As regional theatres throughout America began to proliferate in the 1950s and 60s, W. McNeil Lowry, director of the arts and humanities program at the Ford Foundation in New York, noted a lack of communication and cooperation that seemed to impede the movement's growth. Lowry convened a group of theatre professionals and educators to discuss the possibility of a central office that could be run by representatives from the field.
In 1961, the Ford Foundation set aside $244,000 over a four-year period to meet this goal, and Theatre Communications Group was established "to improve communication among professional, community and university theatres in the United States. The group will facilitate the exchange of artists and other theatre personnel and enable members to study each others' methods, with the ultimate aim of making the theatre more professional in training, creation and production."
Headquartered in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, the original members of TCG included 15 theatres (both professional and community) and nine university drama departments. Miss Pat Brown, founding artistic director of Magnolia Theatre in Long Beach, Calif., served as director. Founding members still active in TCG today include Alley Theatre in Houston; Arena Stage in Washington, DC; Cleveland Play House; Milwaukee Repertory Theater and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
Over its first decade, TCG was led by Michael Mabry, Joseph Zeigler and Hartney Arthur. In 1972, Lowry asked Peter Zeisler, then TCG board president and a co-founder of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and founder of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), to become executive director. Zeisler remained in that post for 23 years and under his leadership, along with that of deputy director Lindy Zesch, many of TCG's current programs and services were created including the National Conference, TCG Books, AMERICAN THEATRE magazine and the American Arts Alliance, now called the Performing Arts Alliance.
Zeisler retired in 1995, and John Sullivan served as executive director until 1997. Ben Cameron was executive director from 1998 to 2006, serving with managing director Joan Channick. Gigi Bolt served as Interim ED from 2006-2007. In 1999, TCG became the U.S. Center of the International Theatre Institute, incorporating an increasingly global perspective into all of its activities. TCG was awarded the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre in 2005, in recognition of our leadership in the field.
Today, TCG is led by CEO and executive director Teresa Eyring, who came to the organization in 2007, and Adrian Budhu, COO and deputy director, who joined in 2016. TCG has grown into a membership network of 500+ member theatres and over 250 university, funder, trustee, and business affiliates, and over 7,000 individuals. TCG reaches over 1 million students, audience members, and theatre professionals each year through its programs and services.
In 2021, TCG celebrated the 60th anniversary of our founding. As our new strategic plan was forged in the fires of a global pandemic and an uprising against white supremacy, it has felt as if TCG is being refounded; not only by our staff and board, but collectively by a field that cannot and will not go back to the way things were.
As we interrogated what our vision of “a better world for theatre and a better world because of theatre” means now, we fortified and clarified TCG’s mission: to lead for a just and thriving theatre ecology
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