Theater, Dance, and Media

Theater, Dance, and Media

Harvard’s newest concentration, Theater, Dance, and Media is a multidisciplinary field that involves the arts and many of the humanities at Harvard. Most importantly, however, it is one of the only concentrations in the 49 Book to have a special, dedicated Houghton collection. The Book, in fact, mentions the Theater Collection of Houghton Library as a powerful resource for concentrators, and that could not be overemphasized. The oldest theater collection in the country and one of the nation’s largest, it is a treasure trove of literary and physical material on theater, dance, and popular entertainment in general.

The collection’s core is nineteenth-century theater. Houghton owns more than 400,000 cabinet shots (TCS 1)—memento pictures of actors and actresses—that are currently being digitized, as well as hundreds of thousands of playbills, especially those of plays staged in New York City (TCS 65), Boston (TCS 66), and London (with about 200,000 playbills at Houghton), and thousands of larger portraits of actors and actresses (TCS 44). Harvard students also have access to the British Library playbill archive, which has more than one million items. The library also owns plenty of material related to Shakespeare, including two First Folios (003723123), a whopping fourteen Second Folios, and even a copy of the rare Third Folio, an edition whose physical copies were mostly consumed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Houghton also owns plenty of items connected to individual playwrights and illustrious figures of the world of theater, including Tennessee Williams’ (MS Thr 397, 011148678) and Gore Vidal’s papers (MS Am 2350, 010474168) and Alexander Woollcott’s correspondence (MS Am 1449, 000601883)—which contains letters to and from luminaries such as Charles Chaplin, Margaret Mitchell, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Women are also a prominent part of the collection, which holds the Josephine Baker papers (MS Thr 497, 010132941), the Vera Zorina papers (MS Thr 632, 011988685), and multiple collections concerning Mrs. Patrick Campbell, including much of her correspondence with George Bernard Shaw (MS Thr 372.1, 012743668), among many others.

However, not everything is theater at the Houghton Theater Collection. The library has a large Danish ballet archive and the Rothschild Collection of Ballet Russe, both fascinating and useful bequests. It also has a remarkable collection of realia from the world of theater and dance, including the death mask of Tennessee Williams, a bunting that was hanging at the Ford Theater on the night President Abraham Lincoln was shot, and a sword used by Edwin Forrest in a nineteenth-century production of Hamlet. The library also owns a collection of pre-cinematic devices, including two models of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Johnny Green’s 1953 Academy Award statuette (MS Thr 569 [1944], 012522078), and a set of 1914 shadow puppets (*2004MT-95, 009536018).

Theater, Dance, and Media concentrators might also wish to explore Houghton’s own history with theater. One of the library’s items, titled Subversion in the Houghton Library Collection (MS Am 2963, 013961254), includes a series of materials about a radio play—later adapted into a movie—composed and produced by Houghton employees. The movie’s cast even includes Philip Hofer and Eleanor Garvey, two historical figures at the library, and, as a commentary on McCarthyism, it is a testament to the power of theater in human societies.