Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Playbills and Programs

Playbill. Click to enlarge.

Playbill for Grand Opera House, St. Louis, 1884. Playbills and Programs Collections.

The Ransom Center has an estimated 200,000 playbills and programs, each containing performance information such as the name of the theater, performers, playwrights, and titles of pieces performed. Most are located in the following discrete collections:

London and Other United Kingdom Theaters, 1696-present
Size: 75.0 linear feet
Access: working inventory
Contact: Performing Arts staff

This collection comprises a large variety of playbill and program types and styles from theaters throughout the United Kingdom. London and other English theaters are predominant, but there are also holdings for Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland, and Wales. Some items are facsimiles. Holdings for the early English theaters Covent Garden, Drury Lane, and Haymarket **from the 17th century through 1899** are housed in separate collections; after 1899, they are filed here with the other London theaters.

See also the comprehensive Playbills and Programmes from London Theatres, 1801-1900, consisting of microfiche of the collection in the Theatre Museum, London (FICHE 2 MICRO).

New York City Theaters, 1750-present
Size: ca. 250 linear feet
Access: preliminary inventory
Contact: Performing Arts staff

This collection comprises a wide variety of playbills and programs for theater productions in New York City. Playbills contain performance information such as the the names of theaters, performers, and playwrights, and the titles of pieces performed. Formats in the collection include early broadsides and playbills, newspaper format playbills or programs, bound volumes of collected playbills or programs for individual theaters, single sheet and folded sheet programs, magazine programs, and tearsheets from programs. Very rarely, a clipping or photo is attached and/or housed with the program or playbill. Some facsimiles are also present. The collection is arranged chronologically by year, then alphabetically by theater within each year.

See also The Vandamm Collection: Theater Photographs from the Studios of Florence Vandamm and Francis Joseph Bruguiere, from 1915 to 1960, in the New York Public Library, Library and Museum of the Performing Arts (FICHE 1 HRC-TA, fiche and separately published index located in the Reading Room).

Souvenir Programs and Silk Souvenir Playbills, 1829-ca. 1990
Size: 14.28 linear feet
Access: preliminary inventory
Contact: Performing Arts staff

The souvenir program developed as a compilation of data on a given production, heavily illustrated with imagery from the play in question. In many instances, souvenir programs were provided for premieres, significant revival stagings, or national tours. The bulk of the collection consists of 1,500 souvenir programs dating from 1890 to 1970. A wide variety of both United States and London stage productions are represented, including revues, musical comedies, melodramas, operettas, dramas, and avant-garde theatre productions. Also present are about 275 "Gala" souvenir playbills or programs, printed on silk or satin, from theater, opera, dance, and concerts, dating from 1829 to 1929.

United States Theaters, 1778-present
Size: 70.0 linear feet
Access: working inventory
Contact: Performing Arts staff

This collection encompasses theater productions in the United States exclusive of Texas and the five boroughs of New York City. Best represented in this collection are theaters in Boston (ca. 1828-1970s) and Philadelphia (ca. 1805-1973), though there are also holdings for California (Los Angeles and San Francisco), Washington, D.C., Illinois (Chicago), Iowa (Cedar Rapids), Louisiana (New Orleans), Missouri (St. Louis), New York state (Albany, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn), the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Rhode Island (Providence). Especially well-represented are the Boston Museum (1840-1903) and three Philadelphia theaters, namely the Arch Street Theatre (1837-1872), the Chestnut Street Theatre (1829-1853), and the Walnut Street Theatre (1831-1885).

Other Significant Holdings

Playbills and programs from countries other than the U.S. and U.K. are located in the World Theater Collection. The Texas Theater Collection contains programs for regional theater companies throughout Texas as well as programs for touring artists who stopped in Texas. Holdings are further extended by playbills and programs in the Dance and Opera Collections, which may include Texas programs. Another important source of programs is the Theater Biography Collection which is accessible by performer only. Individual playbills and souvenir programs are occasionally found in the Theatre Arts Library; the largest holding for a single theater is a set of Drury Lane playbills dated 1798 to 1826 (26 vol., PN 2596 L7 D78 HRC-TA).

Note on Access

Except for the Theater Biography Collection, the playbills and programs collections are accessible by city or theater, but not by title of play, performer, designer, etc. For more precise searching, we recommend using the following secondary sources as indexes to our playbills and programs holdings:

    United Kingdom productions

  • The London Stage, 1660-1800. 11 vols., PN 2592 L6 HRC REF
  • Wearing, The London Stage, 1890-1899. 2 vols., PN 2596 L6 W37 HRC-TA
  • Wearing, The London Stage, 1900-1909. 2 vols., PN 2596 L6 W38 HRC-TA
  • Wearing, The London Stage, 1910-1919. 2 vols., PN 2596 L6 W383 1982 HRC-TA
  • Wearing, The London Stage, 1920-1929. 3 vols., PN 2596 L6 W384 1984 HRC-TA
  • Wearing, The London Stage, 1930-1939. 3 vols., PN 2596 L6 W3845 1990 HRC-TA
  • Wearing, The London Stage, 1940-1949. 2 vols., PN 2596 L6 W3846 1991 HRC
  • Wearing, The London Stage, 1950-1959. 2 vols., PN 2596 L6 W3847 1993 HRC
  • Nicoll, History of English Drama, 1600-1900. 6 vols., PR 625 N52 1961 HRC-TA
  • Nicoll, English Drama, 1900-1930. PR 721 N45 HRC-TA

  • United States productions

  • Internet Broadway Database
  • Odell, Annals of the New York Stage. Covers ca. 1699 through the 1893/1894 season. 15 vols., PN 2277 N5 O4 HRC-TA
  • Brown, A History of the New York Stage: From the First Performance in 1732 to 1901. 3 vols., PN 2277 N5 B7 HRC-TA
  • Loney, 20th Century Theatre. 2 vols., PN 2189 L65 1983 HRC-TA

  • Biographical information

  • Green Room Book; or, Who's Who on the Stage. PN 2208 G7 HRC-TA (continued by Who's Who in the Theatre)
  • Who's Who in the Theatre. 17 editions were published between 1912 to 1981; HRC lacks 2nd ed. PN 2012 W5 HRC-TA (continued by Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television)
  • Who Was Who in the Theatre, 1912-1976. PN 2597 W52 1978 HRC-TA (compiled from Who's Who in the Theatre, vols. 1-15)
  • Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television. This series' cumulative index includes entries from Who Was Who and Who's Who. PN 2205 C667 HRC-TA REF


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