Circle Repertory Company, originally named Circle Theater Company, was founded in July 1969, in a second floor loft at Broadway and 83rd Street by director Marshall W. Mason, playwright Lanford Wilson, director Rob Thirkield, and actress Tanya Berezin. The plan was to establish a pool of artists- actors, directors, playwrights and designers- who would work together in the creation of plays.
Biographical/historical: Circle Repertory Company, originally named Circle Theater Company, was founded in July 1969, in a second floor loft at Broadway and 83rd Street by director Marshall W. Mason, playwright Lanford Wilson, director Rob Thirkield, and actress Tanya Berezin. The plan was to establish a pool of artists- actors, directors, playwrights and designers- who would work together in the creation of plays.
Circle Rep became home to some of the most prolific talent in American theater. Founder and resident playwright, Lanford Wilson, wrote Hot L Baltimore (1972-1973 season), The Mound Builders (1974-1975 season), The Fifth of July (1977-1978 season), Talley’s Folly (1979-1980 season), and A Tale Told (1980-1981 season) for the company. The list of playwrights who worked at circle Rep includes numerous award-winning playwrights, such as John Bishop, Michael Cristofer, Arthur Kopit, David Mamet, Murray Schisgal and Milan Stitt.
Circle Repertory Company provided the genesis for acclaimed productions such as Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love (1982-1983), Larry Kramer’s The Destiny of Me (1992-1993), William M. Hoffman’s As Is(1984-1985), Terrence McNally’s Master Class (1994), Craig Lucas’ Prelude to a Kiss (1989-1990), Jon Robin Baitz’s Three Hotels(1992-1993), Albert Innaurato’s Gemini(1976-1977), and Jules Feiffer’s Knock Knock (1975-1976).
Circle Rep received numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Awards, Obies, Drama Desk Awards and the 1991 Lucille Lortel Award.
A distinguished group of actors developed from Circle Repertory Company. The list of actors who either called Circle Rep home or participated in specific productions includes John Malkovich, William Hurt, Kathy Bates, Alec Baldwin, Christopher Reeve, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Tandy, Judd Hirsch, Joan Allen, Demi Moore, Gary Sinise, Swoosie Kurtz, Timothy Busfield, and Patricia Wetting.
Other Circle Rep alumni includes Conchata Ferrell, Trish Hawkins, Beatrice Straight, and Helen Stenborg.
In 1979 Circle Rep initiated a classics project, producing two plays in repertory; Hamlet, and Schiller’s Mary Stuart. By 1982 Circle Rep had outgrown its theater and for the first time had to present its work on other stages. Running parallel to the classics, Circle Rep became celebrated for its productions of new plays, particularly those in the style that has been labeled “lyric realism,” with Lanford Wilson being the father of the genre. Marshall Mason directed dozens of Wilson’s plays starting with Sextet (Yes) in 1971.
In addition to major productions Circle Rep ran a Projects-in-Progress series. Plays selected for this series received a week of rehearsal and a four-performance run. Several of these plays went on to become major productions the following season.
The literary office was one of the few that read unsolicited scripts and responded with detailed criticism. To the end of developing scripts, the company ran two reading series, Friday Readings and Extended Readings.
The company collaborated with the Dramatists Guild on a series called Young Playwrights Festival, founded by Stephen Sondheim in 1981. For the festival, ten plays with writers ranging from 8 to 18 were chosen for full production or staged readings. Plays were produced at Circle Rep with professional actors. Among the playwrights were Kenneth Lonergan and Jonathan Marc Sherman.
After Marshall Mason’s departure in 1987, Tanya Berezin became Circle Rep’s artistic director until 1994. In 1995, Austin Pendleton succeeded her, with actress Lynn Thigpen as associate artistic director.
Originating in the Sixties, a time when many experimental theaters arose, this company outlasted virtually all others. They closed their doors in 1996 after 27 years.
Content: The Circle Repertory records are predominantly a script collection. Scripts are divided into produced and unproduced. Produced scripts are arranged by season and further divided into major productions, projects-in-progress, and special events. In most cases there are several drafts, which may include annotated and prompt scripts. This collection is an important source of material on Lanford Wilson, Circle Repertory’s founder and resident playwright. The collection documents creative output and equally the business of running a theater company.
The collection contains a great amount of production material such as prop lists, costume plots, scene breakdowns, stage diagrams, lighting and sound plots, and cues that may be of interest. Also, there are a good number of production photographs.
The collection contains papers that illustrate the practical business of running a theater company such as literary office reports, meeting minutes, and guidelines.
The collection contains very little correspondence or other personal information about the founders, members, writers, directors, or actors.