The playwright finds the right words. The actor then breathes life into those words. Yet, for the audience to feel anything, the venue itself plays a vital role.
In the U.S., there are many places where live theater is enjoyed, exalted and revered. Many of these places however, are so large that the experience can be lessened.
Fortunately, there are venues small enough to allow attendees an up-close-and-personal experience of live theater. To celebrate these venues, we've created a list of what we consider the 50 best small stage theaters in America.
The following theaters have a capacity of 625 or less. All the small stage theaters on our list enrich, educate, and enlighten. They are run by passionate people who value the actors, the audiences and the arts.
When you attend a play or musical at Chance Theater @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center expect excitement and something risky. You should also expect socially conscious works produced by passionate and talented artists. There are two stages: Cripe Stage and Fyda-Mar Stage. Cripe Stage is an intimate but comfortable blackbox theater with a flexible seating capacity, ranging from 98-130, making it a terrific place to enjoy a show. The other stage is the Fyda-Mar, which is a fixed 50-seat space set in stadium proscenium.
Image courtesy of theatre's Facebook page.
La Jolla Playhouse was founded in 1947 by Gregory Peck, Mel Ferrer, and Dorothy McGuire. Located on the campus of the University of California, LJP is famous for its innovated theater productions and has won nearly three dozen Tony Awards. There are several performance spaces at La Jolla with the Mandell Weiss Theatre being the largest.
If you're looking for something different then check out the calendar of the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, also known as REDCAT. The performance space is the heart of Los Angeles' avant-garde theatre scene. The company's technologically advanced black-box theater is inside the amazing Walt Disney Concert Hall complex.^ top
There are two other performance spaces at the El Portal Theatre (as well an art gallery), but the Debbie Reynolds MainStage, like its namesake, is the jewel. Come to EPT when you want a fantastic night of entertainment delivered by world class artists. You've probably seen El Portal before. It has been used in countless television shows and movies.
The nationally renowned A Noise Within Theatre Company uses modern tech to produce classic theater. While their focus is on the classics, their productions are never stale or trite. In fact, they're quite fresh and exhilarating. Their state-of-the-art Redmond Stage opened in 2011. ANWTC also runs a slew of educational programs.
A full-sized set on A Noise Within Theatre Company's Redmond Stage. Image courtesy of theatre's Facebook page.
Dragon Productions Theatre Company produces plays that are powerful, moving, and intimate; there's never anything common about a Dragon drama. DPTC works tirelessly to connect their audiences to their performers and to make their productions accessible. This affable nonprofit was founded in 1999.^ top
The Mojo Theatre's Epic Mainstage, found inside the Redstone Building, is the smallest venue on our list. Don't let that fool you. When it comes to socially conscious and politically astute theater, Mojo looms large. Founded in 2010, the company produces two types of shows: text-based and thematic cabaret.
City Lights Theater Company loves to tell stories. When they do, they don't hold back. “Intense” and “powerful” are commonly used adjectives to describe their productions. Besides classic works, CLTC produces new plays and hosts concerts by burgeoning local musicians. Their stage is intimate, which is fortunate, because it perfectly suits their type of events.^ top
As their name implies, Goodspeed Musicals produces musicals, both “new and newly revived.” The Goodspeed Opera House is a beautiful building constructed in the 1870s. It was not built for operas, but plays. The theater part of the opera house is located on the building's top two floors. This presents challenges for Goodspeed's creative staff when bringing in scenery and equipment.
The Westport Country Playhouse is on a mission. They want to change lives through quality live theatre. They also partake in education, host special events, and produce musicals that are appropriate for the entire family. Westport Country Playhouse was originally built in 1835. It was turned into a theater in 2005.
The volunteer-based Theatre Jacksonville engages and transforms their community through the power of live theater. The company has been producing captivating works since 1919. With nearly a century of quality programing under their proverbial belts, it's easy to see why Theatre Jacksonville is one of their city's most beloved cultural institutions.
Maltz Jupiter Theatre is a non-profit that originated in 2001. Its theatre was built by Burt Reynolds. The space was renovated and renamed in 2004. When not staging award-winning shows, MJT focuses heavily on education and community outreach. Maltz annually serves more than 100,000 theater aficionados.
OnStage Atlanta uses the artistry of live theatre to entertain and enlighten patrons. The company produces an eclectic mix of works. Regardless of the genre, or if the characters are singing their emotions, OnStage Atlanta delivers compelling storytelling to the theater-going public in Fulton and DeKalb Counties.
Many of the shows running at Annoyance Theatre & Bar started out as improv. That includes the establishment's flagship musical, Coed Prison Sluts. Improvised or not, every show at AT&B will have you rolling on the floor with laughter. All are welcome at Annoyance, as long as you're over the age of 14.
6912 North Glenwood Avenue
Past Productions: Anna Karenina, A Wrinkle in Time, Midnight Cowboy
Lifeline Theatre takes great literary works and turns them into great theatrical works. They've been doing so since 1982. Additionally, they produce a KidSeries for younger theater-goers. In 1985, LT moved into their current home in Rogers Park. Before they took over the space, it was a Commonwealth Edison substation.
MCL Chicago is all about blending music and comedy. They do so in a fun, innovative, and creative atmosphere. Their name, “MCL,” stands for “music and/or comedy happening live.” Their main stage is ideal for both live music and live comedy. It's cozy and simple for anyone who likes to laugh and sing along.
When you exit the Silver Spring Black Box, you and your companion(s) will probably be vehemently discussing the play you just experienced. That's exactly what Forum Theatre wants. They want people talking about live theater. They also want live theater to be affordable. Yet, their dedication to low theater ticket prices doesn't mean they skimp on quality. FT produces first-rate dramas.
The American Repertory Theater, or A.R.T., is a professional theater located on the campus of Harvard University. A.R.T. was founded in 1980. Since then, it has earned a reputation for generating indelible theater experiences and capturing a bunch of major awards. The Loeb Drama Center is A.R.T.'s main stage. It's second stage is OBERON (located on Arrow Street).
The American Repertory Theater's production of WARHOLCAPOTE. Image courtesy of theater's Facebook page.
Where does Broadway summer? Well, when the Great White Way needs a holiday it goes to The Cape Playhouse. Since 1927, TCP has been Cape Cod's summer theater destination. Over the years, icons like Bette Davis, Henry Fond, and Bernadette Peters have walked the boards at the iconic playhouse.
This top-tier community theater is found at the old Firehouse on School Street—the Black Box Theater is on the first floor. The Marblehead Little Theatre is an all-volunteer non-profit as well as a huge part of the Marblehead community. They launched their first production in January of 1956 at a local junior high school.^ top
Barrington Stage Company has three aims. One, BSC wants to put on the best shows. Two, they want to develop new works, including new musicals. Three, they want to introduce the theater experience to as many people as possible, especially those with youth on their side. Their other performance space, the St. Germain Stage, seats 136.
The Duluth Playhouse is getting ready to move into their new facility, NorShor Theatre on East Superior Street. That venue more than doubles the capacity of their current space. TDP produces entertaining theater of all kinds for every-type of theatre goer. Founded in 1914, the Duluth Playhouse is one of the oldest community theaters in the United States.
20% Theater Company Twin Cities is the only entry on our list that's not connected to a single venue. They perform all over Minneapolis. We've included the company because they're an important fixture on the theatrical landscape. 20% supports, promotes, and celebrates works by female and transgender artists.
The theatrical professionals at Metro Theater Company produce classic and original works. Most of their productions are geared toward younger audiences. While their main stage is The Grandel, MTC has performed in 41 states and four countries. Everyday you'll find MTC out in their community, educating and enriching.
Stray Dog Theatre is all about “unleashing” the power of theater—that's their word, not ours. SDT creates theater that entertains, challenges, and inspires. This nonprofit is as passionate as they are professional. They produce shows at the Tower Grove Abbey which is found near Tower Grove Park and the Botanical Gardens.
At the center of the 18b Arts District in Las Vegas, you'll find a cozy and versatile performance space known as Art Square Theatre. It's the main venue of Cockroach Theatre. CT was created in 2003 by former members of UNLV's Department of Theatre. Cockroach produces genius stuff and they're not afraid to tackle dark material.
McCarter Theatre Center welcomes more than 200,000 theater-goers a year. They also hold the distinction of being the only organization in the nation that produces professional theater and presents big-time performing artists. MTC is committed to bringing a wide variety of art forms to the Princeton community.
The first organization to use the theater at 1 Sheridan Square was The Ridiculous Theatrical Company. The Axis Theatre Company took over the reins in 1998. ATC produces aggressive and surreal theater. Their productions utilize technology as well as a variety of media. If you want a fully-immersed theatre experience, then attend an Axis Theatre Company production.
Besides the Ellen Stewart Theatre, the La Mama campus features the First Floor Theater, The Downstairs, and The Club. La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club was founded in 1961 by Ellen Stewart. It has won dozens of awards and helped to launch the careers of several prominent artists including Sam Shepard, Harvey Fierstein, Blue Man Group, and David Sedaris.
There's a lot of tradition at the Theatre at St. Clement's. It's the third oldest, continually operating theater in the Big Apple that's not on Broadway. Furthermore, the space is home to The Peccadillo Theater Company. PTC stages works that are culturally relevant but rarely revived. Peccadillo is a non-profit that was founded in 1994.
North Carolina Stage Company presents five plays a season at their inviting and intimate theater in downtown Asheville. This award-winning company also produces works at several other venues in Western North Carolina. NCSC produces both classic and contemporary works.
Know Theatre of Cincinnati knows the value of taking risks. The company fosters an atmosphere where artists can take chances and audience can enjoy those chances. That's why so many of their productions explode off the stage and evoke deep emotions. Bottom line: Know Theatre's creations expertly blend edginess and accessibility.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival uses three performance spaces. The largest is the Angus Bowmer Theatre. The second largest is the Thomas Theatre. It seats up to 360. The third venue, The Allen Elizabethan Theatre, is outdoors. The OSF was founded in 1935. That makes it one of the oldest professional non-profit theatres in the U.S. Their seasons spans more than eight months and during that time they produce 11 plays.
The New Stage Auditorium is home to the Broadway Rose Theatre Company. During the summer, they utilize the Deb Fennell Auditorium which is located on the campus of a nearby high school. BRTC's forte is musical theater. They also produce shows for children and host workshops for teens.
The Suzanne Roberts Theatre is a top-notch performance venue that offers excellent sight lines to all attendees. The Philadelphia Theatre Company uses its performance space to produce and nurture contemporary theater. Their critically-acclaimed productions generally focus on the American journey.
The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre began life in 1984 in an abandoned mill building. From day one, SFGT has challenged and deepened the live theater experience for New Englanders. The company is known for its outstanding acting and artistic courage—they are not afraid to produce controversial works.
Austin Playhouse is one of the city's leading cultural organizations. In a city that loves art as much as Austin, that's saying something. The company began producing plays and musicals in 2000. Since then, it has had many homes. Their current residence is inside a mall owned by their partner, Austin Community College.
Teatro Dallas uses the stage to help patrons understand the myriad cultures that comprise their community. To that end, TD relies on dramatic material that supports and celebrates Latin American culture. They produce shows for audiences of all ages and do so in both Spanish and English.
Pasadena Little Theatre has a huge history. They began entertaining and enriching their community in 1955 and are still going strong. Even though they are volunteer-based, their creative team is well-versed in the ways of professional theater. If you've already seen the production running on their main stage, attend a show at their black box theater.
Sure, Classic Theatre of San Antonio routinely creates magic on their main stage and transformative works, albeit on a smaller scale. But staging entertaining theater is just part of their artistic mission. CTSA also wants to use theater to create connections and foster communications. Classic Theatre is a small non-profit professional black box theater nestled in San Antonio that seats 99. It has four mainstage performances a year. Their seasons always run from the fall to the spring. Classic also has its "Second Series" productions. For these smaller productions, The Classic Theatre partners with local and national artists to continue to expand its offerings of excellent theater that is relevant, diverse, entertaining, and transformative.
Their name, The American Shakespeare Center, tells you a lot about what kind of plays they produce. What you might not glean from their appellation is the amazing and educational experiences they create. ASC concentrates on the language of the Bard. Their productions use little to no sets and the audience and performers share the same light.
At the center of Merchant's Square in Williamsburg, you'll find the Kimball Theatre. This historic venue hosts a cornucopia of live performances including theatrical events. Starting in 2018, William & Mary's Department of Theatre & Dance will use the facility while their normal performance space is being renovated.
Wolly Mammoth Theatre Company's courtyard-style performance space is located near the National Mall and was designed by architect Mark McInturff and Theatre Projects Consultants. It's a gorgeous space that has won several awards. As for dramatic material, WMTC is famous for developing new plays—many of which go on to be successfully produced at other theaters.
What is the Annex Theatre? Well, they'll tell you that they are a “democratic collective of theatre artists.” What do they do? They produce first-rate theater that's bold, daring, and extremely imaginative. Every year, The Annex Theatre premieres eight plays by living authors. Since their formation in 1986, Annex has produced more than 300 works.
New Century Theatre Company is one of three resident theater companies producing works at the chic 12th Avenue Arts. Founded in 2008, NCTC celebrates the art of theatrical storytelling. Their productions are honest, inspirational, and audacious. New Century is operated by passionate theater-artists for passionate theatre-goers.
The configuration of the Jewell Mainstage, and its thrust stage, means you're never more than 30 feet from the actors. Their other performance space, the Isaac Studio, seats 115. Taproot Theatre Company doesn't merely produce plays, they create enlightening theatrical experiences. You'll leave the Jewell Mainstage with your imagination expanded and your spirit lifted.
Next Act Theatre is one of Milwaukee's top professional theatre companies. Their artistic offerings engage audiences on multiple emotional and intellectual levels. After all, NAT is not afraid to deal with controversial social, cultural, and political issues. Even better, they're not afraid to make audiences laugh. Basically, their plays are about life.
Skylight Music Theatre operates The Broadway Theatre Center. The center has two performance spaces: the Cabot Theatre and the smaller Studio Theatre (seats 99). The Cabot Theatre is a replica of an 18th century European opera house. Skylight produces a wide array of music-based theatrical works, everything from opera to beloved Broadway musicals.
Skylight Music Theatre's production of the Hot Mikado. Image courtesy of theatre's Facebook page.