The year was 1946. Henry Fairbanks, a Saint Michael’s College humanities professor, had the idea to create a professional theater company that would bring to Vermont the best talent in the theater business to produce the highest quality theatrical productions.
Henry, along with his friend and colleague Eliot Duvey, famed director of the Boston Tributary Theatre, worked with officials at Actors’ Equity Association in New York to assemble a professional theater company which would operate in residence at the college. From countless discussions, letters, and rounds of negotiations a new professional theater company, aptly named Saint Michael’s Playhouse, emerged.
From New York, Hollywood and Boston came seasoned professional actors to form the resident company of the first summer stock theater in Northern Vermont.
On opening night, June 30, 1947, the Playhouse was ablaze with colorful lights. Flashy king-size cars pulled into the parking area on the lawn while excited theatergoers in evening dress mingled on the grand porch of Austin Hall anxiously awaiting the Playhouse’s premiere performance. As the show ended and the curtain came down, five-hundred first-nighters rose to their feet and applauded for a dozen curtain calls, and so a Vermont tradition was born.
During the following years the Playhouse grew and enjoyed decades of successful summer theater seasons until in 1970 the wooden building that housed the Playhouse burned to the ground. All might have been lost had it not been for Michael and Margaret McCarthy, two major financial contributors to the college, deciding to fund a new theater as a permanent home for the Playhouse. And in 1975, the Playhouse celebrated a grand-reopening in one of the finest theater facilities in the state of Vermont, the McCarthy Arts Center Theater.
Now, hundreds of productions and more than one million audience members later, Saint Michael’s Playhouse is bigger and stronger than ever as actors from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional theaters, along with a stellar pool of professional actors from the Greater Burlington area, continue to share their talents with Greater Burlington residents and visitors.