This year’s Rare Books and Manuscript Section (RBMS) preconference, http://www.preconference.rbms.info/, is focusing on performing arts and the use of these materials in an academic and research library setting. At the Lilly Library, there are many pieces of performing arts history that reveal to us connections between our culture and art. This post provides a glimpse of such collections in the Library’s holdings.
A truly extraordinary item in the collection is a Theatre Log circa 1934-1946. This log was printed with the intention that the owner would fill in the pre-printed sheets with information about the plays and/or movies they attended. The blanks are to be filled with not only things like the name of the performance and the theatre that it was performed in, but also who accompanied them to see the show, with plenty of room to express your opinion of the show.
The example in the Lilly’s collection was compiled by an unknown author. Even without the identity of the author, their detailed evaluations bring to life this author’s criticism and appreciation of theatre.
One entry of interest reflects on a performance at the Mercury Theatre in New York in 1938. The author saw Orson Welles portray Brutus onstage in “Julius Caesar.” “The only thing that annoyed me was the manner in which Welles kept poking his chin out and skyward in the Mussolini manner – a little too exaggerated at times to be pleasant,” she expresses quite bluntly. She adds: “This was an ingenius (sic) production in the true Orson Welles manner.”
We are fortunate to have the Orson Welles manuscript collection here at the Library, filled with correspondence, photos, and much more relating to Welles’ radio, theatre, and film productions. For “Julius Caesar”, he was not only the star, but also the director, editor, and producer. The play was produced in modern dress on a barren stage. While it was assumed by audiences that he was reflecting on European dictatorship of the time, Welles was insistent that this was not his intention. “I’m trying to let Shakespeare’s lines do the job of making the play applicable to the tensions of our time,” Welles states in the Mercury Theatre weekly bulletin written by Henry Senber. Many more of Welles’ productions have materials here that are waiting to be explored.
The Lilly Library’s holdings also include many theatre playbills; fascinating sources that shed light on our culture. We see performances placed in a specific place and time in history, and advertisements that provide a window into the culture of the time. A wide variety of products were advertised, from automobiles to fur coats. The most common advertisements promoted cigarettes. Endorsed by many different celebrities, cigarettes were certainly a symbol of sophistication.
Much more can be discovered amongst the Lilly Library’s collections of performing arts ephemera. Please contact us if you’d like to come and take a look at some of our fascinating historical items.
Rare Books and Manuscripts Specialization Indiana University – School of Library and Information Science Bloomington, IN