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Olney Theatre Center


A Historical Timeline of Olney Theatre Center



Olney Theatre is founded by Steve Cochran on the site of a former roller skating rink (in what was then rural Montgomery County).


C.Y. Stephens, founder of High’s Dairy Stores, purchases property and remodels to become better suited for theater.


Under C.Y. Stephen’s ownership and Steve Cochran’s management, Olney Theatre opens for business. It closes two days later due to gasoline rationing.


Olney Theater reopens under the joint management of Glenn Taylor, Redge Allen, and Evelyn Freyman. It presented summer theater where shows featured well-known stars such as Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Tallulah Bankhead, and Helen Hayes. The theater was a five-show summer stock theater on the straw-hat circuit, along with 238 other theaters around the country.


Players, Inc. (now known as National Players, OTC's touring company), is created by Father Gilbert V. Hartke to bring live theater and educational programming to students and public audiences across the United States and overseas.


C.Y. Stephens invites Father Hartke to come to Olney for a meeting where he is asked to take over the theater. The two negotiate and Father takes over management of the property under his nonprofit touring company’s umbrella. Stephens agrees not to charge Players, Inc. rent, and to reimburse them up to a $10,000 loss. Father then moved Players, Inc. out to Olney to establish a summer theater.


After losses in 1953 and 1954 (which Stephens underwrote), the decision is made to produce only five plays. In 1955, despite much critical success, Olney still sustains a loss of $3,495.61. Consequently, Father Hartke asks William H. Graham, Sr. to come on board as Olney’s General Manager. His work combined with the directorial talents of Robert Moore, Leo Brady, and Jim Waring draws large audiences, favorable reviews, and a profit of nearly $7,000 in 1956.


After the production of Roshomon (directed by Robert Moore), Stephens tells Father Hartke that he will give him the theater. Little by little, Stephens transfers all of the property’s stock to Players, a branch of which is now known as Olney Theatre Corporation. Father becomes the corporation’s president, a position he held for 33 years.


Olney Theatre is recognized as the official State Summer Theater of Maryland.


Father Hartke passes away.

Maryland State Arts Council designated Olney a “major arts organization,” making it the only arts institution outside of Baltimore to hold such status at the time.

The theater produces five, three-week productions per season, primarily from May to September.


Olney Theatre begins a capital campaign to match a $625,000 state grant. The money was to be used for much needed improvements to the facilities and to realize Father Hartke’s goal of operating year-round.


Olney adds two shows to its season, now beginning production in April and ending around late October. A scene shop and a costume shop are added to the mainstage building. (Prior sets were built outside, and costumes were built on the Crawford House Porch.)


Jim Petosa is appointed Artistic director of the newly renamed Olney Theatre Center (OTC). He renews emphasis on 20th century American classics, musical theater, new works, and area premieres.


OTC celebrates the 50th consecutive touring year of National Players. During these 50 years, National Players reached 2,400,000 audience members, traveled 1,760,000 miles (including 10 overseas tours and five White House receptions) and gave over 6,000 performances.

OTC is now a year-round theater with a seven-show mainstage season.


The Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab is built as the first step towards a new master campus plan.


OTC begins a capital campaign for a $10.5 million expansion.


The Kresge Foundation awards OTC a Special Opportunities Initiative grant totaling $1 million.


OTC acquires an additional five acres for its cultural campus.


OTC opens its new amphitheater, the Root Family Stage at Will’s Place, finally giving a permanent home to its Summer Shakespeare Festival. OTC holds the Grand Opening of its New Mainstage theater, a 429-seat facility with stadium seating and advanced technical capabilities.


OTC expands its mainstage season to 8 plays and introduces its New Play Initiative with the world premiere of In the Mood. OTC holds its first Gala Celebration in over 20 years.


Jim Petosa, Artistic Director, announces that he will step down in 2012, after 19 years with Olney Theatre.


Under new Artistic Director Jason Loewith, Olney Theatre Center celebrates its 75th Anniversary, presenting a bold, nine-show season and an exciting plan for expanded programming further cementing Olney’s future as a leading artistic institution in the Baltimore-Washington Metro area.


Debbie Ellinghaus joins Olney Theatre Center as Managing Director.


Olney Theatre Center celebrates the 10 year anniversary of the opening of the Mainstage by producing 4 full-scale musicals in that space. In March, Olney Theatre Center announces the change from a calendar year Theatre Season to a September - August season.