1975-1984: The Hangar Takes Flight

The First 10 Seasons


On Jully 11, 1975, the curtain rose on the Hangar Theatre’s first Mainstage production – Man of La Mancha by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh, and Joe Darion. The show, inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’s 1615 novel Don Quixote, tells a story of hopeful idealism and commitment to “the impossible dream.” The theatre launch was only possible due to the dedication of passionate Ithacans over the previous decade. Our building was originally an airport hangar, its conversion into a theatre was made possible by a grant from Nelson Rockefeller and the combined efforts of the Ithaca Repertory Theatre (renamed the Hangar Theatre Company in 1978), Cornell University, Ithaca College, the City of Ithaca, and many individuals who believed in the value of the arts, and stood up for that belief–just like Quixote. While we owe a debt of gratitude to many individuals, the Hangar would not be here today without the efforts of Tom Niederkorn.


Niederkorn, then city planner, was recruited to convince the City of Ithaca to support construction of an ambitiously designed Festival Theatre near the old airport hangar. When grand plans for the construction of a new building fell through, it was Niederkorn who proposed converting the existing hangar into a theatre, rather than demolishing it. He was also responsible for securing crucial funding from Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, which made it possible to transform the building into a theatre in time for the 1975 season. Plans were drawn up in 1974 by architect Robert Mueller, construction began in the spring of 1975 by builder Raymond McElwee, and the Hangar’s inaugural performance took place in July of that year. 

Our first ten seasons featured 49 Mainstage productions. Highlights include Man of La Mancha, Show Boat, Private Lives, Side by Side by Sondheim, Brigadoon, Dear Ruth, Cabaret, She Loves Me, and Damn Yankees. In 1978 a season subscription cost between $12.50-17.50. During this time actors were featured in multiple shows each season, including local favorite Greg Bostwick, who sometimes had a role in as many as three shows in a single season! You may know Jimmy Smits from TV shows such as L.A. LawNYPD BlueDexter, or as Senator Bail Organa from Star Wars. Smits was featured in numerous performances at the Hangar during the mid 1980s including CabaretLoose Ends, and The Rainmaker.


Bob Moss Takes the Helm

Bob Moss began his 15-year term as Hangar Theatre Artistic Director in 1982. Moss launched his theatrical career as a stage manager, then founded the acclaimed Playwrights Horizons in New York City, which he ran from 1971-1981. As Artistic Director at the Hangar Theatre, Moss directed over 30 productions, including Dear Ruth (1982), Eccentricities of a Nightingale (1983), and Damn Yankees (1984). In addition, he directed several one-hour Shakespeare adaptations that toured local schools. In 1996 he became Artistic Director of nearby Syracuse Stage, a position he held until 2008. Moss returned to the Hangar to serve as interim Artistic Director that year, and you may have caught him in the audience at The Impossible Dream last summer! He continues to teach, direct, and mentor in the American theatre.


Educational Programming

In 1982, the New Directors program and the Next Generation School of Acting for Youth Theatre were founded. From the beginning, these educational programs have created opportunities for theatrical development and fun. Next Gen programming aims to inspire a lifelong love and appreciation of the arts, create space for collaboration and communication, foster authentic self-expression through theatre, music, and movement, and support artistic choices that embrace diverse perspectives. The following year, the Wedge series of productions, directed by the New Directors fellows, began. Since its establishment, the Wedge has been a proving ground for some of the most innovate and dynamic theatre artists working today. In 1984 the Hangar’s professional training program expanded to include acting and production, with the formation of the Second Company. The Second Company was the forerunner of the Lab Company, now the Lab Performance Fellows.


Did you know…

Our logo celebrates our aeronautical past. The red flag is the international navigational symbol for the letter “B”, or “Bravo,” also a nod to the cheers you’ll hear in the theatre as audiences applaud an outstanding performance!