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NY Public Library's Doug Reside on Billy Rose Theatre Division's Latest Acquisitions

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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 Doug Reside, Lewis and Dorothy Cullman Curator for the Billy Rose Theatre Division at the The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts!


The Billy Rose Theatre Division at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is one of the largest and most active theatre archives in the world. I am privileged to be the current curator of this collection, and, as 2019 kicks off, I wanted to make note of some of our recently acquired treasures. We take our identity as a public library very seriously, and anyone -- truly anyone! -- can access these materials in our reading room at Lincoln Center. Send a note to theatre@nypl.org if you'd like to visit us!

The Springer Opera House Collection of Abe Feder Designs

In 2017, I received an exciting call from the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia. The manager had a collection of lighting design paperwork by Abe Feder, the designer of the original productions of My Fair Lady and Camelot and many productions for the Federal Theatre Project in the 1930s. From the 1960s through the 1980s, Feder worked with the Springer Opera House and eventually decided to keep in his paperwork and designs in their offices. Last year, the Springer staff made the decision to move the collection to a place where it would available to the general public and preserved with the care and expertise provided by a national archive. We are grateful they selected The New York Public Library. The collection is now fully processed and available to the public.

Biff Liff Papers

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts shares part of our structure with the Lincoln Center Theatre, which mounted a revival of My Fair Lady earlier this year. It felt especially appropriate to expand our paper documentation of the original production of the musical with several important acquisitions in 2018. In addition to the Feder lighting designs, the division received a small collection of papers from the estate of the producer and stage manager Samuel "Biff" Liff, who passed away in August of 2015. The collection includes annotated scripts, designs, and audio recordings of the original production of My Fair Lady, The Girl Who Came to Supper, and several other productions with which Liff was associated.

Joe Masteroff Papers

We were saddened by the passing of Joe Masteroff in September of this year. The bookwriter of Cabaret and She Loves Me had been a friend of the Theatre Division for some time. I had the good fortune to interview him in 2014 while working on a blog series on Sheldon Harnick's musicals for the Library, and found him to be charming, witty, and extremely kind. In the months before he died, he donated his collection of scripts and recordings to the Library. Not one to dwell on his own place in history, Masteroff kept very few material records of his work, but the collection does include several very early drafts of his plays and musicals, and several scrapbooks of letters and publications about them.

The Acting Company Records

In 1972, John Houseman and Margot Harley founded a company, initially of fellow Juilliard graduates, to introduce classic works of theatre to new audiences both at New York City venues and on national tours. Along with new productions, the company offers frequents master classes and workshops to students across the country. The company helped to launch the careers of Patti LuPone and Kevin Kline, and their 1985 production of Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock (starring LuPone) was recorded by Jay Records and remains one of the most complete professional recordings of the show available. The collection features scripts, show bibles, business paperwork, photographs, and audio/video documentation of the works produced by the company.

The Actors Company Theatre (TACT)

We also received the similarly named The Actors Company Theatre records this year. The Actors Company Theatre, or TACT, was founded in 1992 to present classic plays unlikely to find a commercial home. In 2018, the company decided to disband, and donated their collection of production bibles and audio/video documentation to the Library. The collection is currently being processed and will be available in the next few years.

J. Peter Happel

J. Peter Happel was an important photographer of early television and stage. He documented many lost episodes of television variety shows (Camera Three, Ed Sullivan, etc.) that featured the top stage talent of the day. Happel passed away in 2015, and his collection, consisting of 10 moving boxes of negatives and slides, came to us in March of this year. This collection joins the Theatre Division's unparalleled collection of performing arts photography.



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