Peter Zeisler, who helped found the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, died Jan. 16 in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. of heart failure. He was 81.

Born in New York City, Mr. Zeisler became a stage manager on Broadway at 26. In the late 1950s he decided to pioneer a theater outside of New York and ounded the Guthrie Theater in 1963 with Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Oliver Rea, virtually launching the regional theater movement.

From 1963 to 1970, Zeisler was managing director and producer of the theater which featured Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy among its actors in its first year. The Guthrie opened with 22,000 subscribers and advance sales of $300,000 in its first season of four plays. In 1982 the theater received a special Tony Award for its outstanding contribution to the American theater.

In 1972 he became executive director of the Theater Communications Group, the national advocacy and service organization for nonprofit theaters. He retired in 1995 but continued to serve as an arts consultant to foreign governments and theater festivals.

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Before founding the Guthrie, Zeisler was a production manager for more than 20 Broadway shows, including the original production of “Candide” in 1956 and “The Sound of Music” in 1959. A graduate of Columbia University, he was also instrumental in founding the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn.

He is survived by his wife, the actress Helen Harrelson, and two sons.