Celebrating a long legacy in Arizona
For more than 50 years, excellence has been at the heart of the mission of Arizona Theatre Company. As a cornerstone of the cultural life of our state, ATC has achieved prominence through the dedication and imagination of hundreds of artists, craftspeople, and supporting audiences in both Tucson and Phoenix.
Arizona Theatre Company was established as Arizona Civic Theatre in 1967 by Sandy Rosenthal and a group of civic and business leaders concerned about the demise of community theatre activity in Tucson.
The company’s first season consisted of four productions presented in the ballroom of the Santa Rita Hotel. Total attendance for the season was 4,000, and the operating budget was $8,000. The following year, the newly formed Arizona Commission on the Arts and Humanities awarded its first grant to the theatre.
In November, Sandy Rosenthal and a group of like-minded citizens announce plans for the Arizona Civic Theater. It will have a year-round season, with productions for children. It stages its first plays the following summer.
A grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts helps launch the company. Generation, its first production, opens in the Santa Rita Hotel’s basement in July. Founding Artistic Director Rosenthal directs.
A Decade of Growth
In 1972, the company moved into the little theatre of the newly completed Tucson Community Center. The new facility contained a 526-seat semi-thrust theatre and offered rehearsal, costume, and scenic construction shop space. Also in that season, the company received its first grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which was designated to assist the company in hiring its first Equity actors under a Guest Artist Contract.
The company becomes fully professional, which ups the quality of everything from costumes to the actors. At the same time, Artistic Director Rosenthal responds to complaints that the company ignores local talent when it hires actors from out of town. It’s a complaint that is still heard today. This is also the year that ACT moves into the Leo Rich Theatre at the Tucson Convention Center.
Vanities is the first show the company takes to Phoenix.
The company changes its name to Arizona Theatre Company. Health concerns force Sandy Rosenthal to step down, and Mark Lamos becomes artistic director for a short stint. He goes on to make a name for himself as a director on Broadway and around the country.
A Decade of Change
ATC experienced continuing change and promise as Artistic Director Gary Gisselman led ATC with a full schedule of productions each season in both Phoenix and Tucson. The decade saw the opening of the new Herberger Theater Center, a project in which ATC played an instrumental role.
Arizona Theatre Company is cited by President Reagan on behalf of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, commending the company on its unique two-city operation and designating it a national model. ATC presented its full six-play season in two different Phoenix facilities: Phoenix College Theatre and the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Groundbreaking ceremonies for the long-awaited Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix herald new growth potential for that city.
Promise for the Future
As Arizona Theatre Company approached fiscal year 1990, it was faced with both change and potential. It began its Phoenix season by performing in the Herberger Theater Center and, as construction proceeded as anticipated on Tucson’s Temple of Music and Art, it began performances there in early fall. The exceptional show of support by the public during its emergency fundraising effort had increased both donor rolls and the subscriber base.
The 1990/1991 season opens with Amadeus in ATC’s new Tucson home, the Temple of Music and Art. This is the first season the company announces it will produce one new play a year – a significant step for a theater company. First up is The Holy Terror by one of Britain’s most revered playwrights, Simon Gray. Upping the prestige of this production: Gray is willing to travel to the desert to direct.
After guest-directing several times, David Ira Goldstein begins his 16-year tenure as ATC’s artistic director. He will go on to produce or direct more than 200 plays – more than any other director in Arizona history.
ATC begins a long relationship with playwright Steven Dietz with the world premiere of his adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
ATC hosts The Royal National Theatre’s production of Othello in Phoenix. The relationship forged with the London-based company leads to the National bringing Hamlet to ATC in 2001. That production stars Simon Russell Beale, one of England’s bravest and greatest actors.
Turn of the Century
As Arizona Theatre Company entered its 1999/2000 season, ATC had produced over 5,000 performances of nearly 200 plays including many Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winners. As part of its ongoing mission to serve as an educational resource for the community, ATC introduced over a quarter million young people to the magic of live professional theatre through its Student Matinee Program and established educational ties with the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. ATC instituted many new accessibility services including wheelchair access and seats, audio described performances, and American Sign Language interpreted performances for each production.
ATC’s continuing commitment to staging newer works along with classics is clear with back-to-back productions: Shakespeare’s As You Like It and the 1999 Tony winner Side Man by Warren Leight.
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure opens. It is ATC’s sixth world premiere of a Steven Dietz play. Those plays continue to be staged by theater companies around the country.
Celebrating 50 Years
The decade kicked off with ATC co-producing the world-premiere of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, which went on to open on Broadway. With the retirements of longtime Artistic Director David Ira Goldstein and Managing Director Jessica Andrews, new leadership worked to navigate the changes and redefine the half-century-old company’s future.
Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is co-produced as a world-premiere with San Jose Rep at ATC.
Despite good ticket sales, ATC has yet to fully recover from the turmoil and deficit of a few years before. In late June, it announces it has two weeks to raise $2 million or it will close. That period is extended two weeks. After furious fundraising efforts that involve board members, politicians, and donors in both Tucson and Phoenix, the money is raised. The 2016/2017 season, the company’s 50th, will go on as planned.
The Future is Now
With an active Board, and both Sean Daniels and Geri Wright in place, excitement for the future was palpable. In early March of 2020, ATC began previewing a co-production with Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, The Legend of Georgia McBride. With many events planned and strong ticket sales, the show opened on March 13, 2020, the same day that the theatre, along with the rest of the world, came to a halt due to the spread of a novel virus, COVID-19.
With a reduced staff, ATC produces a digital season full of play workshops and readings, educating audiences about the play-making process.
By Fall, ATC begins hiring back many of its staff that had to be let go during the pandemic and fills many new roles. Employees walk into a completely different organization; ATC is in its best position financially in well over a decade, the Board – led by Chair Char Augenstein – works tirelessly to support the company, and a new mission, vision, and values are implemented. ATC produces a full 2021/2022 mainstage season with health and safety protocols in place to keep artists, staff, and audiences safe.
ATC reignites the annual Gala fundraising event with 380 people in attendance, raising over $330,000. In July, ATC finishes its final performance of six productions for the first time in more than two years. Plans for the 55th season are underway.