How Princeton Attracts Audiences for Song and Stage

McCarter Theater is a cultural treasure in Princeton’s back yard. There’s a vibe of excitement, creativity, “happening” and buzzing energy in the place that is its signature. A state of the art performing arts center situated between New York City and Philadelphia – on the campus of Princeton University – McCarter has a celebrated history of featuring world class talent and launching hit shows dating back to 1929. Whether you walked the halls then – or enter our doors now – the vibe is palpable: a prestigious and active creative hub where world class performers, headliners, groundbreaking artists and burgeoning talent light up the stages and fill the rehearsal studios.

McCarter is also in and around our communities all year-round – connecting locally with on site and virtual classes for all ages, in school residencies, summer camp, student matinees, a Shakespeare reading group and topical engagement events. During the pandemic we did what artists do best – improvised! We partnered with Palmer Square on a free outdoor concert series, and launched award winning virtual programming – Bard at the Gate with Pulitzer Prize Winning playwright Paula Vogel.

The theater is uniquely positioned as a multi-disciplinary creative hub at the intersection of arts and ideas – celebrated for artists of the highest caliber, the creation of new work, the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, presenting work with a point of view, sparking conversation – and a place where the audiences of all ages can find meaning and joy. McCarter’s relationship with Princeton University further distinguishes us as a destination for dialogue where the arts provide a portal to the prescient issues of our time and allow a diverse range of voices and perspectives to be heard. Together with the University, we share a long history of unique collaborations and partner projects including the Princeton and Slavery Project, the Migration Plays, a groundbreaking free virtual theater experience called The Manic Monologues, creating a conversation around mental health through the arts – and in the pipeline, a commissioning project around the work of Toni Morrison through the Princeton archives.

McCarter continues to be a favorite spot for celebrated tours, headlining artists, famous solo performers, and shows that have gone on to global fame. The list is expansive – from theater, classical, jazz, pop, rock bands, dance, spoken word, comedy, family shows, student produced events and since the pandemic, virtual experiences that are accessible to audiences all over the world.

Audra McDonald Portraits. CREDIT: Allison Michael Orenstein

Some of the most exciting and lasting theatrical work was launched on our stages – The World Premiere of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and more recently – Christopher Durang’s Tony Award winning Broadway hit play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Icons, headliners, renowned companies and famous singer/songwriters have called McCarter “home”: Martha Graham, YoYo Ma, Kaufman & Hart, Bette Midler, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springstein, Cat Stevens, Glenn Close, Rosemarie Harris, Harry Connick Jr., Miles Davis, Savion Glover, Keb Mo, Itzhak Perlman, Alvin Ailey, Audra McDonald, David Sedaris, The Moth, Andy Borowitz, Lewis Black, Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Roseanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Lake Street Dive, Shawn Colvin, Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussein, Gregory Hines, Luciano Pavarotti and more.

The high caliber of talent continues – and it’s right in your backyard. On April 30, 2022 performances begin for an extraordinarily timely musical – Ride the Cyclone – directed by McCarter’s new Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen, about the power of human resilience in the face of adversity. On June 4th, the highly anticipated annual Gala – a party not to be missed – features the incredible jazz, soul and gospel vocalist Gregory Porter.  And following, McCarter’s Jazz in June series has a packed line up of stars.

But the real stars are the people behind all these hit shows and generations of talent. McCarter’s staff, Board of Directors, donors, University partners, community collaborators, audiences, students and friends are what makes the place a unique stand out. When you are at McCarter, whether for a concert, a play, a talk, a class, a drink in the Member Lounge, or a first-time peek-to-see-what-its-all-about, you will feel that special vibe, and you will understand why it’s the best cultural community spot in town.