On the Princeton University campus in Princeton, New Jersey is where you’ll find McCarter Theatre Center, a professional theater that doesn’t charge admission. Sarah Rasmussen, the Artistic Director, and Michael S. Rosenberg, the Managing Director, currently run the organization.
Although it wasn’t designed to be a music hall, McCarter hosted the Princeton University Concerts for nearly fifty years before moving to Richardson Auditorium. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s March 1932 broadcast was the first big “classical music” show not associated with a university.
On March 7, 1930, Ruth St. Denis gave a solo performance; she came back later that year with Ted Shawn and the rest of the groundbreaking Denishawn dancers for a complete company performance. But for the next few decades, there were few significant dance offerings, save for one notable performance in 1935 by a company of dancers touring under the name “American Ballet”; this was the first troupe of dancers assembled in this country by an émigré Russian choreographer named George Balanchine, the forerunner of the New York City Ballet as we know it today.
In the years following World War II, Broadway producers found that holding long previews in New York City rather than traveling to other cities for tryouts was a cost-effective method to bring in audiences. That’s why there aren’t as many Broadway musicals on the road these days. The Theatre’s mounting debt made it impossible for it to remain financially independent, so in 1950 Princeton University and the Triangle Club reached an agreement under which Princeton would acquire ownership of the Theatre and accept responsibility for its maintenance. Princeton University established a faculty advisory group in the late 1950s to decide how best to utilize the structure.
After beginning his employment at McCarter in 1960 as a consultant to the faculty advisory group, renowned filmmaker Milton Lyon was promoted to executive producer.
A “producing” theater, as opposed to a “booking” theater, was one of Lyon’s suggestions to the university. One of his goals was to build a theatrical troupe that would present plays on the university’s campus, making it the first permanent professional theater in the United States. He quickly established one by contracting the services of the Association of Performing Artists (APA) for the 1960–1961 theater season. Rosemary Harris, Donald Moffat, Frances Sternhagen, and Edward Asner were among the actors that performed with the APA group under Ellis Rabb’s leadership.
In 1973, Princeton University handed over the management of McCarter to the newly formed McCarter Theatre Company. While continuing to host a variety of dance and classical music events, McCarter developed as a producing theater under Milton Lyon and his successors, most notably Arthur Lithgow, Michael Kahn, Nagle Jackson, and the Theatre’s artistic director, Emily Mann.
During the 1990s, McCarter underwent extensive renovations and additions, one of which was the addition of a second, smaller theater next to the main auditorium (the Roger S. Berlind Theater, named for the Princeton alumnus and producer), which made it possible to stage two shows at once. David Mamet’s play Glengarry Glen Ross had its first big revival in 2000.