This is Your Theater

Rebecca LeBoeuf on September 8th, 2018

MRT Celebrates its 40th Anniversary

Nearly forty years ago, the Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) was created in a skeptical city under the guidance of a board of trustees with little theater experience. Now, it is a nationally recognized theater, celebrating its 40th anniversary season throughout 2018 and 2019. 

In honor of the anniversary, the MRT is rolling out a number of events and offering discounted tickets throughout the season to make shows more accessible.

One of the most anticipated celebratory events is the production of “The Haunted Life,” adapted from Jack Kerouac’s unfinished novel.

Sean Daniels, the MRT’s artistic director, spearheaded the adaptation. “It’s a project that we started on the second I found I had the job,” says Daniels, who joined the theater in 2014.

Daniels refers to Kerouac as the “literary son of Lowell.” 

“He unabashedly loved that city and loved to write about it,” Daniels says. “This is him writing about his hometown, which is our hometown.”


First row, top left: One of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s most popular shows was “Shirley Valentine,” in the 1991-92 season, starring Sandra Shipley, and then again in the 1997-98 season – photo by John Fogle. Center: Nancy Donahue, a board chair, was one of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s founders and the first official board president. The theater is named after her – photo by Kevin Harkins. Top right: The Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s first world premiere was “First Night” by Jack Neary during the 1986-87 season, starring John Hickok and Judith Yerby – photo courtesy MRT. Second row, first on the left: Sean Daniels is the artistic director at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre – photo by Meghan Moore. Second from left: “The Passion of Dracula” by Bob Hall and David Richmond in 1979 was the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s first production, 40 years ago this fall – photo courtesy MRT. Second row, center: “The Lion” by Benjamin Scheuer, directed by Sean Daniels, from the 2015-16 Season, went on a national tour across America after playing the Merrimack Repertory Theatre – photo by Matthew Murphy. Right: Bonnie J. Butkas is the executive director at Merrimack Repertory Theatre – photo courtesy MRT.

“The Haunted Life,” written in 1944 carries a plot that continues to be relevant in 2018. According to Daniels, the story deals with political division and connecting with family members who have differing views. “It’s chilling how ahead of his time Kerouac was,” Daniels says.

The MRT has worked at length with individuals such as associate professor Todd Tietchen at UMass Lowell and Jim Sampas, literary executor for the Kerouac estate, to ensure the authenticity of this production. The adaptation will be performed in March and April. “It’s going to be a national event when it happens,” Daniels says.

The MRT’s annual gala will also take place at the end of the theater company’s 40th season, and Executive Director Bonnie Butkas says it will be larger than in past years. She hopes to reconnect people who may not be as engaged with the theater company as they once were. The gala is the theater company’s main fundraiser for its educational programs in the Merrimack Valley area.

Looking toward the future, Butkas has three primary visions for the MRT: She would like to see it become a regional theater, reflect the changing population it serves, and engage more with the community.

She would also like to see a growth in the core group of volunteers that works to expand the theater company’s success. Currently, many in that group, including members of the board of trustees, have been with the company since its beginning.

Nancy Donahue was one of the MRT’s founders and the first president of its board of trustees. She’s currently the board’s chair, and the theater bears her name. She says the theater company has changed a lot since the days she provided space in her home for actors and actresses, and sold subscriptions to passengers while riding the train into Boston. 

 “For many years, we just wanted Boston to recognize us, never mind the rest of the country,” says Donahue, who is thrilled with how far the theater company has come.

MRT is constantly reinventing itself to satisfy longtime supporters and draw new followers. When Daniels started at the MRT, he found an audience that is “game to learn about new writers and take new pathways to telling stories.”

He credits the theater company’s milestone season to the many supporters the MRT has had over the years, and he encourages more people to get involved. “This is your theater,” he says. “Come and be as involved as you want to be.”

Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Lowell, Mass.
(978) 654-4678


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