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Guide to the Brooklyn theater collection 1977.041

Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn 11201

Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Cynthia Tobar

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on March 27, 2017
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Title: Brooklyn theater collection
Dates [inclusive]: 1733-1939
Dates [bulk]: 1863-1911
Abstract: The Brooklyn theater collection consists of playscripts, playbills, programs, and other ephemera from various theater venues in Brooklyn and Manhattan, dating from the early 18th century to the 1930s. In addition to playbills, there are some programs relating to concerts, musical comedies, and musical revues, as well as ephemera.
Quantity: 3.84 Linear Feet in two manuscript boxes and two oversize boxes.
Mixed Materials [Box]: 1977.041 4 of 4
Mixed Materials [Box]: 1977.041 2 of 4
Mixed Materials [Box]: 1977.041 3 of 4
Mixed Materials [Box]: 1977.041 1 of 4
Call Phrase: 1977.041
Sponsor: This collection was processed and described as part of the project, "Uncovering the Secrets of Brooklyn's 19th Century Past: Creation to Consolidation," funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, with additional support from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

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Historical Note

Brooklyn has had a lively history as an entertainment outlet, particularly through its active theater scene during the gas-light days of the 18th and 19th centuries. Audiences were enthralled by the performances of such actors and actresses as Maude Adams, the first actress to portray Peter Pan, in The Pretty Sister of Jose, and Sir Henry Irving, the first noted English actor to have been granted knighthood in 1895, in  The Amber Heart. These materials document the dynamic venues that working-class and middle class Brooklynites alike attended on a weekly basis, from the Manhattan Beach Amusement Park in Coney Island for musical comedies to the infamous Conway's Brooklyn Theater, which, on December 5 of 1876, went down in flames due to the dangers posed by overcrowding, combustible materials, raucous audiences, and inadequate escape exits. This event later spurred local legislation to regulate theater design, incorporating it into city building codes in 1885.

Many of these playbills and programs were kept by patrons as theater souvenirs and cover a variety of genres, including early musicals, traditional vaudeville shows, comedies, revues, and English dramas.


  1. Brooklyn Genealogy. "1876 Brooklyn Theatre Fire." Accessed February 28, 2008.
  2. The Irving Society. "The Irving Society." Accessed February 28, 2008.

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Scope and Contents

The Brooklyn theater collection is comprised of playscripts, playbills, programs, and other ephemera from various theater venues in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Although some material dates from the early 18th century to as late as the 1930s, most of the material focuses on the years 1823 to 1911. Programs relating to concerts, musical comedies, and musical revues are also included. In addition, the collection has some early rare examples of handwritten director's promptbooks dating back to 1733. Some examples of ephemeral material contained in the collection are an invitation to a ball sponsored by the Academy of Brooklyn to the Prince of Wales, Brooklyn Academy ticket statements, and clippings.

The majority of the collection centers on Brooklyn and Manhattan theater venues. Such well-known establishments as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Montauk Theatre, Orpheum Theatre, Payton's Lee Avenue Theatre, the Lyceum Hall, the Astor Place Opera House, Barnum's American Museum, Franklin Theatre, and Laura Keen's Theatre are included in this collection.

For an index of individual performers and plays listed, see Box 1, Folder 1: Playbills and Programs Finding Aid (1968). Please note that this list is no longer representative of the entire collection.


The collection is organized into two series:

Series 1: Playscripts and printed plays

Series 2: Playbills, programs, and ephemera

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Adams, Maude
  • Irving, Henry, Sir

Document Type

  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Invitations
  • Playbills
  • Plays (document genre)
  • Prompt books
  • Scripts (documents)
  • Theater programs

Subject Organizations

  • Amphion Theatre (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Brighton Beach Hall (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn Academy of Music
  • Brooklyn Museum
  • Brooklyn Theatre (Theater company : New York, N.Y.)
  • Columbia Theatre (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Grand Opera House (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Grand Theatre (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Montauk Theatre (Organization : Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.))
  • New Brighton Theatre (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • New Park Theatre (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Orpheum Theatre (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Payton's Theatre (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Shakespeare Association (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Teller's Broadway Theatre (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • Performing arts -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Performing arts -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Theater -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Theater -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Theaters -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Theaters -- New York (State) -- New York

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |v Drama
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Intellectual life
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social life and customs
  • New York (N.Y.) |v Drama
  • New York (N.Y.) |x Intellectual life
  • New York (N.Y.) |x Social life and customs

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Open to users without restriction.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); Brooklyn theater collection, 1977.041, Box and Folder number; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Related Materials

Related archival collections at the Brooklyn Historical Society:

Missing Title

  1. 1977.049, Brooklyn Theatre Fire Relief Association Records, 1876-1879
  2. 1977.205, Brooklyn and Manhattan theater and concert programs scrapbook, 1875-1885
  3. 1977.220, Mabel L. Mackey theater scrapbooks, 1897-1958
  4. 1980.011, Brooklyn Theatre playbill, 1867-1887
  5. 1992.023, Frank Jenks theater program collection, 1877-1892
  6. ARC.138, Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences publications and ephemera, 1877-1998

Other Finding Aids

A preliminary inventory of the collection and an earlier finding aid containing a complete container list are available in paper form at the Othmer Library. Please consult library staff for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Portions of the collection were the gifts of Miss G.M. Fitzpatrick, 1949; Henry S. Gorman, 1940; Gabriel Harrison, 1941; and Betsy B. Sand, date unknown. Sources and dates of acquisition for remaining items in the collection are unknown. The collection was formally accessioned in 1977.

Processing Information

Minimally processed to the series level. Finding aid entered into Archivists' Toolkit and the issue of "The Theatre Goer" added to the collection by Nicholas Pavlik in September 2011. Additional material relating to the Brooklyn Park Theater, Columbia Theater, Montauk Theatre, New Montauk Theatre, and The Orpheum and the finding aid updated by John Zarrillo in March 2017.

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Container List

Series 1: Playscripts and printed plays, 1733-1896. 0.21 Linear Feet in five folders.

Scope and Contents

The playscripts and plays in this series are arranged alphabetically by production location. This series comprises 22 play titles, some incomplete, covering comedies, farces, and drama scripts. Included are some handwritten directors' and prompters' scripts, actors' sides (sheets, usually a half page, containing lines and cues for a single role), varying versions of entire scripts or single acts, and printed plays. All items are written in English.

Series 2: Playbills, programs and ephemera, 1796-1939. 3.63 Linear Feet in one-and-a-half manuscript boxes and two oversize boxes.

Scope and Contents

Items in this series are organized alphabetically by venue. Included are playbills and programs from a number of Brooklyn and Manhattan theaters that seem to have been amassed by patrons as souvenirs. These programs and playbills provide information about a variety of theater productions, including names of performers, productions, the different acts that comprised an evening's entertainment, and advertisements. Also included is one copy of the April 4, 1891 issue of The Theatre Goer, a weekly news publication containing programs and listings of music and drama performances in Brooklyn and the New York City area.

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