Now in its 34th season, MRT is the only non-profit professional theatre serving Greater Lowell and its surrounding region. It is one of just three LORT theatres in Massachusetts and eight in New England. MRT’s performance facility is the 279-seat Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, located in the Liberty Hall wing of Lowell Memorial Auditorium, a city-owned venue constructed in 1922 and located in downtown Lowell. Spurred by the receipt of a prestigious Kresge Foundation grant, the theatre received a complete interior renovation in 2012.
MRT’s seven-play season is produced and presented from September through May, serving an audience of 40,000 including a stable base of 4,000 subscribers. For the 12-13 Season, 82% of subscribers renewed their subscriptions with 90% of those purchasing a full 7-production package before play titles were announced. This loyal audience has been built by the regular selection of contemporary plays with titles that are largely unfamiliar to the majority of patrons; programming that, in the words of a Nashua (NH) Telegraph critic, “delights us with novelty and makes us think.”
When Charles Towers joined MRT in 2001, he evaluated available resources and articulated a “small but excellent” producing philosophy that has been a key contributor to MRT’s financial stability. By placing an emphasis on quality over size, the company intensified an existing commitment to contemporary and new work. Although there is a desire to gradually increase the number of actor contracts per season, Towers recognizes that the intimacy of the Donahue Theatre has allowed him to put an emphasis on the primary relationship in the Theatre: that which exists between outstanding actors and an inquisitive and engaged audience.
The Board of Trustees and Towers, with the support of loyal and generous donors, recently completed a decade-long revitalization of the organization. In 2001, MRT undertook a $1 million capital campaign that resulted in the renovation of a 17,000 square foot commercial condominium into The Donahue Center which houses the organization’s administrative offices, rehearsal hall, and artist/intern housing units just four blocks from the theatre. In 2004, the company conducted a $1.5 million operational campaign called “Keep Live Theatre Alive” with the expressed goal of adding an Executive Director to the leadership team and to take steps to achieve financial stability. The campaign solicited five year pledges to insure donors that the stated goals would be met. With the hiring of MRT’s first Executive Director, Tom Parrish, in 2006 and by successfully operating in the black for six consecutive years while still maintaining artistic excellence on stage, MRT fulfilled its promise to the community. To sustain fiscal stability, the company has had to make some difficult financial choices to keep expenses in line. The last major initiative was the $850,000 campaign for the long-overdue renovation of the theatre. Accompanying this initiative were other institutional improvements including a unified phone system, the instillation of “Audience View” patron database, and a refreshed logo and website – all done with customer service in mind. MRT views this as the final piece of the turnaround, which focused needed attention on facility, financial and institutional development, forcing a rapid maturation of off-stage operations, bringing them to the level of the artistic work on stage.
MRT is committed to striking a balance between artistic achievement and economic accessibility, producing exceptional works while offering a variety of discount programs for students, seniors and underserved communities. Every ticket, even those listed as “full price” are subsidized in order to make them affordable for everyone. Complementing MRT’s main-stage programming are several education and outreach initiatives. These include MRT’s High School Matinee Series/Partners in Education program offering reduced-price or free student tickets; an internship program offering stipends, housing and academic credit; partnerships with UMass Lowell and other area colleges to teach courses, provide hands-on work experience, and provide discounted tickets for faculty, staff and students; MRT’s Young Company summer theatre camp; a “Producers Circle Insider’s Look” preview series for key stakeholders; regularly scheduled Post-Show Discussions; and educational content on websites, blogs and social media sites.
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