Our Story

From Broadway to the mighty Mississippi 

The Guthrie Theater opened on May 7, 1963, with a production of Hamlet directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie, the theater’s founder. The idea for a different kind of theater sparked in 1959 during a series of conversations among Guthrie, an acclaimed theater director, and his two colleagues, Oliver Rea and Peter Zeisler, who were all disenchanted with Broadway. They envisioned a resident theater that would draw world-class artists to perform the classics with the highest professional standards.

What began as a summer season of four productions supported by a minimal staff is now a complex organization that serves nearly 350,000 patrons and the Twin Cities community year-round.

Read the full story here

Two actors in engage in a duel. Behind them, an actor wearing a red dress and white gloves faints against other cast members.

Miracle in Minnesota

LIFE magazine called the Guthrie “a miracle.” Newsweek said it was “conceivably the most important theater opening of a generation.” The New York Times declared the theater “a cause for celebration.” Step back in time with this series of historical footage from 1963.


Peter Zeisler, Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Oliver Rea are dressed in suits and ties as they sit on the floor, smiling at one another.

The trio who dreamed beyond Broadway and helped make the Guthrie a reality: Peter Zeisler, Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Oliver Rea. 

Board members wearing suits and ties hold a meeting around a table strewn with papers, coffee cups and an ashtray.

The Guthrie’s original board of directors. 

A Minneapolis Tribune newspaper shows the Guthrie’s thrust stage with the headline “First Night Audience Greets New American Theater."

Patrons fill the thrust stage for the Guthrie’s first-ever performance. Photo by the Minneapolis Tribune.

Two actors in engage in a duel. Behind them, an actor wearing a red dress and white gloves faints against other cast members.

A scene from the Guthrie’s inaugural production of Hamlet, featuring George Grizzard (Hamlet), Jessica Tandy (Ophelia) and other cast members. Photo by Marty Nordstrum.

A group of actors in A CHRISTMAS CAROL gather around a rustic wooden table. One of the actors holds a roast turkey on a platter.

Cast members from an early production of A Christmas Carol.

Liviu Ciulei and Donald Schoenbaum wear black tuxedos with bowties as they pose for a picture with their Tony Awards.

Former Artistic Director Liviu Ciulei and former Managing Director Donald Schoenbaum receive the 1982 Tony Award for the Guthrie’s outstanding contribution to the American theater. 

Several people enter a red brick building that features a large, black Guthrie logo sitting above the word “Laboratory.”

The former Guthrie Lab, located in the Minneapolis Warehouse District, was a second performance space dedicated to developing new work. 

Near the Gold Medal Flour building, the sun shines on a seated crowd who face a row of shovels propped up in the dirt.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Guthrie’s current facility on September 8, 2003. 

Two actors wearing 1920s-era attire engage in an onstage duel in front of a neutral-toned set with French doors and staircases.

A scene from our 2006 production of Hamlet, featuring Santino Fontana (Hamlet), Markus Potter (Laertes) and other cast members. This was the final production at the original Guthrie. Photo by Michal Daniel. 

A line of people wearing summer attire wait to enter the Guthrie’s current facility on its opening day in 2006.

Our current building opened on June 25, 2006, with a community celebration that invited the public to visit and enjoy special events. 

The Dowling Studio is transformed into a ballroom with chandeliers. People dance on a blue carpet while a live band plays.

The Guthrie celebrated its 50th anniversary on June 22, 2013. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

Key moments in Guthrie history

  • March 1959

    Sir Tyrone Guthrie begins a series of conversations with his colleagues Oliver Rea and Peter Zeisler about starting a resident theater.

  • September 1959

    Their idea is introduced in a New York Times ad that invites cities across the country to make their case for being the location of the first resident theater.

  • May 1960

    After visiting seven cities, Rea announces that Minneapolis has been chosen. 

  • May 7, 1963

    The Guthrie Theater opens with a production of Hamlet, directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie.

  • 1975

    The Guthrie begins its annual tradition of presenting Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol during the holidays.

  • 1982

    The Guthrie receives a Tony Award for its outstanding contribution to the American theater.

  • 1988

    Former Artistic Director Garland Wright creates the Guthrie Lab in the Minneapolis Warehouse District to provide a space for developing new work.

  • September 2003

    Construction begins on our current facility, which was designed by award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel. 

  • May 7, 2006

    The original Guthrie on Vineland Place closes with a production of Hamlet directed by former Artistic Director Joe Dowling.

  • June 25, 2006

    The new Guthrie opens to the public.

  • June 2013

    The Guthrie turns 50 and celebrates its anniversary with a weekend of special events.

  • April 2016

    Under Joseph Haj’s leadership, the Guthrie receives a $1 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a groundbreaking theater initiative on Level Nine.

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