The New Theater Festival, which came to UMBC in 1976, had its origins in alternative theatre such as Herbert Blau’s and Jules Irving’s San Francisco Workshop and Philip Arnoult’s Baltimore based Theatre Project. In 1974, Blau became the Dean of UMBC’s Division of Arts and Humanities, and brought “Kraken,” his experimental theatre group to campus as the resident company. He immediately partnered with Arnoult to begin the process of bringing the third iteration of the New Theatre Festival from University of Michigan to Baltimore. Arnoult and Blau were co-directors of the festival which included 33 theatre companies, more than 250 performers, and more than 120 performances. Besides attending performances, UMBC students also participated in workshops and discussions led by leaders in experimental theatre.
Critics raved about UMBC’s Theatre Department production of five short Samuel Beckett plays produced under the familiar one-word heading Beckett. Maryland Public Television critic Tony Perkins labeled the production “the best college production of 1978,” and Sun writer Earl Arnett said that “the hardworking students at UMBC should be congratulated for bringing Samuel Beckett vividly to light.” The plays were directed by Xerxes Mehta, Theatre Department chair, and were the culmination of the Theatre Production Workshop in which students research the playwright’s work and determine the approach to the production and performance.
Shakespeare on Wheels was created by UMBC Theatre professor William Brown. While teaching at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, his mobile Elizabethan stage traveled more than 4,000 miles throughout the country, and in 1985, the UMBC Theatre Department adopted the idea to bring Shakespeare to Baltimore. The department funded A Midsummer Night’s Dream as an academic summer session class, with a stage set mounted on a rented flatbed travel trailer. The 11-performance production was a success and the department continued the project every summer through 1994. The goal of Shakespeare on Wheels was to "provide free, high-caliber and accessible theatre for the people regardless of their race, age, abilities, religion, or economic status," and the success of the project allowed it to expand to nearly 60 performances at 28 sites.