Olney Theatre Center for the Arts

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Coordinates: 39°08′40″N 77°02′42″W / 39.144523°N 77.044866°W / 39.144523; -77.044866

Olney Theatre Center for the Arts
OlneyTheatreCenter logo.jpg
Theatre Logo
Formation 1938
Type Theatre group
Purpose 20th-century American Classics
  • 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd, Olney MD
Artistic director(s)
Jason Loewith
Website http://www.olneytheatre.org/

Located just north of Washington, D.C. in Montgomery County, Maryland, the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts 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, OTC is situated on 14 acres (57,000 m2) in the heart of the Washington-Baltimore-Frederick "triangle," within easy access of all three cities.

An award-winning regional theater, Olney Theatre Center is one of only two theaters in the country to operate under an Actors' Equity Association Council of Stock Theaters (COST) contract.

In addition to its mainstage season, which emphasizes 20th-century American classics, new works, area premieres, reinterpretations of classics and musical theater, OTC offers a wide range of programs and affiliations including: National Players, America's longest running classical touring company (since 1949), which performs for high school and college audiences in over 25 states; Potomac Theatre Project, which offers experimental and alternative plays that explore provocative and challenging human situations, ideas and visions; special school performances of mainstage shows; and post-show discussions.


1938 Olney Theatre is founded by Steve Cochran on the site of a former roller skating rink (in what was then rural Montgomery County).

1940 C. Y. Stephens, an owner of High's Dairy Stores, purchases property and remodels to become better suited for theater.

1942 Under C. Y. Stephen’s ownership and Steve Cochran’s management, Olney Theatre opens for business. It closes two days later due to gasoline rationing.

1946 Olney Theater reopens 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.

1949 Players, Inc. (now known as National Players, OTC's touring company), is created by Father Gilbert V. Hartke to bring live theater and educational programming to students and public audiences across the United States and overseas.

1952 C.Y. Stephens invites Father Hartke to come to Olney for a meeting where he is asked to take over the theater. The two negotiate and Father Hartke takes over management of the property under his nonprofit touring company’s umbrella. Stephens agrees 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.

1956 After losses in 1953 and 1954 (which Stephens underwrote), the decision is made to produce only five plays. In 1955, despite much critical success, Olney still sustains a loss of $3,495.61. Consequently, Father Hartke asks William H. Graham, Sr. to serve as Olney’s General Manager. His work, combined with the directorial talents of Robert Moore, Leo Brady, and Jim Waring draws large audiences, favorable reviews, and a profit of nearly $7,000 in 1956.

1960 After the production of Roshomon (directed by Robert Moore), Stephens tells Father Hartke that he will give him the theater. Little by little, Stephens transfers all of the property’s stock to Players, a branch of which is now known as Olney Theatre Corporation. Father becomes the corporation’s president, a position he held for 33 years.

1978 Olney Theatre is recognized as the official State Summer Theater of Maryland.

1986 Father Hartke passes away. 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 produces five, three-week productions per season, primarily from May to September.

1991 Olney Theatre begins 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.

1993 Olney adds two shows to its season, now beginning production in April and ending around late October. A scene shop and a costume shop are added to the mainstage building. (Prior sets were built outside, and costumes were built on the Crawford House Porch.)

1994 Jim Petosa is appointed Artistic director of the newly renamed Olney Theatre Center. He renews emphasis on 20th-century American classics, musical theater, new works, and area premieres.

1998-1999 Olney Theatre Center celebrates the 50th consecutive touring year of National Players. During these 50 years, National Players reached 2,400,000 audience members, traveled 1,760,000 miles (including 10 overseas tours and five White House receptions) and gave over 6,000 performances. Olney Theatre Center is now a year-round theater with a seven-show mainstage season.

1999 The Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab is built as the first step towards a new master campus plan.

2000 Olney Theatre Center begins a capital campaign for a $10.5 million expansion.

2003 The Kresge Foundation awards Olney Theatre Center a Special Opportunities Initiative grant totaling $1 million.

2004 Olney Theatre Center acquires an additional 5 acres (20,000 m2) for its cultural campus.

2005 Olney Theatre Center opens its new amphitheater, the Root Family Stage at Will’s Place, finally giving a permanent home to its Summer Shakespeare Festival. Olney Theatre Center holds the Grand Opening of its New Mainstage theater, a 429-seat facility with stadium seating and advanced technical capabilities.

2006 Olney Theatre Center expands its mainstage season to eight plays and introduces its New Play Initiative with the world premiere of In the Mood. Olney Theatre Center holds its first Gala Celebration in over 20 years.

2007 Olney Theatre Center adds a family entertainment series and reinforces its education initiative with the formation of Olney Theatre Institute.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Pietro, Mary Jo Santo; Gilbert V. Hartke (2002). Father Hartke: His Life and Legacy to the American Theater. Catholic University of America Press. 

External links[edit]