Grid of 9 photos featuring Playbills in front of empty stages.

Used by Permission. All rights reserved, Playbill Inc.

At the heart of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is a collection of videorecordings which has documented and preserved theatre history, America’s diverse and expansive culture, and revolutionized theatre research. The Theatre on Film and Tape Archive (TOFT) has long been recognized as the first and foremost collection of videorecorded live theatre performances in the world, and 2020 marked its 50th anniversary. The Library for the Performing Arts celebrates this landmark collection with an exhibition opening on July 14, 2022 (delayed due to the pandemic). 

The archive was founded by Betty L. Corwin, a former  assistant to producer Martin Gabel, who approached the Library for the Performing Arts in November 1969 and proposed preserving visual records of live theatre performances. Despite many obstacles and after lengthy negotiations with the theatrical unions and guilds, TOFT was established and made its first recording in November 1970. The collection has become the foremost archive of live theatre performances in the world and a role model for similar archives in the United States and abroad. The archive consists of a collection over 5,000 plays, musicals, classics, experimental and avant-garde productions, and an additional 3,000 videos of interviews, dialogues, film and television adaptations, award presentations, and other theatre-related programs. It remains today the single largest, most comprehensive collection of live theatre anywhere in the world. 

The exhibition will highlight various aspects of the archive including exciting excerpts from its unparalleled video collection, rare photographs of the creatives behind some of these memorable productions, awards presented to TOFT through the years, and images of its founder, staff, and video crews who have worked over the past 50 years to create the collection it is today. As the TOFT Archive marks its 50th anniversary, it is more determined than ever to fulfill its mission to nurture talent, inspire creativity, encourage participation in the theatre and the performing arts, and preserve a vital cultural heritage for future generations.

Curated by Patrick Hoffman with assistance from Wendy Norris.

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