Last Wednesday, I wrote a post called "Betrayal of the Regional Theatre Movement -- The Guthrie," in which is posted a comparison of Margo Jones' passionate commitment to the production of new plays and development of contemporary playwrights with Guthrie's commitment to classics that were at least fifty years old. Obviously, I portrayed the latter as a betrayal. As Tony rightly pointed out, Guthrie cannot be blamed for all those Artistic Directors who have continued his policies to this day. We recreate reality every day by our behavior, and Guthrie only headed the theatre named after him for two short years and then he moved on.
To call Guthrie's policy a betrayal is perhaps too strong -- it implies a level of conscious dastardliness that is undeserved. It is important to remember -- and I should have pointed this out -- that when Guthrie was building that theatre, the American theatre was almost wholly committed to the production of new plays. In many ways, Guthrie's commitment to classics represented a rejection of mainstream theatrical practice, and was (at least to some extent) a revolutionary act. His artistic policy represented a turning point in the American theatre. Where previously there had been only a one way street, Guthrie created a crossroads where a variety of decisions could be made: all new plays (Broadway), a mix of new and classic (Margo Jones and those who followed her example in Houston and Washington DC), and all classics (Guthrie).
What tilted the scales was the enormous amount of media attention Guthrie received as compared to other such theatres. This attention came because he was a celebrity, as were Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, and George Grizzard, and because his was not an "acorn" theatre that grew in small increments over a period of years, but rather was born a full-grown oak in a beautiful and unique multi-million dollar theatre. In short, the media hook was the glamor of the theatre, not in the artistic ideas or even in the plays that were produced. Without that glamor, the Guthrie would never have become the 900 lb-gorilla of the regional theatre movement, and there might be a better mix of artistic policies around.
But it did have that glamor, and it's example did become dominant, and once he had laid out that pathway it became much easier for everyone to simply follow along in the footsteps that he had blazed through the Minneapolis snow.
Today, Guthrie's model is dominant, and it is what needs to be revolted against in the same way that he revolted against the Broadway model.