Founded in 1964, Actors Theater is the preeminent professional theater in Kentucky. In 1974 it was declared the State Theater of Kentucky. Over the past 30 years, it has consistently maintained a strong reputation as an innovative, professional, world-class company.
Before there was ATL, as it is often abbreviated, there were Actors Inc. and the Theater of Louisville. Under the founding directors, Richard Block and Ewel Cornet, the two companies merged and began staging plays in the old Gypsy Tea Room on South Fourth Street. Once the company had grown beyond those surroundings, it moved to the vacant Illinois Central Railroad Station on Seventh Street.
In 1969, Jon Jory was appointed producing director and made his debut with Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood.
In the early 1970s ATL acquired the old Bank of Louisville Building on Main Street between Third and Fourth Streets. The historic building, built in 1837, was renovated and merged with the adjacent Myers-Thomspson Display Building. The renovations resulted in the 637-seat Pamela Brown Auditorium with a thrust stage, which opened in 1972. Six months later, the 159-seat Victor Jory Theater, a three-quarter arena space, opened.
In 1976 Jory started the Humana Festival of New American Plays. This famous international exposition of dramatic literature has produced hundreds of plays in a variety of formats. This festival has been the premiere of several Pulitzer Prize winners, including Agnes of God and Crimes of the Heart. Other festivals hosted by ATL are The Brown-Forman Classics in Context Festival and The Bingham Signature Shakespeare.
Among the many awards received by the theater, one that stands out is the 1980 Tony Award for outstanding non-profit resident theater.
Presently, the theater now features, in addition to the spaces cited above, the 318-seat Bingham Theater, a flexible arena theater. Built in 1994, the Bingham Theater was just the first of a long series of upgrades and improvements to ATL's spaces throughout the 1990s. In this large theater complex, more than 600 shows of about 30 productions get seen by an average of about 235,000 people a year.
Jon Jory retired from ATL in September 2000 to take a teaching position at the University of Washington at Seattle. He has been succeeded by Alexander Speer, Jory's long-time partner and ATL veteran since the founding.