|Legal status||501(c)(3) nonprofit theater|
|Purpose||20th-century American classics|
|Services||Promotion and production of theatrical works, through the presentation of original, classical, and experimental plays in public and private theatres and auditoriums.|
Located in Olney, Maryland, the Olney Theatre Center offers a diverse array of professional productions year-round that enrich, nurture, and challenge a broad range of artists, audiences and students. One of two state theaters of Maryland, Olney Theatre Center is situated on 14 acres (57,000 m2) in the middle of the Washington-Baltimore-Frederick "triangle." Its main stage seats 429 patrons, with a small theatre lab added in 1999.
As of May 2016, Olney Theatre Center has won 18 Helen Hayes Awards since the award's founding in 1985, and received 146 nominations.[needs update] It one of only two theaters in the country to operate under an Actors' Equity Association Council of Stock Theaters (COST) contract.
In 1938, Olney Theatre was founded as a summer theater and restaurant by Stephen E. Cochran, attorney and judge Harold C. Smith, and theater manager Leonard B. McLaughlin. Olney Theatre was built on Woodlawn Lodge estate, which was the site of a former roller skating rink in what was then rural Montgomery County. Cochran was the first managing director and actress Ethel Barrymore was the first associate director. The National Academy of Stage Training, a professional school of drama that had been founded by Cochran in 1932, moved to the Olney Theatre and began its first summer course there on June 20, 1938. The class was taught by Dorothy Martin and George Vivian.
Olney Theatre's first production, "The Lady Has a Heart", had its first performance on July 25, 1938. The play was about a butler who was elected to the parliament of Hungary on a modified New Deal platform. The first show was sold out.Elissa Landi and Leslie Denison starred, along with Gordon Richards, Howard Ferguson, and Zoyla Talma. Olney Theatre had a rustic feel, with inverted peach baskets serving as chandeliers and an open-air lobby with an oak tree growing in it. Olney Theatre advertised itself as the South's first professional summer theater.
C. Y. Stephens, an owner of High's Dairy Stores, purchased property and remodeled to become better suited for theater in 1940.
In 1946, Olney Theater was under the joint management of Glenn Taylor, Redge Allen, and Evelyn Freyman. It presented summer theater where shows featured well-known stars such as Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Tallulah Bankhead, and Helen Hayes. The theater was a five-show summer stock theater on the straw-hat circuit, along with 238 other theaters around the country.
Players, Inc. (now known as National Players, Olney Theatre Center's touring company, was created by Father Gilbert V. Hartke in 1949. It brought live theater and educational programming to students and public audiences across the United States and overseas.
In 1952, C.Y. Stephens invited Father Hartke to come to Olney for a meeting where he was asked to take over the theater. The two negotiated, and Father Hartke took over management of the property under his nonprofit touring company's umbrella. Stephens agreed not to charge Players, Inc. rent, and to reimburse them up to a $10,000 loss. Father Hartke then moved Players, Inc. to Olney to establish a summer theater.
After losses in 1953 and 1954, which Stephens underwrote, the decision was made to produce only five plays in 1955. Despite much critical success, Olney still sustained a loss of $3,495.61 in 1955. Consequently, Father Hartke asked William H. Graham, Sr. to serve as Olney Theatre's general manager. His work, combined with the directorial talents of Robert Moore, Leo Brady, and Jim Waring drew large audiences, favorable reviews, and resulted in a profit of nearly $7,000 in 1956.
In 1960, after the production of Rashomon, directed by Robert Moore, Stephens told Father Hartke that he had decided to give him the theater. Stephens gradually transferred all of the property's stock to Players, a branch of which is now known as Olney Theatre Corporation. Father became the corporation's president, a position he held for 33 years.
Father Hartke died in 1986. The next year, Maryland State Arts Council designated Olney a "major arts organization", making it the only arts institution outside of Baltimore to hold such status at the time. The theater was producing five three-week productions per season, primarily from May to September.
In 1991, Olney Theatre began a capital campaign to match a $625,000 state grant. The money was to be used for much needed improvements to the facilities and to realize Father Hartke's goal of operating year-round.
Olney Theatre added two shows to its 1993 season, and it began production in April and ending around late October. A scene shop and a costume shop were added to the mainstage building. Prior sets were built outside, and costumes were built on the Crawford House porch.
Jim Petosa was appointed artistic director of the newly renamed Olney Theatre Center in 1994. Petosa renewed emphasis on 20th-century American classics, musical theater, new works, and area premieres.
From 1998 to 1999, Olney Theatre Center celebrated the 50th consecutive touring year of National Players. During these 50 years, National Players had reached 2,400,000 audience members, traveled 1,760,000 miles (2,830,000 km), including ten tours outside the United States and five receptions at the White House, and gave over 6,000 performances. Olney Theatre Center began year-round performances with a seven-show mainstage season.
The Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab was built in 1999 as the first step towards a new master campus plan. A year later, Olney Theatre Center began a capital campaign for a $10.5 million expansion. In 2003, The Kresge Foundation awarded Olney Theatre Center a Special Opportunities Initiative grant of $1 million. The next year, Olney Theatre Center acquired an additional 5 acres (20,000 m2) for its cultural campus. In 2005, Olney Theatre Center opened its new amphitheater, the Root Family Stage at Will's Place, which gave a permanent home to its Summer Shakespeare Festival. Olney Theatre Center held the grand opening of its New Mainstage theater, a 429-seat facility with stadium seating and advanced technical capabilities. Olney Theatre Center expanded its mainstage season to eight plays and introduced its New Play Initiative with the world premiere of In the Mood in 2006. Olney Theatre Center also held its first Gala Celebration in over twenty years.
In 2007, Olney Theatre Center added a family entertainment series and formed Olney Theatre Institute, which reinforced its education initiative.
After 19 years with Olney Theatre, Petosa resigned as artistic director in 2012. Martin Platt was hired as the new artistic director. Platt resigned after six months. Jason Loewith became the new artistic director in 2013.
In 2016, Olney Theatre had a mortgage of $4.8 million, down from $6 million in 2013. The operating budget for the 2016 season was a little less than $6 million.