Founded in 1963 by Jacques Cartier, Hartford Stage began in a former grocery store warehouse on Kinsley Street. On April 1, 1964, Othello, directed by Cartier, opened the theatre, which quickly established itself as a major cultural resource for the region, producing seasons offering a range of works from Molière to Beckett to Genet. Paul Weidner, who assumed leadership of the theatre in 1968, oversaw its move to its present home-the 489-seat John W. Huntington Theatre, designed by renowned architect Robert Venturi. Weidner continued the theatre's dedication to both classic and contemporary works, as well as representing diverse communities with productions of Ray Aranha's My Sister My Sister and Miguel Pinero's Short Eyes, with its original cast of ex-convicts. Mark Lamos became Artistic Director in 1980, bringing international recognition to Hartford Stage during his seventeen seasons with explorations of the great works of dramatic literature, most notably the plays of Shakespeare, Molière, Ibsen and Schnitzler. In January 1998, Michael Wilson became the fourth artist to lead Hartford Stage, launching the Tennessee Williams Marathon, the annual production of A Christmas Carol, the annual Brand:NEW festival, and SummerStage. Darko Tresnjak became the fifth Artistic Director in July of 2011.
Among the plays produced at Hartford Stage are nine plays by Edward Albee, nine by Molière, 14 by Tennessee Williams, 22 by Shakespeare, and 55 World or American premieres, including works by Edward Albee, Horton Foote, Eve Ensler, Alfred Uhry, Christopher Durang, Beth Henley, Vladimir Nabokov, Kia Corthron, Israel Horowitz, William Luce, Theresa Rebeck, Allan Havis, José Rivera, Edwin Sànchez and Tennessee Williams.
Hartford Stage has sent productions of Enchanted April and The Gershwin's Fascinating Rhythm to Broadway, Tiny Alice, Necessary Targets, The Carpetbaggers Children and Tea at Five off Broadway, and touring productions to Cleveland, Houston, Cambridge, Los Angeles, Montreal and Paris. In 1975, Hartford Stage's production of Edward Albee's All Over was aired nationally on the PBS series Theater in America, the first time one of the author's works was filmed for television. In 1988, in the first exchange between an American and a Soviet theatre, Mark Lamos staged Desire Under the Elms at Moscow's Pushkin Theater and the renowned Russian director Yuri Yeremin staged A Paper Gramophone in Hartford.
The Tennessee Williams Marathon, launched in 1999, has become a distinguished celebration of the author's range of work in productions, readings, film screenings, workshops and scholarly panels and discussions. In 2003, Hartford Stage draws national attention with the premieres of three neglected Williams' plays-Now the Cats with Jeweled Claws, The Palooka and The One Exception.
Hartford Stage has presented the world premieres of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder on Broadway, winner of four 2014 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Direction of a Musical by Darko; Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Water by the Spoonful, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama; Breath & Imagination by Daniel Beaty; and Big Dance Theatre’s Man in a Case with Mikhail Baryshnikov.
From its inception, Hartford Stage has maintained a strong commitment to community partnerships, educational programs and humanities initiatives. Reviving an old collaboration, in 2000 Hartford Stage joined with the Artists' Collective for the production Oedipus, set in modern-day Africa. Through a partnership with the City of Hartford, HUD, and Theater Communications Group, the theatre developed the Oral History Project, resulting in the piece My Hartford, developed and performed by teens from the Hartford area. The theatre continues its two highly successful education programs, InterACT and Connections, reaching Connecticut students from elementary through high school. Through an association with The President's College of the University of Hartford, the theater presents provocative series of discussions and lectures. A collaboration with the Greater Hartford Arts Council's Neighborhood Studios program resulted in the Breakdancing Shakespeare project, in which local Greater Hartford high school students perform using three different forms of expression: breakdancing, rap, and Shakespeare's language to help make the play immediately accessible to audiences of all ages. The youth troupe has performed Love’s Labour’s Lost (2014), Two Gentlemen of Verona (2013), Much Ado About Nothing (2012), The Tempest (2011), Macbeth (2010), The Comedy of Errors (2009), Antony & Cleopatra (2008), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2007) and Romeo & Juliet (2006).
Hartford Stage is an important institution in the life of Hartford and Connecticut, and serves as a vital home for artists from around the country.