Jacob Thomas (‘Jack’) Grein was born in 1862 in Amsterdam. He was a Dutch drama critic and producer who moved to London in 1885 and became a naturalized British subject in 1895.
His main achievement was to found the Independent Theatre Society in London in 1891. Its aim was to introduce unique performances of plays which were chosen for their artistic and literary merit rather than for their prospects of becoming a commercial success. The Society produced modern realist plays, mostly by continental European playwrights.
The first production in 1891 was Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. The Society also produced the first production of a play by George Bernhard Shaw: Widower’s Houses. To attend performances you had to subscribe and become a member of the Society. This meant they were not public and this allowed the Society the avoid censorship from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office.
The Society was select and there were never more than 175 members but many were very influential. Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and Henry James all subscribed. The small number of subscribers coupled with their ambitious plans was not a viable setup and the Society was brought to an end in 1897.
Nonetheless the Incorporated Stage Society built on these foundations in 1899 and eventually led to the emergence of the English Stage Company, which nowadays works from the Royal Court and also as part of the establishment of The Abbey Theatre in Dublin.
Jack Grein continued to champion European dramatists. Together with his wife, the actress Alice Augusta Greeven, he created the German Theatre in London Programme in 1900.
Under the name of Michael Orme his wife wrote his biography JT Grein: The Story of a Pioneer after his death in 1936.