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NY Public Library for the Performing Arts Acquires Isaiah Sheffer Archive

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has acquired the papers of Isaiah Sheffer, playwright, lyricist, and co-founder and artistic director of New York's renowned cultural institution Symphony Space.

Isaiah Sheffer (1935-2012) was a creative force in the New York theatre scene for many decades. He co-founded Symphony Space in New York City and served as the organization's artistic director until 2010 and founding artistic director thereafter. In 1981, Sheffer launched what became a signature event at Symphony Space, Bloomsday on Broadway, an annual reading of James Joyce's Ulysses on June 16th, the day in 1904 on which the action of the novel takes place. Sheffer was also instrumental in creating Symphony Space's celebrated live literary series Selected Shorts, which quickly became a popular radio show and later a podcast. Sheffer was also an accomplished actor, director, and writer of Off-Broadway plays, musicals, and cabarets. From his early professional years on the stage, he soon found his passion in writing, directing, and producing an amazingly diverse range of artistic productions, fully embracing music, theatre, literature, Jewish culture, politics, and comedy.

Sheffer's professional papers range from writings, scripts, scores, professional correspondence, photographs, posters, programs, and other rich production-related materials to illuminating administrative records concerning his leadership at Symphony Space.

"For the performing arts to thrive, there need to be stages that welcome creative, vibrant, and energetic performances and performers," said Jacqueline Z. Davis, Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director of The Library for the Performing Arts. "With Isaiah's archive in our collection, students, researchers, and anyone interested in the performing arts can now learn about the origins and inner workings of one of the city's most beloved cultural institutions, and how far Isaiah's career stretched beyond his role at Symphony Space."

"The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is the ideal home for Isaiah's archive," said Ethel Sheffer, Isaiah's wife. "His interests and loves spanned the range of the performing arts, just as the library's collection does, and we're delighted that researchers and all who have been so inspired by Isaiah's work will now be able to have such easy access to his material."

Highlights in the Isaiah Sheffer archives include:

  • Correspondence with Langston Hughes, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yip Harburg, and Eric Bentley.
  • Correspondence and other materials about the founding and management of Symphony Space.
  • Production records for Bloomsday on Broadway, Selected Shorts, The Thalia Follies, and the Wall to Wall music marathons at Symphony Space.
  • Audio and video recordings for many Symphony Space productions, as well as Sheffer's own musicals The Rise of David Levinsky, The Sheik of Avenue B, and Yiddle with a Fiddle.

All papers in this collection have been fully catalogued and the Library expects to make all recordings that accompany the archive available by the end of 2015. Support for the processing of this collection was generously provided by Gina Boonshoft. The Isaiah Sheffer papers are now part of The Library for the Performing Arts's world-renowned Billy Rose Theatre Division.

The materials included in this archive were also used to develop and build, an illuminating resource that explores Sheffer's life and career. Sheffer is also the subject of a new documentary Art and Heart: the World of Isaiah Sheffer by filmmaker Catherine Tambini.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses one of the world's most extensive combinations of circulating, reference, and rare archival collections in its field. These materials are available free of charge, along with a wide range of special programs, including exhibitions, seminars, and performances. An essential resource for everyone with an interest in the arts - whether professional or amateur - the Library is known particularly for its prodigious collections of non-book materials such as historic recordings, videotapes, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, programs, posters, and photographs. The Library is part of The New York Public Library system, which has 90 locations in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and is a lead provider of free education for all.

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