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 Our History

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.

Photos

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 (Gertrude) 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 that would draw exceptional artists to perform the classics for audiences outside of New York City.

  • September 1959

    They introduce their idea in a small paragraph on the drama page of The New York Times that invites cities across the country to make their case for being the location of the new theater.

  • May 1960

    After visiting seven interested cities, Rea announces that Minneapolis/St. Paul has been chosen.

  • May 7, 1963

    The theater opens as the Minnesota Theatre Company at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre with a production of Hamlet, directed by founder Sir Tyrone Guthrie.

  • March 18, 1971

    While announcing the 1971‒1972 Season in the Minneapolis Tribune, newly appointed Artistic Director Michael Langham also declares a name change and new American spelling for the theater: “We are now the Guthrie Theater Company in the Guthrie Theater directed by the Guthrie Theater Foundation.”

  • 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.

  • March 28, 1999

    The Guthrie hosts its first Shakespeare Classic with a production of Julius Caesar. A passion project of then-employee Sheila Livingston, this special event introduces young people to the poetry and power of Shakespeare at reduced ticket prices.

  • 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.

  • November 2018

    The Guthrie reports its highest ticket revenue in any given season bolstered by the blockbuster summer musical West Side Story, which played to 100% capacity. 

  • July 27, 2019

    Floyd’s, a Guthrie commission by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, makes its world premiere at the Guthrie and extends performances for one week due to popular demand. On November 23, 2021, Floyd’s (now titled Clyde’s) opened on Broadway to critical acclaim and continues to be produced at theaters across the country. 

  • March 3, 2020

    The Guthrie receives two major funding awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board and The Joyce Foundation to advance ongoing collaboration and art-making with the local Native community and to commission a new work by Indigenous Direction that centers Twin Cities Native stories.

  • December 19, 2020

    In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that shuttered theaters worldwide, the Guthrie partners with Freestyle Films to create Dickens’ Holiday Classic, a virtual telling of A Christmas Carol that is watched by nearly 15,000 households and an estimated 150,000 K–12 students.

  • September 30, 2021

    The Guthrie resumes onstage performances after more than a year of dark stages due to the COVID-19 pandemic with a national tour presentation of What the Constitution Means to Me.

  • May 7, 2023

    The Guthrie turns 60 and celebrates its anniversary with an open house for the community.

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