The Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas has employed a resident acting company since Nina Vance founded the organization in 1947. Vance, who led the theater until her death in 1980, employed a loose-knit group of actors each season. She called these performers her “family.” Vance wanted to embed the Alley in the cultural life of Houston, so she hired actors who lived in the community. In 1989, Gregory Boyd became the Artistic Director. Boyd’s career in the regional theater began under the mentorship of prominent regional theater directors, such as William Ball. Boyd shared Ball’s dedication to maintaining resident companies and prioritized the artistic development of the actor through his or her work in an ensemble. Boyd brought that artistic vision with him to the Alley and formalized the Alley’s resident acting company. As of 2014, the Alley was one of the few regional theaters that still employed a resident acting company. The Alley’s commitment to its resident acting company was not only an outgrowth of Boyd’s artistic vision but also the result of staunch support from the Alley Board of Directors and a dedication to Nina Vance’s legacy.
Maintaining a resident acting company was a central ideal in the growth of the regional theater movement. Many of the early flagship theatres like the Alley established similar ensembles at the theater's founding. Zelda Fichandler founded hers in 1950 at Arena Stage. The 1960s brought Tyrone Guthrie’s at the Guthrie Theatre and William Ball’s at the American Conservatory Theatre. Over the past several decades, however, most major regional theater leadership teams abandoned the resident company model, arguing that a permanent ensemble impeded the director’s artistic vision, bored audiences by constraining choices in casting and was too expensive to support. For Boyd, disbanding an acting company for these reasons was “shameful and, I think, tragic” as he believed that ensemble work enhanced the craft of acting and left ample opportunity for theatrical vision. In the early 2000s, though, financial stress forced the Alley to consider disbanding the resident acting company to save money. “If the Alley no longer had a resident company of actors,” said Roger Plank, Chair of the Alley board, “for me, it wouldn’t be worth being a part of. I would resign from the Board.” The theater was at a crossroads and needed to decide if this founding principle was worth bringing into a new era.
Publication Date: 2014 - 05 -15
Suggested Citation: Lauren Wainwright, "Alley Theatre: Dedication to a Resident Acting Company (2014)," Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base Case Study #YSD-HIST-1, May 15, 2014
Keywords: Houston, Texas, Leadership, Mission, Organizational Culture, Organizational Direction, Theater, Resource Allocation
Teaching Note: No