Great Lakes Theater

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Great Lakes Theater
Great Lakes Theater.jpg
Formation 1962
Type Theatre group
Artistic director(s)
Charles Fee

Great Lakes Theater is Cleveland, Ohio's professional classic theater company. Founded in 1962, Great Lakes is the second-largest regional theater in Northeast Ohio. It specializes in large-cast classic plays with a strong foundation in the works of Shakespeare and features an educational outreach program. The company performs its main stage productions in rotating repertory at its state-of-the-art new home at the Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square, which reopened on September 20, 2008. The organization shares a resident company of artists with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. On its main stage and through its education programs, GLT connects approximately 85,000 adults and students to the classics each season.

GLT's artistic directors have included Arthur Lithgow, Lawrence Carra, Vincent Dowling, Gerald Freedman, James Bundy (present Dean of the Yale School of Drama) and Charles Fee, who engineered the company's production-sharing partnership with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival).[1]

In 2010, Great Lakes Theater completed a $19.2M dollar capital campaign[2] to renovate the Hanna Theatre as a new and permanent home for Great Lakes while creating an endowment for the theater company - preserving the legacy of the classics in Cleveland. The honorary chair of the campaign was actor Tom Hanks, who credits the Great Lakes Theater Festival for beginning his acting career.[3]

Great Lakes Theater was formerly known as Great Lakes Theater Festival, which continues to be its legal name. “Festival” was dropped from the classic theater company’s business name to better reflect its September through May season, and programming format.[4]


Arthur Lithgow started what was going to be Great Lakes in the 1950s at Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. During the few years in Antioch, all of Shakespeare's plays were performed. The company traveled for performances at Stan Hywet Hall in Akron, the Toledo Zoo, and Cuyahoga Falls. In 1961, Lithgow made an arrangement with Ohio Board of Education President Dorthy Teare, creating the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival. GLSF premiered July 11, 1962 with As You Like It. It continued at the Lakewood Civic Auditorium performing that play and five others in rotation.

Great Lakes moved from its original home in Lakewood, Ohio to Playhouse Square in 1982 to become the first resident company in Playhouse Square.

Notable alumni include Tom Hanks (1977-79 as an intern and core company member, and later winner of the Cleveland Critics' circle for best actor in Festival's production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona), Donald Moffat, Robert Englund, Larry Linville, Cloris Leachman, Piper Laurie, Obie Cytron, Jean Stapleton, Hal Holbrook and Olympia Dukakis.

Artistic directors[edit]

Lithgow expanded the repertoire beyond Shakespeare in 1965 and left his role as artistic director in 1966.

Lawrence Carra became the artistic director until 1975, followed by Vincent Dowling in 1976. Dowling moved the company from its Lakewood Civic Auditorium home to the Ohio Theatre of the Playhouse Square Center in 1982.

Gerald Freedman became the artistic director in 1985. Under his direction, GLSF in 1985 changed to its name to the "Great Lakes Theater Festival," to reflect the broader body of work produced beyond Shakespeare. Freedman was followed by James Bundy in 1998.

Charles Fee has been the artistic director since 2002.


  1. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-10-15. Retrieved 2009-09-23. 
  2. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-27. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  3. ^ Brown, Tony (2009-08-31). "'Tom Hanks at the Hanna' benefits Great Lakes Theater Festival's renovations". Cleveland Plain Dealer. Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  4. ^ Simakis, Andrea (2010-07-14). "Great Lakes drops 'festival' from name". Cleveland Plain Dealer. 

External links[edit]