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Hope Library Guides

THEA 306: American Theatre: Production History

Researching Production History

Researching the production history of a play is one of the more complex pieces of this assignment, but it can be incredibly rewarding as you get a sense of how past directors and actors have grappled with these important works.  The following is a strategy for finding them.

Step 1: Figure out what the important productions are

Important works of theatre have a broad and deep production history, from broadway down to high school and community productions.  So how do you figure out what productions are worthy of attention?

Secondary and Tertiary Sources

As you read the secondary sources on your play, keep an eye out for any mention they make of important or controversial productions.  These might be worth following up on.  Take down notes on date, location (city and house), and the director and major actors.  Also note if they say why the production was significant.

There are also secondary and tertiary (reference) works who focus a lot on production history.  Here are a few.

  • Plays in Production - Each volume in this short series focuses on the production history of a major play. Note, these won't include recent productions.
  • Modern Dramatists Research and Production Sourcebooks - Each volume in this series focuses on a particular playwright and will give you a history of major productions for each of their works.
  • Internet Broadway Database - This is the "official database for Broadway theatre information."  A search by play will bring up the work's production history on Broadway.
  • Lortel Archives - A database of New York "off Broadway" productions.  Includes names of those involved in the production, so you can scan for recognizable people.
  • Wikipedia - If the Wikipedia article on your play is well written, it should provide a production history.  The warning here is that, because of our lack of knowledge of authorship, you know less about why a production has been included on the list. 
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Step 2: Collect Reviews and/or their Citations

 Now it's time to take the production information you have and start digging.  Here are some tools that can help:

  • International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance - There are a lot of reviews from major theatre publications in this database, so searching your play title combined with "review" can help you identify major productions and track down their reviews
    • NOTE: Do you see a record for play reviews in something called the Theatre Record? We don't have access to this at Hope but it is worth ordering through ILL. This publication pulled together multiple reviews of major British productions of plays into a single source.
  • Primo: Our discovery layer be a good place to start because it indexes a lot of the library's newspaper and magazine full text collections.  However, because it's so big, its results can sometimes be overwhelming.  Always narrow down to your date range to the year of the production you are looking for.  Compare the information in the article to the house and director information you have to make sure the review matches your production.
  • Readers Guide Abstracts and Readers Guide Retrospective - This is a great database for locating reviews in magazines, particularly for older productions, because it's coverage goes back to 1890. 
    • Double the power - These are actually three separate databases, so once you enter one, select all three from the databases list to search them together.
    • Tip - Because of the limited information included in some earlier records, the safest way to search is just by the name of the play, and narrow down to the date range you are looking for.
    • Full Text Alert! - This is only an indexing database, so use the 360 link icon to check and see if we have the full text, either electronically or in print.  If we don't, we can order it for you from another library.


Step 3 - Track down the articles

  • Particularly if you are looking at more recent productions, you will probably be able to find the reviews electronically.  Use the "Find Full Text" links to check for availability
  • If you have just a citation, search for the title of the magazine or newspaper in the library Journal Finder to see if we own it. Compare the dates we have access for to the date of your citation.
  • Some of these we may own in print or on microfiche, instead of electronically.  Ask for help at the Research Help desk when locating these.
  • Do we not have them at Hope?  In most cases we can request them for you from another library. Just fill out an InterLibrary Loan request