Houston's Alley Theatre and the District of Columbia's Arena Stage are two of almost a dozen theatre companies that existed in the United States by 1950. These groups were the forerunners of a theatrical revolution that swept the nation during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. By 1960 another dozen companies had joined their ranks, producing professional work in an atmosphere far removed from the influence of the Broadway stage. Among them were the Dallas Theater Center, Los Angeles' Center Theatre Group (formally the UCLA Theatre Group), the Milwaukee Repertory Theater Company, and the New York Shakespeare Festival, all drawing large and appreciative audiences for their outstanding productions. Foundation support encouraged their efforts. Early in the 1960s the Ford Foundation gave the money to establish a Theatre Communications Group designed to promote cooperation among the nation's professional, community, and university theatres. Since then hundreds of theatre companies have blossomed in many of the nation's cities. Minneapolis' Guthrie Theatre, New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, New York City's Negro Ensemble Company, and the Seattle Repertory Theatre are among the most important of these regional troupes.
Sometimes the creative genius of a single individual inspired the founding of a company, as is the case with Nina Vance's Alley Theatre and Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival. More often, a group of founding "fathers" collaborated in establishing a professional theatre company for their region. During the winter of 1950 a group of some forty Washingtonians, spearheaded by Zelda Fichandler, planned the formation of the Arena Stage; in December 1953 Mary Widrig John gathered a few friends to organize a nonprofit stock corporation, Drama, Incorporated, an enterprise that was eventually to lead to the development of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater Company; and in March 1959 Oliver Rea, Peter Zeisler, and Tyrone Guthrie breakfasted at New York's Plaza Hotel, where they considered establishing a first-class repertory theatre in the American heartlands, a theatre destined to carry Guthrie's name.
The first years of many regional theatre companies were a fight for survival in theatre structures that challenged the most resourceful of artistic directors.