A Brief History of Theatre Within

Theatre Within was founded as a theatre workshop in 1962 by Alec Rubin, and as a non-profit committed to having a positive social impact through the performing arts 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 original theater and dance works, including 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.

Alec Rubin
at the Theatre Within Studio

Al Pacino
and scene partner at the
TheatrE WITHIN STUDIO, circa 1967


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 and together were the driving creative forces behind it 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 workshop seasons in New York. 


In 2001, Mr. Raiola assumed full creative control of the Annual John Lennon Tribute, which he re-envisioned as a charity concert, breaking away from its improvisational theater format. 

In November of 2005, just weeks before the 25th Annual John Lennon Tribute at Lincoln Center, Alec Rubin died from complications following a stroke. The following year, Joe Raiola established Theatre Within as a non-profit committed to having a positive social impact through its productions and workshops. The 30th Annual John Lennon Tribute with Patti Smith, Jackson Browne, Taj Mahal and Cyndi Lauper was held in November 2010 at the Beacon Theatre. Notable workshop members of this period were choreographer Wendy Osserman, comedian Carmen Lynch and actress Tina Alexis Allen. 


The Annual John Lennon Tribute continued to flourish, attracting fans from around the world and top artists. In 2014, with the cooperation of Yoko Ono, Theatre Within established The John Lennon Real Award to recognize artists for creative excellence, commitment to charitable causes, and social impact. Recipients to date have been Patti Smith, Donovan, Eve Ensler and Bob Gruen. 

With a growing focus on music events, Theatre Within presented a series of concerts at City Winery, including Songs of Love and Revolution (2014), Acoustic Lennon (2015) and Positively Bob Dylan (2016). 

in 2015, Theatre Within began providing ongoing free workshops at Gilda's Club, NYC, for children who have lost a parent to cancer, adult cancer survivors, and those undergoing treatment . In 2017, Theatre Within provided 34 workshops in songwriting (The John Lennon Real Love Project), meditation (Imagine Peace, Practice Peace) and art (MAD Art).