George Grizzard stood on the stage as Hamlet - in a tuxedo - with 1,400 people watching. It was 1963 and opening night of the Guthrie Theater.
The modern version of Shakespeare's classic play was directed by Tyrone Guthrie himself, artistic director of the bold, new theater.Some reviewers were shocked at Guthrie's interpretation of the play. Others called it "magnificent" and "compelling and imaginative."
Even the new theater's seats - painted in bright blues, oranges and yellows - drew a few notices. It was all meant to jar preconceived notions, and it worked.
This season the Guthrie Theater is celebrating its 25th anniversary with seven plays, including a new "Hamlet," played by Zeliko Ivanek, 31, and directed by Garland Wright, 42, also the theater's artistic director.
The season also includes Moliere's "The Imaginary Invalid"; "The Glass Menagerie"; "Frankenstein - Playing with Fire"; Ibsen's "The Wild Duck"; "Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"; and Brenton and Hare's "Pravda - A Fleet Street Comedy."
The Guthrie has long been recognized as a pioneer in the regional theater movement in the United States.
"Tyrone Guthrie's hunch that the Twin Cities was the right place to establish a great classical theater proved visionary," Wright said.
"When the lights went up on May 7, 1963, and the first lines of `Hamlet' were spoken, the theater came alive. After 25 years, 150 plays, 6,500 performances and 7 million theatergoers, the stage vibrates with renewed vitality and energy."
The Guthrie has suffered some financial difficulties in past years but currently is holding its own with what theater personnel call "an incredible donor base."
A $25 million fund-raising campaign kicked off recently. More than half that amount, $14.3 million, already has been raised.
Most of the money will go into an endowment to support the theater's acting company. Money also will be allocated for remodeling and expanding the theater, and for expanding the acting company and increasing their pay by 50 percent over the next six years.
Wright was appointed artistic director of the Guthrie two years ago and his contract recently was extended until 1992. Born in Texas, he began his professional career at the American Shakespeare Theater, where he was associate director.
He also worked as an associate artistic director as the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., another nationally recognized regional theater company, from 1985-86.
One innovation Wright has brought to the Guthrie is a theatrical research and development program, which enables the 40 repertory actors, the directors and the playwrights to work together on various projects.
The Guthrie also has an internship program for production, stage management, public relations and education.