Seattle Repertory Theatre debuts with King Lear in the Seattle Playhouse on November 13, 1963.

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 11/13/2009
  • Essay 9211
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On the evening of Wednesday November 13, 1963, the Seattle Repertory Theatre company makes its debut before a near-capacity crowd with a production of William Shakespeare's King Lear. One year prior -- on October 21, 1962 -- Seattle's six-months-long Century 21 Exposition had ended and a major legacy of that World’s Fair was a good number of new civic facilities including the performance space known as the Seattle Playhouse, as designed by noted Seattle architect, Paul Kirk, and located on the fair's campus at 201 Mercer Street.

Long May It Live

Prominent Seattle businessman and arts patron Bagley Wright led the efforts of an influential group of theater aficionados to establish Seattle's first serious theatrical organization -- which would come to be fondly known as "The Rep" and which would be based in the Playhouse for two decades. The Rep's founding artistic director, Stuart Vaughan, brought together an acting company that included locals Marjorie Nelson (1923-2010) and John Gilbert, with Vernon Weddle in the extremely challenging lead role.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's coverage of "the first performance of the first production of the first season" by "a new company in a new theater" was supportive and almost giddy. The Seattle Times joined in with accolades, expressing "tremendous excitement" over the theatrical team's potential, describing the Rep as "That most noble of experiments," and saluted the effort by declaring "Long may it live." Arts patron, Hans Lehmann (1911-1996) recalled that first show as "a harbinger of great theater for years to come" -- and, indeed, today the Rep lives in its own twin halls, the (ca. 1983) Bagley Wright Theatre and the (ca. 1996) Leo Kreielsheimer Theatre (the “Leo K”), both built right next door (155 Mercer Street) to the old Playhouse.

Sources: "Repertory Theater In Debut Tonight," The Seattle Times, November 13, 1963, p. 24; John Voorhees, "First Nighters See Repertory's 'King Lear'," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 14, 1963, p. 3;Lou Guzzo, "Vaughan's 'Lear' Is Deep-Probing, Measured Drama," The Seattle Times, November 14, 1963, p. 45; Hans & Thelma Lehmann, Out Of The Cultural Dustbin: Sentimental Musings on the Arts & Music in Seattle from 1936 to 1992 (Seattle: Crowley Associates Inc., 1992), 97-98.

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