Theater in the Open began in 1979 when Anna Clopton started a theater and workshop for children in Newburyport, Massachusetts. She directed the first play, African Tales, under the name The Newburyport Children’s Theater. That first year Theresa Linnihan adapted The Little Match Girl for performance, the first of a series of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales she prepared for the theater. Anna and Theresa laid the foundations for the group, at first staging productions at a great many venues. From the first, theater classes were offered. In 1983 Anna (now Smulowitz) staged an original script of hers, Terezin, Children of the Holocaust, for the theater. The play has gone on to win awards and is still staged today.
1987 was an eventful year with (1) the formation for the first time of a core “Company”, (2) an eleven weekend performance of Alice Through the Looking Glass at Maudslay State Park (3) summer workshop at Maudslay for the first time, (4) the first annual Arts Festival, and (5) the first performance of Maudslay is Haunted directed by Paul Wann. Theresa Linnihan was named “artist in residence” at Maudslay and the park’s Gate House became home base for the theater group which in 1988 became The Children’s Theater in Residence at Maudslay State Park. By that year eight Emerson College students were working as interns directing, choreographing, acting, teaching, organizing and maintaining the Gate House.
In 1989 Wendy Lement took over as Educational Director in which role she served until 1993. Her many contributions include: an orginal script, Salem’s Daughters, first performed in 1989; Summer Arts Festival Teen Workshop production of Archy and Mehitabel in 1990; and a 1991 Children’s Theater European tour.
In 1990 the Theater did its first Christmas show at The Firehouse Center, a new arts center in Newburyport. Scott Smith was appointed new company manager. That year also saw the theater tour Europe with Tyl, The Frog Prince, Aria De Capo, and a reworked Origins which had been workshopped starting in February and performed in Maudslay in the summer (summer 1991 Origins). The first Rites of Spring was done in 1992, to become an annual fund-raiser. In 1994 Theresa Linnihan left, the name was changed to Theater in the Open, and the company was re-structured. Jeffrey Rath, Kristan Raymond, and Marlyn Miller were appointed Co-Artistic Directors.
In 1995 as an extension of its mission, the Theater started reaching out to a more mature audience through Peter Barnes’ Red Noses, co-directed by Jason Novak and Jeffrey Rath. In 1996 the company dared stage Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Mr. Rath assumed the role of Artistic Director solo after three years of co-directorship.
The late 90’s saw the Theater in the Open retain its appeal to and education of children as it alsocontinued its quest for more challenging material. The Rites of Spring, Maudslay is Haunted, Summer Arts workshop, and holiday family shows were supplemented in their child (and family) appeal by a new relationship with Circus Smirkus of Vermont performing as a fund-raiser for the Theater. Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage, Tom Stoppard’s Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Thorton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, and Moliere’s The Miser presented challenges. An annual company retreat focused on defining roles, refining understanding of the mission statement, and developing goals for the future was initiated by Jim Sullivan.
Theater in the Open was rewarded for its efforts, receiving the 1999 Newburyport Mayor’s Art Award for its body of work, twenty years in Newburyport well recognized.
The year 2000 saw the company acquire and cleanup the Coachman Property at Maudslay with more space for programs and storage. The season included Rites of Spring, David Mamet’s The Frog Prince, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
In 2000 Maudslay is Haunted brought over 2000 patrons to Maudslay State Park. The theater developed an original piece for the holiday show: Theater in the Open’s Holiday Extravaganza and Nativity.
The Theater in the Open’s improvisation skills were on display at the Spring shows in 2001 and 2002 with Bonnie Jean Wilbur leading TITO interpretations of Snow White and Hand Made Fairy Tales. The 2003 Season likewise began with improvisation in Our Own Big Fat Greek Improv. A two year exploration of Anton Chekhov led to productions of The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard. A restaging of the1995 adaptation of Red Noses and Shakespeare’s Richard III enlivened the autumn season. Christmas at The Firehouse Center saw family favorites, The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe in 2001 and The Christmas Carol in 2002.