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The History of The Poets' Theatre

The Poets Theatre was established in 1950, in Cambridge, when there were very few staged performances of poetry and poetic drama in the area. Working out of a small Cambridge theatre (over a hardware store), always on a shoe-string, the theatre brought the world’s leading poets and dramatists to town for readings and performances.

The animating force of the Poets’ Theatre in those days was an unforgettable Irish woman, Dublin-born Mary Manning (aka Molly Howe), who had been a playwright and actor at the Abbey and Gate Theatres. She had had worked under the memorable director/actor, Michael MacLiammoir. Mary brought talent, wit, perseverance and charm to the theatre and to the friends she coerced into becoming her helpers and cohorts. Other founding members included Thornton Wilder, William Carlos Williams, Edward Gorey, and Alison Lurie.

The Theatre earned a name for itself by producing original works by the leading voices in poetry, literature and arts, including Samuel Beckett, Archibald MacLeish, and Dylan Thomas, who's immortal dramatic poem Under Milk Wood was given its first public reading by the author in 1953, at a Poets' Theatre event. However, in 1962 the building that housed the company burned down, and the Theatre closed its doors.

For nearly twenty-five years after the fire, the Theatre lay dormant. Then, at a 1986 memorial celebration described by Edward Gorey on the poster as a “wake”, a spontaneous movement was begun to resurrect the Theatre. A year later brought the first offerings: an evening of original dramatic work, poetry and song. The Poets’ Theatre was alive again. It continued to produce until 2004.

TPT has presented work by many of the brightest lights of the literary world: William Alfred, Roger Angell, Aharon Appelfeld, John Ashbery, Russell Baker, Frank Bidart, Paul Bowles, Josephy Brodsky, Amy Clampitt, Donald Hall, Seamus Heaney, (Nobel Prize winner for Literature), James Merrill, Robert Pinsky (Poet Laureate), Reynolds Price, Christopher Ricks, Phillip Roth, Lloyd Schwartz, John Updike, Derek Walcott (Nobel Prize for Literature), Rosanna Warren , Richard Wilbur(winner of the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry)…..the list goes on and on and includes just about every poet writing in our past and present generations.

And it wasn’t just writers. Some of our most distinguished actors have appeared in TPT productions: Claire Bloom, Stockard Channing, Blythe Danner, Tommy Lee Jones, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Spalding Gray, Julie Harris, John Heard, Cherry Jones, Jerome Kilty, Christopher Reeve, Wallace Shawn, Debra Winter and many others.

Now, indestructible, The Poets’ Theatre lives again, with a new sense of purpose and possibility. Please join us to help celebrate its rebirth.

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