Theatre Within was founded as a theater workshop in 1962 by Alec Rubin and as a non-profit dedicated to furthering the performing arts as a positive social force in 2006 by Joe Raiola.
Theatre Within was originally known as Theater of Encounter and regarded as one of New York’s most fearlessly experimental companies. Founder Alec Rubin was a master teacher who developed a powerful technique for performing artists to access deep feelings and create emotionally charged work. Under his direction, Theater of Encounter produced countless original theater and dance performances, most notably Why Is A Crooked Letter (1966) featuring a young Al Pacino. Other notable workshop members of this period included co-author of Hair, Jerry Ragni, and Obie Award winning actor, Thurman E. Scott.
Reflecting his growing conviction that core inner work was the key to unlocking the artist’s full potential, Mr. Rubin renamed his company “Theatre Within.” He taught ongoing classes in “primal theater” and produced new theater and dance works, classic plays and solo performance festivals. In 1979, Joe Raiola, then an aspiring stand-up, joined the workshop and began an ongoing collaboration with Mr. Rubin that would last over 25 years. In 1981 they created the Annual John Lennon Tribute together. Raiola and Rubin would continue to be the driving creative force behind the tribute for the next two decades.
In 1991 Mr. Rubin established a winter residence in Florida where he formed a second Theatre Within company, leaving Mr. Raiola to direct the winter/spring season in New York. Workshop productions were staged each year in New York and Miami Beach. In 2001 Mr. Raiola assumed full creative control of the Annual John Lennon Tribute, which he creatively re-envisioned as a charity benefit, breaking away from its traditional improvisational theater format. Notable workshop members of this period included modern dance choreographer Wendy Osserman and comedian Carmen Lynch. On November 10, 2005, Alec Rubin died in Miami Beach from complications following a stroke.
In 2006 Joe Raiola established Theatre Within as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization committed to “furthering the performing arts as a positive social force.” Under his leadership, the Annual John Lennon Tribute evolved into an important cultural event featuring top artists and benefitting local and international charities. The 30th Annual John Lennon Tribute with Jackson Browne, Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper and many other great artists received worldwide attention and was held in November 2010 at the Beacon Theater.
The Annual John Lennon Tribute continued to flourish, attracting fans from around the world and top artists, including Debbie Harry, Steve Earle, Judy Collins, Martin Sexton and Joan Osborne. Meanwhile, Theatre Within Workshops transitioned to a tuition-free model, with all students receiving scholarships. In 2014, with the support of Yoko Ono, we created the John Lennon Real Love Project, a mobile songwriting workshop for children and teens with special needs. The workshop launched at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx and was held in 2015 at Gilda’s Club NYC, which provides free support programs for those who lives have been impacted by cancer.
The new year brought a new show and workshop. Positively Bob Dylan: A 75th Birthday Tribute was held in May at City Winery, NY and returned for a second sold out performance in August. Featured artists included Nellie McKay, Willie Nile, Anais Mitchell and Toshi Reagon. The new workshop, Celebrating Intimacy: An Overview of Meditation Practice, launched in June at Gilda’s Club NYC, where the John Lennon Real Love Project returned in September. Our 36th Annual John Lennon Tribute will be held on Friday, December 2 at Symphony Space, NY.