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).

London Playbills Collections

Access: A preliminary inventory provides an overview of the four collections. Item-level descriptions of each playbill, including the names of plays, are available in a searchable database.

The London Playbills Collections are a group of four separate collections containing circa 23,000 playbills for performances at the Covent Garden, Drury Lane, and Haymarket theaters, supplemented by circa 150 programs, clippings, handbills, and facsimiles of playbills. Included are playbills owned by William Charles Macready, 1837-1843. The principal promotional tool of the theater's managements, each playbill contains information about the evening's performances such as lists of actors and other performers, plot synopses, and descriptions of scenic effects.

Covent Garden Playbills
Collection Dates: 1738-1899 (bulk 1795-1840)
Size: Circa 9,260 items in 23 document boxes, 4 oversize boxes, 7 bound volumes, and 32 oversize folders (11.3 linear feet)
Related Materials: Covent Garden playbills from after 1899 are located in the Playbills and Programs Collection: London and Other United Kingdom Theaters. Additional Covent Garden playbills are located in bound volumes 6 and 7 of the Drury Lane Playbills.

The first Theatre Royal, Covent Garden opened in 1732. It burned down in 1808 and was rebuilt in 1808-1809. This building was also destroyed by fire, in 1856, and a third theater opened on the site in 1858. The current building includes parts of the 1858 structure. Since 1892 it has been known as the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. This collection of playbills contains a fairly complete calendar of performances at Covent Garden from 1815 to 1840.

Drury Lane Playbills
Collection Dates: 1703-1899 (bulk 1795-1840)
Size: Circa 9,800 items in 16 document boxes, 3 oversize boxes, 12 bound volumes, and 110 oversize folders (9.6 linear feet)
Related Materials: Drury Lane playbills from after 1899 are located in the Playbills and Programs Collection: London and Other United Kingdom Theaters. A set of Drury Lane playbills for 1798 to 1826 is cataloged in the Theatre Arts Library.

The theater known as the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane opened in 1674, and was the second theater on the site, having been preceded by the Theatre Royal in Bridges Street. Drury Lane was demolished in 1791 and reopened in 1794. This theater was destroyed by fire in 1809, and the present Drury Lane was opened in 1812. This collection includes some playbills for Covent Garden: bound volumes 6 and 7 are comprised of Drury Lane playbills alternating with Covent Garden playbills.

Haymarket Playbills
Collection Dates: 1705-1899 (bulk 1795-1840)
Size: Circa 3,260 items in 7 document boxes, 2 oversize boxes, 5 bound volumes, and 87 oversize folders (4.2 linear feet)
Related Materials: Haymarket playbills from after 1899 are located in the Playbills and Programs Collection: London and Other United Kingdom Theaters. The Dance Collection contains Haymarket playbills for performances by Celine Celeste, 1838-1850.

The third oldest London playhouse still in use, the first theater at this location was built in 1720. It has been known at various times as the Little Theatre in the Hay and the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. The interior of the first Haymarket was rebuilt in 1793-1794. A second theater opened on the site in 1821, and was rebuilt in 1880. This collection includes facsimiles of two playbills from before 1720 for "Haymarket" theaters: a 1705 playbill for the Queen's Theatre in the Hay-Market (renamed the King's Theatre in 1714), and a 1707 playbill for the Haymarket Theatre (known properly as the Queen's Theatre).

William Charles Macready (1793-1873) Playbills
Collection Dates: 1837-1843
Size: 815 items in 4 bound volumes (1.68 linear feet)
Related Materials: Covent Garden Playbills, Drury Lane Playbills. The Theater Biography Collection contains additional material about Macready.

As an actor the Englishman William Charles Macready was a great success, but his management of Covent Garden and Drury Lane in the 1830s and 1840s left him penniless. The William Charles Macready Playbills consist of four bound volumes, two for Covent Garden and two for Drury Lane, corresponding to the period when Macready managed these theaters. The volumes bear inscriptions dated 1900 from Macready's son Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready to Cecil's daughter Louise Geraldine Macready.

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.

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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