950. In a story from NPR, Fichlander is quoted, “Like a library, like picking up the garbage, like schools, like churches. Why shouldn’t what theatre has to give be integrated into community life?”

In 1959, British director Tyrone Guthrie and his colleagues Oliver Rea and Peter Zeisler began planning their own artistically driven resident theatre. They founded the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in 1963 after seeing how eager the community was to have professional theatre there. They also found its Midwestern location an ideal spot to establish this new approach to live performance. The Guthrie played a key role in influencing the entire movement for the next few decades. Today, it remains an iconic theatrical institution.

What Regional Theatre Has Contributed to the Industry

From coast to coast, professional regional theatres have established themselves as respected spaces where actors, directors, designers and crews can work. Organizations like Theatre Communications Group (TCG) and The League of Resident Theatres (LORT) support the regional theatre industry.

TCG was founded in 1961 and now has more than 700 member theatres and affiliate organizations, as well as over 7,000 members. The organization provides professional resources, news and communications, events, awards and scholarships, and trade publications like American Theatre magazine and ARTSEARCH. The annual TCG National Conference is one of the largest industry gatherings in the country.

TCG also publishes a fiscal survey every year which provides insight into the industry. They report that in 2019, 38 million audience members attended 180,000 performances of 21,000 productions, and over one million Americans subscribed to a theatre season. Professional nonprofit theatres contributed $2.8 billion to the U.S. economy and employed 145,000 artists, administrators and technical production staff.

LORT is the country’s largest professional theatre association with 77 member theatres across 30 states and the District of Columbia. They provide information, education and resources for the industry at large while prioritizing the welfare of theatre staff and artists. They administer the collective bargaining agreements with Actors’ Equity Association, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and United Scenic Artists. 

Natalie Clare is a Cincinnati-based writer who composes original content for brands, organizations, and publications. As a storyteller, she writes fiction and nonfiction, and she directs and produces works of film. Visit her at

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