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NY Public Library's Curator of Exhibitions Barbara Cohen-Stratyner on Getting Ready for Shakespeare's 400th

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BroadwayWorld.com continues our exclusive content series, in collaboration with The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which delves into the library's unparalleled archives, and resources. Below, check out a piece by Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Ph. D., Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg Curator of Exhibitions for The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts on Getting Ready for Shakespeare's 400th:

2016 will mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, and as we begin to prepare for the occasion here at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, we are combing through our vast collections of Shakespeare in performance. And we're asking ourselves, "What do we know?" and "What can we help you discover?"

Many people come into the Library asking where they can find copies of specific Shakespeare plays. If you are looking for published scripts of the plays, go to the Steinberg Room on the 2nd floor. There are multiple copies of multiple editions so you can find the one with the degree of analysis and footnoting that suits you. You can even find the edition of Romeo & Juliet paired with West Side Story that I remember from 7th grade. On the 2nd floor, you can also find books on acting, directing, set or costume design, and arts administration to support your performance. There are DVDs of most of the plays, as well as many instructional videos on how to act or produce Shakespeare. Around the corner, you will find CDs (including spoken word) and scores to provide a backdrop for your production or to give you a feel for period.

The Circulating Collections have published material in the current most convenient formats -- CDs, DVDs, books, scores and e-books. Moving upstairs to the research collections, you will find what we refer to as "original formats." That doesn't mean a First Folio, but it may mean a script annotated by its user to direct, design, act or cue a Shakespeare production. The prompt scripts, kept by stage managers, can help you discover, for example, how many swords were used in the final duel in Hamlet productions from Edmund Kean to Kevin Kline and beyond. Actor's scripts reveal their processing of the scripts, the direction and the physical production. The collections here at The Library for the Performing Arts are particularly rich with materials about process, so as well as beautiful set and costume designs, you can find paint samples, costume plots, fabric swatches, elevations, technical drawings, and even scale models.

You can also explore the history of Shakespeare in America in our collections. The oldest program that we have found (so far) from an American production is from 1767. You could buy a ticket for Romeo and Juliet for shillings. Other programs show that after the Revolutionary War, American theaters reopened very quickly, and were advertising ticket prices in U.S. dollars rather than British pounds. Family troupes presented the plays in the 18th and 19th century, travelling around North America and the Caribbean by wagon, boat and railroad. Edwin Booth, the great tragedian, wrote letters to his daughter about horrible transportation, leaky theater roofs, and wildly cheering audiences across the country.

Celebrations for the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's death are very well documented in our collections. One highlight was a pageant, Caliban by the Yellow Sands, which was performed by community dramatic societies, choruses, schools, and dance groups as it traveled from place to place. We have scripts, programs and photographs, but also newspapers published for the participants.

If the 19th century celebrated the heroic in Shakespeare's tragedies, the 1930s found inspiration in the Roman plays. They provided scaffolding for debates on politics and personal responsibility, especially for the Federal Theatre Project. There is a prompt script for Orson Welles' famous modern dress Julius Caesar and costume designs by Charles Hawkins for the lesser-known production of Coriolanus -- Autocracy vs Democracy.

The Library for the Performing Arts is particularly rich in the personal documentation that reveals how the plays were presented on live TV. For The Tempest, broadcast on Hallmark Hall of Fame, with Maurice Evans as Prospero, you can see his annotated script and designs by Rouben Ter-Arutunian. You can even view it (re-formated) and revel in his scenes with Lee Remick as Miranda and Richard Burton's Caliban.

Some say that every age gets the Shakespeare it deserves. But looking at the materials in our collection, it also seems that if we look back at Shakespeare productions, we can also learn much about ages past.

Costume design by Charles Hawkins for the Federal Theatre Project production of Coriolanus -- Autocracy vs. Democracy.

USVA Collection, Billy Rose Theatre Division


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