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Research Guide

Welcome! This page highlights key resources for conducting effective research in theatre.

If you need assistance identifying additional resources, search terms or strategies, please schedule a research consultation.

Personal Librarian:
Charlotte Price
108 LeFrak Center, Barnard Hall

Click on the headings to expand sections of the guide

Reference Sources

A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800 (for off-campus access, use this link). The Biographical Dictionary lists all London performers – from David Garrick and the Kembles, to little-known musicians and prompters – from 1660-1800. Use this database to search the entirety of the Biographical Dictionary using the alphabetical list, search terms, date range or by selecting roles.

British Black and Asian Shakespeare (BBAS) Performance Database is a free database that contains searchable information about practioners, plays, theatre companies, and the roles played by black and Asian performers in the UK from 1930 to 2015. It draws on performance archives, production reviews, documentary evidence and personal interviews with practitioners and other members of BAME communities.

Doollee a freely accessible, extensive database of modern playwrights and theatre plays written in or translated into English since the production of Look Back in Anger in 1956.

Gale Biography in Context is a comprehensive database of biographical information on over 320,000 people from throughout history, around the world, and across all disciplines and subject areas. It combines 780 volumes of Gale Group, including the International Dictionary of Theatre and Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television

Internet Broadway Database (IBDB) was created by the Research Department of The Broadway League, the national trade association for Broadway. IBDB provides a comprehensive database of shows produced on Broadway, including all "title page" information about each production. IBDB also offers historical information about theatres and various statistics and fun facts related to Broadway

Internet Off-Broadway Database (Lortel Archives) The Lucille Lortel Archives produce the IOBDB. They contain complete Off-Broadway seasons dating back to 1958. As of March 2012, over 6,000 shows have been entered. For this archive, Off-Broadway refers to any production that has satisfied the following requirements: "Played at a Manhattan theatre with a seating capacity of 100-499, intended to run a closed-ended or open-ended schedule of performances of more than one week, and offered itself to critics and general audiences alike."

Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance provides information about theater and performance from ancient Greece to the present.

Play Index provides citations to 30,000 plays written from Antiquity to the present and published from 1949 to the present.

Foundation Center 990 Finder provides an access point to look up publicly stored tax records of non-profits, especially useful for seeing more detailed information on the finances of a theater or theater organization.

Recommended Databases for Journal Articles and Reviews

Alternative Press Index: More than 300 alternative, radical, and left journals, newspapers, and magazines and includes selected abstracts from research journals. Indexes journals covering cultural, economic, political, and social change. Coverage is international and interdisciplinary.

International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance contains all of the content available in International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance as well as full text for 100 titles.

Performing Arts Periodicals Database (previously International Index to the Performing Arts) is a multidisciplinary index to the performing arts. Includes full-text.

Humanities Full Text brings full text (starting 1995) plus abstracts and bibliographic indexes (starting 1984) of noted scholarly sources in the humanities, as well as lesser known specialized magazines.

JSTOR provides access to the core scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences from the earliest issues to within a few years of current publication. Users may browse by journal title or discipline, or may search full-text or citations/abstracts.

ProQuest Direct contains citations and full-text articles from several thousand magazines, journals, newspapers, etc. covering many subjects in academic & professional disciplines.

ProQuest Historical Newspapers offers full-text and full-image articles from major American newspapers, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Locate the review of a production and then click/flip through the pages of the publication to identify relevant historical and cultural events.

The Routledge Performance Archive contains  interviews with key figures in theatre history and contemporary practice; masterclasses with specialist actor trainers from around the world; unique footage direct from the legendary practitioners themselves; excerpted and full-length contemporary productions; and documentaries previously unavailable to global audiences. The video material spans more than fifty years of documented work direct from practitioners and specialists.

Finding Books, Plays, and Media 

Browse the stacks using the theatre call number range: PN2000-3299

CLIO is the online catalog of the Columbia University Libraries, including Barnard Library, but excluding Teachers College and the Law Library. Limit search results to the Catalog in order to locate on-campus books and media materials.

The NYPL Catalog searches the circulating and non-circulating research collections at the New York Public Library, including those at the Billy Rose Theatre Division and the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive.

WorldCat searches libraries worldwide.

Search Tip: When searching subject headings, use the spelling THEATER not THEATRE.

Browse the stacks, remembering that plays are shelved with literature. A selected list:

  • PA Classical literature, Greek & Roman
  • PG Slavic literature
  • PJ Semitic literature
  • PK Indo-Iranian
  • PL Eastern Asia, Africa, Oceania
  • PN General
  • PQ French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese
  • PR English
  • PS American
  • PT German & related

Search Tip: When browsing or searching titles, remember that plays are often collected in anthologies. Try searching the work's title as a keyword. You may also wish to consult a reference source such as Ottemiller's Index to Plays in Collections.

Plays in Databases

  • Black Drama: Contains 1,200 plays by 300 playwrights from North America, Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, and other locations, including the great names in drama (Zora Neale Hurston, August Wilson, Ossie Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Langston Hughes).
  • Digital Theatre Plus provides online access to a digital streaming video collection of unique films of current, leading British theatre productions. Includes behind-the-scenes documentaries as well as teaching and learning resources to facilitate a deeper understanding of the productions and texts.
  • Drama online is a digital library of plays from Aeschylus to the present day. It also includes critical analysis, contextual information, A-Z reference and practical texts.
  • Early English Books Online (EEBO): Contains full-page images of most books published in English and the English-speaking world prior to 1700.
  • Eighteenth century drama: censorship, society and the stage: Archives almost every play submitted for license between 1737 and 1824, as well as important supporting documents and other information about theater in that time period. The collection is divided into thematic areas like Race & Religion, Opera, Celebrity Culture & Fashion, and Women in 18th Century Drama, and includes an extensive image gallery.
  • English Verse Drama Database: Contains full-text of more than 1700 English plays in verse from the end of the 13th century to the end of the 19th century.
  • Play Index indexes more than 30,000 plays written from Antiquity to the present and published from 1949 to the present; includes mysteries, pageants, plays in verse, puppet performances, radio and television plays, and classic drama. All Play master records contain a link to the results of an Internet metasearch of specially selected Web sites to link to full text, criticism, and other useful information.
  • Shakespeare in performance: prompt books from the Folger Shakespeare Library: Contains Prompt books for performances of Shakespeare's plays between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, and supporting material for 17 selected plays. Documents are indexed by genre, country, theatre, associated names, and other key search terms. Also present: ephemera, photographs, illustrations, music scores, correspondence, and illustrations.
  • Twentieth Century North American Drama: Contains the full text of 1,500 plays written from the late 1800s to the present. 
  • Twentieth-Century Drama: Currently includes over 1,500 plays representative of the English speaking world from 1890 to the present. When complete, the database will contain 2,500 plays.

Media materials are available from the Media Collection on the 1st floor of the LeFrak Center and from Butler Media Center. Columbia Univeristy Library System also subscribes to databases, such as Theatre in Video, that stream films of theatrical productions. To locate physical and electronic materials, conduct an advanced search in CLIO and limit results to Format: Video.


Set & Costume Design

Additional Resources

This guide serves as a starting point for beginning research in theatre, and does not cover the great diversity of resources available to support the study and practice of the discipline. For additional resources, please consult one of the following course specific guides or make an appointment for a research consultation.

For information on television and movie actors, see the Film research guide.

Course Specific Guides