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BWW Exclusive: NTI Changed My Life - MTC's Barry Grove

The National Theater Institute includes a vibrant community of over 3,500 alumni. The many talents of these actors, writers, directors, producers, and designers can be seen on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in films, television, London's West End, and at every major regional theater in the U.S.

Today, in an excerpt from The O'Neill: Transformation of Modern American Theater, we hear from Manhattan Theatre Club Executive Producer Barry Grove who cites his semester away at NTI for "literally changing the arc of my life - it led to Broadway, the National Playwrights Conference, my Equity card as a Stage Manager, the RSC with the infant Shakespeare & Co, a national tour launch, and a summer stock tour - all before I graduated from Dartmouth!"

BWW Exclusive: NTI Changed My Life - MTC's Barry Grove

A flyer on the bulletin board of the Dartmouth drama department changed Barry Grove's life. It announced a program that promised college students a semester of professional training in the theater. He applied. "I was nineteen, a sophomore at Dartmouth, and I came to the very first semester." The first semester of the National Theater Institute (NTI), fall, 1970.

As it was the first semester, much of the program was put together on the fly, but Grove was unaware of whatever organizational challenges the organizers faced behind the scenes. All he knew was that he was instantly immersed in training in a dazzling variety of theatrical disciplines. "One day, we were in kimonos with bamboo sticks banging on each other, and another, Margo and Rufus Rose appeared and we were playing with Howdy Doody and making puppets. Jess Adkins was teaching acting in a serious way, David Hays and Fred Voelpel were teaching design, J Ranelli and Melvin Bernhardt did some classes in directing. Our playwriting teachers were Frank Gagliano and Lee Kalcheim." Contemporaneous articles in [the local newspaper] that other teachers who shared their knowledge during that first semester included playwrights Robert Anderson and Paul Zindel, designer John Gleason, puppeteer Bill Baird, and directors Jules Irving and Stuart Vaughan. According to Grove, the O'Neill's founder also pitched in. "George White taught us fencing." White also hosted a brunch for the kids at his Waterford house, during which he introduced Grove to his first taste of New York theatrical culinary culture. "My first Bloody Mary, and my first bagel and lox."

BWW Exclusive: NTI Changed My Life - MTC's Barry Grove
A movement class during the first semester of the National Theater Institute, 1970. Barry Grove is standing second from the left. Photo by Philip A. Biscuti.

The semester culminated in putting together a show that the students toured to several colleges in the east. Grove's organizational skills must have attracted attention, because J Ranelli called him during Christmas break with an offer to assist director Melvin Bernhardt on the Broadway premiere of Paul Zindel's play, And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little. It meant taking a leave of absence from school. "One day I was home, back to just being a kid, and the next day I was having lunch with Julie Harris and Estelle Parsons at Sardi's." Harris, Parsons, and Nancy Marchand were among the stars of the production that he accompanied through out-of-town tryouts before opening on Broadway. This led to being invited to be a stage manager at the 1971 [National] Playwrights Conference. Grove then held a series of jobs at the O'Neill and met a young woman who assisted Lloyd Richards and Ernie Schier there. Her name was Rosemary Barnsdall Blackmon (known to her friends as Maggie), and they married soon after.

A few years later, George C. White found himself on the board of a new venture whose artistic director, Lynne Meadow, was a fellow alum of Yale. White gave Grove a glowing recommendation, the chemistry between Meadow and Grove clicked, and they built Manhattan Theater Club into one of New York's key nonprofit institutions, now producing seasons both on and off-Broadway and regularly introducing major plays (including several Tony and Pulitzer Prize winners) to the canon.

Read more about Barry's experience at NTI as well as hundreds of other stories from 50 years of theatrical history in The O'Neill: Transformation of Modern American Theater by Jeffrey Sweet published by Yale University Press in 2014.

To celebrate Barry's 40 year milestone at Manhattan Theatre Club, a special documentary featuring Cherry Jones, Lynne Meadow, John Lee Beatty, David Auburn, and Valerie Harper captures his journey from a young student with a big idea to an industry heavyweight who has changed the face of American theater.

Barry Grove is in his 40th year as the Executive Producer of the Manhattan Theatre Club where, in partnership with Artistic Director Lynne Meadow, he has produced over 380 American and world premieres. Since its founding in 1970, MTC productions have earned 19 Tony® Awards, 6 Pulitzer Prizes, 48 Obie Awards, 32 Drama Desk Awards, as well as numerous Outer Critics Circle, Theatre World Awards and, in 2001, the prestigious Jujamcyn Award. Among the numerous plays produced by MTC are GOOD PEOPLE, THE WHIPPING MAN, TIME STANDS STILL, RUINED, SHINING CITY, RABBIT HOLE, DOUBT,TRANSLATIONS, THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST'S WIFE, PROOF, BLACKBIRD, CRIMES OF THE HEART, AND KING HEDLEY II. Mr. Grove is a member of the LORT Executive Committee, the Broadway League and the Tony Administration Committee and is a trustee of the Equity-League Pension and Health Trust Funds. He has served as President of the Off-Broadway League and the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, as Treasurer of TCG and as a Board Member of BC/EFA. He has also served on numerous panels, including a term as Chairman of the theatre panel for both the NEA and the New York State Council on the Arts. He received the 2000 Edith Oliver Award for sustained Excellence Off-Broadway, the Arts and Business Council's 1997 Arts Management Excellence Award, and a citation from the New York City Council, which declared June 4, 1990, "Barry Grove Day." A Dartmouth graduate, he is a past Chairman of the Board of Overseers of the Hopkins Center/Hood Museum of Art. Mr. Grove is an adjunct professor at both Yale and Columbia universities.

Learn more about NTI's acclaimed semester-long, credit-earning training intensives by visiting and Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube (@NTIRiskFailRisk).

With a singular schedule and an unmatched breadth of training, the National Theater Institute's semester-long programs offer students a springboard to the professional world at the two-time Tony Award-winning Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. Founded in 1970, NTI's credit-earning theater intensives -- taught by industry professionals and master teachers -- train actors, singers, directors, dancers, designers, playwrights and composers.

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