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Our History

Founded in 1917 on the eve of America’s entry into World War I by seven suffragettes, American Theatre Wing has spent a century using theatre to advance human experience, empathy and cultural growth.

Broadway’s not what it used to be.
Betty Comden

We were founded on investing in bravery

On the eve of America’s entry into World War I, seven suffragists – playwright and director Rachel Crothers, actress and playwright Louise Closser Hale and actresses Dorothy Donnelly, Josephine Hull, Minnie Dupree, Elizabeth Tyree and Louise Drew—all women of the theatre—came together to form an organization called The Stage Women’s War Relief dedicated to supporting the troops. The Stage Women went on to raise more than seven million dollars for American soldiers and became one of the most significant active relief organizations in the world. This moment in 1917 sealed the fate of the American theatre community, uniting it with a new vision of patriotism, born out of the performing arts.

We evolved by fostering theatre, community and creative growth

In 1940, amidst another World War gaining traction, Antoinette Perry picked up where the Stage Women’s War Relief left off, renaming the effort the American Theatre Wing. The Wing went on to establish the Stage Door CanteenTM which served soldiers through theatric entertainment. The Wing donated $75,000 dollars to the USO to inaugurate drama as legitimate entertainment for troops overseas while sparking excitement for theatre back home.

When the war ended, American Theatre Wing began to focus on education and the advancement of theatre in service of community. The American Theatre Wing Professional School, founded by Antoinette Perry, was formed. The Professional School went on to teach the likes of Bob Fosse, Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones, and many other theatre legends.

We’re known for awarding excellence in American Theatre

In 1946 Antoinette “Tony” Perry passed away. One year later, an award was eponymously named in honor of her heroic work for the American theatre community, and the first Tony was granted. Today, the Tony Awards remain the highest honor in American theatre, commanding theatre’s recognition as a timelessly relevant art form for advancing national culture and personal human experience.

Our history remains foundational to what we do today

One hundred years later, the spirit and vision behind the founding of American Theatre Wing remains a touchstone for all that we do. A few of The Wing’s recent endeavors include:

The Andrew Lloyd Weber Initiative, which expands The Wing’s commitment to theatre education by supporting under-resourced U.S. public schools to create new, or strengthen existing, theatre programs. Learn more about the initiative’s impact.

Working In Theatre—our acclaimed documentary series that reveals American theatre’s inner-workings and captures interviews with theatre legends. Our growing library of films have been broadcast to over seven million households and viewed online over 50,000 times per month. Watch the best of Working in the Theatre.

The Obie Awards: In 2014, The Wing joined forces with The Village Voice to present The Off-Broadway Theatre Awards (The Obies) to honor the best in Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway theatre. Learn more about The Obies and the theatre luminaries that the award celebrates.

Theatre Needs You

Foster the progressive, pluralistic nature of artistic expression in American theatre. Invest in young people’s access to theatre education to foster an industry of artists as diverse as the American people.