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Welcome to the Theatre, to the Magic, to the Fun!

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Lauren Bacall in Applause, Digital ID ps_the_2084, New York Public LibraryLauren Bacall in Applause, Digital ID ps_the_2084, New York Public LibraryOK quick, what Broadway show are these words from, and who sings them? You can probably figure out from a Google search that the show is Applause, the 1970 musical version of the movie All About Eve, with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics (including the above) by Lee Adams. And a visit to YouTube will give you a taste of Lauren Bacall huskily embodying diva Margo Channing in a Tony Awards clip. But suppose you want more — suppose you want to read the complete Applause libretto, for example, or look at earlier versions of the script in the Comden and Green Papers? Or see a recording of a recent Encores! production?

Maybe on the other hand, you want to find the perfect monologue for an acting class or audition. Or find out what's involved in running a theatre company, or look into educational programs for the aspiring actor or director. Want to locate the collected works of Neil Simon or of Euripides, or an anthology of Kabuki plays? Or an index to all the words found in Shakespeare's works? Perhaps you attended the recent, Tony-winning Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman, and would like to see photos and set designs from the original production, as well as the playbill and New York critics' reviews. Vaudeville may be your particular area of interest, and you're eager to see performers' scrapbooks from the period, scan the trades for box-office results, and then delve into academic literature on the subject. Or perhaps you just want to get your hands on that juicy new Frank Langella memoir.

The good news is that all of these theatre-related materials — and thousands more like them — are held within the collections of New York Public Library (NYPL). The challenge can sometimes be finding them. What follows is a quick guide to getting started.

Beginning Your Research

Before you visit the library, you should be aware that a sizable chunk of the holdings in the Billy Rose Theatre Division, the theatre research wing of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (LPA), have not been cataloged online. For a comprehensive list of Theatre Division clippings, photos, programs, reviews, and scrapbooks, you'll have to visit LPA's third floor and search the freestanding card catalogs. (Remember those? Maybe not if you're under a certain age...)

Meanwhile, you can see much of what's available in NYPL's online Classic Catalog. Here, you can do a keyword, author, title, or subject search, or use the Advanced Search function on the left hand side of the screen to search simultaneously by title, author, subject, and more.

Using Advanced Search, you can also limit the results by format — Book/Text for books and periodicals, for example, or DVD, Film/Slides/More, or VHS for moving-image material (hold down the "Ctrl" key, or COMMAND on Mac, to select all three options). To limit your search to items at LPA, choose "Performing Arts Library" in the Advanced Search dropdown box for "Collection." To limit your search to materials you can borrow, choose "Circulating" in the same dropdown box.

In the case of manuscript collections — the papers of individual artists like Katharine Hepburn or the records of theatre companies such as the New York Shakespeare Festival — the Archival Materials search page allows you to do keyword searches within NYPL's digitized finding aids, and may uncover results not found with a simple catalog search. Finding aids provide detailed information on the subject of individual collections, the types of materials in the collections, and a list of what's in which box and folder. The Archival Materials search will also link to the catalog record, which you will need in order to find out whether a box is stored on-site or offsite. There may be a couple of clicks involved to get to both the finding aid and the catalog record, so persevere!

Some Tips on Searching:

  • Call numbers in NYPL's research collections, which are in-library use only, have letter prefixes like MWES, NCOF, JFE, and many others. These are materials that must be requested with call slips, and are not browsable on open shelves. (The letters have no meaning other than classification, so don't try to figure it out.) Items with more recognizable call numbers from the Dewey Decimal classification system — 792 for general works on theatre, for example, or 812 for American plays and 822.33 for Shakespeare — refer to circulating materials on the open shelves at most NYPL locations. Items with a call number B [Name] are circulating biographies.
  • If you are looking for material in a specific subject area, a catalog keyword search can result in a serendipitous outcome… or not. A subject search can bring better results, but you may need help with subject headings. Some popular theatre subject headings include:

Or, if you locate something in the catalog you're interested in, you may want to scroll down in the record to see what subject heading(s) the item is assigned, and click on the link to see other material like it.

  • If you are looking for specific periodical titles in the catalog, always choose "Journal Title" in the dropdown box next to the search field. That will clear away many unwanted results.

Materials Stored Offsite

As you search through the online catalog, note that certain items must be requested in advance as they are stored offsite. This will be noted in the catalog record under Location. Please see the Library for the Performing Arts' web page for information on requesting offsite LPA materials.

Finding Plays, Monologues, and Scenes

If you are looking for a play, the Drama Circulating Collection on the second floor at the Library for the Performing Arts is a great destination because there are thousands of published plays available to borrow. The collection, which is on LPA's second floor, is particularly rich in acting editions of plays published by Samuel French, Inc. and Dramatists Play Service. Findaplay.com is a good source for finding a play publisher or rights manager.

There are even plays hiding in anthologies or collections, and unless they are "traced" by title in the online catalog record, you may never know they're among the contents without paying a visit to LPA. A great resource there, compiled by staff, is a freestanding card index to plays in collections.

Keep in mind, however, that the Billy Rose Theatre Division does not collect published plays, only typescripts and promptbooks. Most of these are listed in the online catalog, but more complete information on some of the older scripts is available on digitized card catalog records at https://s3.amazonaws.com/cardimages.nypl.org/index.html. NYPL's General Research Division (GRD) in the Schwarzman Building at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue collects published plays. In other words, if you are trying to track down a published play — or perhaps a particular edition or translation — that is long out of print, you may have to visit the Schwarzman Building's Main Reading Room. GRD also collects foreign-language plays in their original language. (Another NYPL research division — the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture — collects material related to African and African-American theatre, and theatre of the African diaspora.)

If you are looking for a monologue or scene to perform for an audition or class, there are a number of books listed in the catalog under the subject headings "Monologues" and "Acting – Auditions." There are books specifically for men, women, young actors, and volumes dedicated to classical monologues as well as modern. LPA's Circulating Drama Collection home page also has a list, compiled by staff, of suggested monologues for young actors.

If you are a theatre professional, student, or researcher who wishes to view recorded performances in the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive (TOFT), contact the archive by calling (212) 870-1642 or email toft@nypl.org.

What Else Can You Do From Home?

There are some other online resources you can access before visiting the library. The electronic version of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance is a quick theatre reference tool, and is accessible simply by following the link from the online catalog record. Good portals to Internet theatre resources of various sorts include the WWW Virtual Library for Theatre and Drama and the Open Directory Project, although it's unclear how frequently they are updated.

NYPL's Digital Gallery contains many photographs and other illustrations, especially materials from pre-1923 which are out of copyright.

Some of New York Public Library's online Articles and Databases also are available from home with a New York Public Library card and pin number, but most of these are in general subject categories. Among the most helpful are Academic Search Premier and Biography in Context.

Articles and databases in the theatre subject area are only accessible on-site at LPA and other library locations. If you are looking for scholarly articles on a variety of theatre topics, the most useful databases are International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance with Full Text and International Index for the Performing Arts Full Text (IIPA). World Shakespeare Bibliography provides an excellent guide to all things Shakespeare, both literature and production histories.

Finally, You Really Need to Visit the Library

When you visit the Library for the Performing Arts, you can do the same research available at home, plus search all of NYPL's theatre-related articles and databases, the card catalog, and other on-site-only resources, plus get a firsthand look at the rich collections inside the building. There are also theatre-related exhibitions and public programs to investigate. Talk to the reference librarian on duty at the Theatre/Dance reference desk on the second floor, right at the top of the stairs off the Lincoln Center Plaza entrance. Or, if you want to search the card catalog, proceed to the third floor and ask the reference librarian on duty there for guidance. She or he can help transport you back to the pre-digital era with instruction in using the card catalog, or perhaps bring you up to speed on the 21st-century library and its resources, which are many and varied, and possibly even magical and fun.

Need more extensive help? Contact the Billy Rose Theatre Division's email reference at theatrediv@nypl.org.

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