“Regional theater” has always been an uncomfortable term for the network of professional nonprofit theaters that are found throughout the United States. One of the movement’s pioneers, Nina Vance, said the term made them sound second-class, and although many agree with her, no one has coined a better term. Some theaters tried the term “resident theater,” but that implied a resident company that they did not have. “Repertory theater” was tried as well, but performing plays in repertory means alternating the same shows throughout the season, and most of the theaters were not doing that. As uneasily as the title fits, “regional theater” has become the catch-all term for most theaters outside New York City that use professional personnel but operate as not-for-profit businesses. Other theaters outside New York City include community, college/university, or professional commercial theaters such as dinner, touring, and outdoor theaters.
Hundreds of fine regional theaters exist across the United States, producing interesting revivals of the classics as well as provocative new plays and experimental works. Most regional theaters owe much to the communities that support them, and in return they offer an array of services such as school performances and tours, training for young people, and other educational programs. Like the city ballet and orchestra, the regional theater now enjoys a foothold in the cultural landscape of most American cities and of many smaller towns and rural areas. Unfortunately, however, this was not always the case. It has taken nearly one hundred years and the efforts of some very determined artists for professional theater to spread its wings and escape the confines of the commercial theater district of Broadway to earn the reputation it enjoys today.