Merrimack Repertory Theatre
History: The Early Years
Merrimack Repertory Theatre is a non-profit professional theatre located in Lowell, Massachusetts. Performances are presented September–May at the historic Liberty Hall, a 308-seat theatre located adjacent to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Known for its contemporary productions and classic revivals, the company currently produces seven plays each season, plus a number of education programs for students and adults.
Merrimack Repertory Theatre was co-founded in 1979 by Barabara Abrahamian, John Briggs, Mark Kaufman, and DJ Maloney. Barbara Abrahamian met actor and directors DJ Maloney and Mark Kaufman at a summer stock in NH (where Chiklis played a teen in Bye, Bye, Birdie). There they planned the beginnings a of professional non-profit theatre company in Lowell, MA. Returning to Lowell in the Fall of 1978, the three formed the Committee for Legitimate Theatre of Lowell. Maloney and Kaufman wrote the “proposal” and commuted in Maloney’s car from NYC to Lowell meeting and planning with Barbara and husband, Al. Merrimack Regional Theatre’s first venue was provided by University of Lowell President John Duff, who allowed the company use of the university’s Mahoney Hall. Merrimack Regional Theatre incorporated on February 1, 1979, and Nancy Donahue assumed presidency of the company. Maloney and Kaufman were initially Producing Artistic Directors with Briggs joining later as Managing Director. It should be noted that Barbara Abrahamian conceived the notion of professional theatre in Lowell while working with Maloney and Kaufman in the summer of 1978; Michael Chiklis was a teenager in a local stock production of Bye, Bye Birdie, his first introduction to live theatre.
Merrimack Regional Theatre opened its first production, The Passion of Dracula on October 23, 1979. Mark Kaufman was the theatre’s first Artistic Director, and John Briggs the first Managing Director.
In 1980, Merrimack Regional Theatre began a season of free outdoor theatre weekends in Mack Plaza local to downtown Lowell, MA. Acting for the theatre during this time was Michael Chiklis, of later TV drama The Shield fame. The free summer theatre program was canceled after just one season.
In 1982, the Broad of Trustees hired Dan Schay as Producing Artistic Director. One year later, Merrimack Regional Theatre moved to its current location at Liberty Hall. During the 6 month relocation, Merrimack Regional Theatre changed its name to Merrimack Repertory Theatre. During this period, the theatre’s subscription base increased dramatically, and the theatre’s budget doubled.
In 1990, David Kent became Producing Artistic Director. When David Kent left the company in 2001, the Board of Trustees selected Charles Towers as Artistic Director. Four years later, the company hired its first Executive Director Tom Parrish. In December 2010, Parrish announced he would leave at the end of February 2011 to take a similar position at a much larger theater in Rochester, New York. The Board of Trustees is currently looking for a new Executive Director.
The Young Artists at Play, a summer theatre camp for students grades 1-12, was founded in 1997. It continues today.
Merrimack Repertory Theatre Now
Merrimack Repertory Theatre has produced over 200 productions, including 14 world premieres and 32 regional premieres. Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s annual attendance exceeds 40,000 and the company has sold over one million tickets. Merrimack Repertory Theatre is committed to artistic excellence and attempts to be accessible to all members of its surrounding community with a number of discount programs for low-income communities, students and seniors. Over the last 30 years, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s education, outreach, and discount programs have served over 100,000 students and 100,000 senior citizens while building working partnerships with more than 50 different community and ethnically based service organizations. Merrimack Repertory Theatre is a member of the League of Resident Theatres. Since 2006, MRT has operated in the black.