Today, we turn 100 years young!
On January 11th, 1916, The Drama League of New York was incorporated separately from the Chicago-based Drama League of America, and established its first Board of Directors, a unique group of twelve men and twelve women that included theater professionals, writers, businessmen, and patrons of the arts. The first Executive Director was was theater critic Kenneth Macgowan.
The League's role during our first century was varied and vital:
- During the First World War, The Drama League of New York provided theatrical entertainment three times a week for soldiers in nearby boot camps.
- The Drama League Travel Bureau arranged theater weekends for high school and college students in the New York area in our earliest years.
- With the encouragement of the national organization, The Drama League of New York provided the impetus for making 1917 American Drama Year.
- To meet the needs of an increasing numbers of amateur theatre productions, in 1917 The League opened the Drama Book Shop, the first retail store devoted entirely to theater arts. Along with the Public Library’s theater collection and reading room, the book shop was located in The Drama League’s offices. The store soon separated from the League, and still stands on 40th St.
- Drama magazine, the first publication devoted to the dramatic arts, was created and published by the national parent organization, The Drama League of America. Members of The Drama League of New York were also among the original founders of Theater Arts magazine.
- From its earliest days, The Drama League of New York supported and advanced the "Little Theater" movement throughout the United States.
- In 1922 The League appointed a “special jury” of the most knowledgeable scholars and artists of the day to select the ten most significant theatrical events of the season. Among those honored in the 1920s was Charles S. Gilpin, star of O’Neill’s play The Emperor Jones. By becoming the first organization to present an award to an African-American actor, The League focused increased attention on the talents and contributions of minority artists.
- In 1934, the League created the first award in North America for distinguished performance in a theatrical production. The Delia Austrian Distinguished Performance Medal was first presented in 1935 to Katharine Cornell for her portrayal of Juliet. The Distinguished Performance medal is still presented annually - the oldest continuous theatrical honor in America. In 2015, it was presented to Chita Rivera for her performance in The Visit.
- In 1955, The League established its first scholarship award, which enabled actor Robert Prosky to attend the American Theater Wing School. The following year, it began offering a scholarship to a student attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
- In 1984, then President Julia Hansen founded the Directors Project, filling the gap left after the NEA ended the Directors Fellows Program. Since its founding, the Directors Project has helped strengthen the careers and skills of more than 300 talented theatre directors, many of whom have gone on to be Artistic Directors of companies around the country, as well as Tony Award-winning Broadway directors here in New York.
- In 2009, the Theater Hall of Fame honored The Directors Project with its Excellence in Arts Education Award.
We look forward to continuing that vital work in to our second century - expanding and growing to serve more American artists and audiences.
But first... we celebrate!
Tonight we are hosting our birthday party at Feinstein' s/54 Below. Featuring entertainment by Bebe Neuwirth, John Gallagher Jr., Lena Hall, Cynthia Erivo, Alex Brightman and more. At this wonderful ocassion, we are thrilled to launch our latest career development initative for emerging artists, the Leo Shull New Musicals Fellowship.
Our eternal thanks to all our members, supporters, former and current staff and Board members, Directors Project alumni and the amazing community of artists who have helped us achieve this incredible milestone. We couldn't have done it with you! We wish you all a happy Drama League of New York Day!