Our History

Theatre, May 16th, 1978If you asked Linda MacNish, “How did Mac-Haydn get started?” she would smile and say “Well, it was either start a theater or drive to Alaska.” After some thought about it, she and co-founder Lynne Haydn opted to try putting on musicals in Chatham, just for one summer. That was in 1969, when the Mac-Haydn Theatre was started on a shoestring, in a cow barn, and went on to prove that the area could and would support good theater.

Lynne was an aspiring actress and Linda was writing and producing off-Broadway shows and managing talent when the two met in New York City. A mutual love of musical theater led to the classic: Let’s find a barn and put on a show! Linda’s local roots led them to Chatham, only a 2 ½ hour commute north of NYC, making it the perfect day-trip escape for city dwellers to access—at that time the closest professional theater to this area was Broadway. A search for performance space led to the Chatham Fair Grounds. Some floor scraping, dressing room painting, auditioning and many rehearsals later, the Mac-Haydn Theatre’s premiere opening night brought the stage lights up on My Fair Lady on July 6, 1969.

At the end of that first season, enough people asked “Are you going to do this again next year” that they decided to try it again. And again and again. We’ve now been producing for over 50 years.

Theatre Under ConstructionThey quickly outgrew the rented cow barn and moving everything including seats (folding chairs borrowed from area churches and funeral homes), costume and prop pieces, pianos and even the stage at the start and end of each season. Having their own space meant a huge remodeling project to create dressing rooms, costume and set shops, rehearsal room, box office, and offices in a space that had most recently been a doll furniture factory. Wonderful donations of the former Chatham Post Office facade and theater seats from Tony Quirino at the Crandell Theatre, along with a host of hard-working volunteers, and even some of the performers, it all came together for the opening of Fiddler On The Roof in June of 1978.

That first season, there were about a dozen New York City performers, a few technicians, musicians, a director, combined with a lot of area volunteers both on and off stage. Today there are almost 100 people on payroll throughout the summer in all departments. Linda MacNish passed away in 2002 and Lynne Haydn in 2018 but the theater carries on in their spirit and vision.

Rehearsals in the TheatreThe Mac-Haydn’s Alumni have appeared onstage and off in numerous Broadway and Off-Broadway Productions, National and International Tours, Regional and International Theatre Companies, International Opera Houses, Major Cultural Festivals as well as in Film and Television productions. The Mac-Haydn team continues to build on that legacy, fulfilling their mission to advance the careers of aspiring theater practitioners.


When did the theatre start?
Mac-Haydn began in 1969.

Who started it?
Lynne Haydn, who passed away in 2018, and Linda MacNish, who passed away in 2002.

Why do you only do musicals?
The theatre was founded in part to preserve musical theatre as the one individually American theatre form.

Has there ever been a straight play?
Two: Mary, Mary in our first year, and Visit To A Small Planet in 1979.

Have any famous people ever performed here?
We like to say that ‘The stars of tomorrow are at Mac-Haydn Theatre today’. Quite a few of our performers have gone on to be ‘famous’. Nathan Lane performed here in 1976; some others include TV and movie star Paige Turco, Metropolitan Opera star Frank Lopardo, TV and MathNet star Joe Howard, and a host of others who are now working on and off stage in regional theatres, international tours and on Broadway.

How old is this building?
The main part of it was built around 1906 as a printing company. It has also been a silent movie studio (Norma Shearer made movies here), a town meeting hall, a roller skating rink and a doll furniture factory.

Where do the performers come from?
All over the country and the world. We audition in New York City and in Chatham, and pick the people we like best from over 1,000 seen each year to come to perform for you. We also have always used people from the area, there are many talented people here and some have gone from Chatham to careers in theatre.

Who decides what shows you do?
The audience helps a lot, by picking their favorites on surveys given out each summer. The Artistic Director also looks for shows we have not presented before, and then contact the royalty houses to see which ones we can obtain the rights to produce.

Why don’t you do shows during the winter?
There’s no heat in the building!