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The Theatre Collection

The Theater Collection at the Museum of the City of New York is recognized as one of the world's preeminent performing arts collections. It provides in-depth coverage of theatrical activity in the City from the late 18th century to the present day, including original set and costume renderings by designers such as Donald Oenslager, Jo Mielziner, and Robert Edmund Jones; posters and window cards that record trends in theatrical advertising; 17,000 folders documenting local productions since the 1800s; original playscripts annotated by Eugene O Neill; more than 5,000 costumes and props; a significant collection of caricatures, drawings, and photographic archives; and a major Yiddish Theater collection.

The heart of the Theater holdings is the John Golden Archive, which consists of approximately 40,000 folders, organized by production, personality and theater building. This archive preserves a virtually complete chronology of the theater in New York City from the late eighteenth century to the present. The folders contain such materials as photographs, contracts, correspondence, playbills, manuscripts, advertising materials, reviews, obituaries, clippings, sheet music, autographs, souvenir programs, and prompt books with marginalia on blocking and performance.

The photographic holdings of the Theater Collection provide a visual chronicle of New York theater from cartes-de-visite of the 1860s through production stills of the 1990s. Sizeable donations from several New York photography studios which specialized in theatrical work—the Byron Co. (ca. 1895-1925), Arnold Genthe (ca. 1910-1930), Lucas-Monroe (ca. 1930-1950), Marcus Blechman (ca. 1935-1955), Carl Van Vechten (ca. 1930-1940) and Arnold Weissberger (late 1940s-early 1980s)—constitute a century of realistic visual records indispensable to scholars, writers and designers.

Several thousand window cards and posters record the shifting trends in theatrical advertising from 1834 to the present.

Some 7,500 set designs and elevations, costume designs and three-dimensional set models document the evolution of production values, artistic styles, audience taste, and stage technology over the past century. This collection is often in demand by working designers as well as students of theatrical design.

The collection of drawings and caricatures numbers approximately 5,000 and includes often incisive interpretations of theater personalities and productions. Nearly 500 paintings either of or by theater personalities include portraits of Ethel Barrymore, Edwin Booth, Katherine Cornell, Edwin Forrest, Judy Garland and Helen Hayes. Among the artists represented in these two collections are William Merritt Chase, James Montgomery Flagg, George Gershwin, Charles Dana Gibson, Al Hirschfeld, Zero Mostel and John Singer Sargent.

Special categories (beyond the main Broadway Theater holdings) include material on burlesque, circus, minstrelsy, vaudeville and Yiddish theater.


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