What is a Production History?
A production history (also called performance history or stage history) is an account of significant productions or adaptations of a theatrical work. A production history answers several questions:
- When, where, and by whom was the work written, directed, designed, performed, and adapted?
- What made the productions significant or unique in terms of style or approach?
- How were the productions received by critics and audiences? (This is sometimes called reception history.)
- What changes occurred during the development of the productions?
Production history helps us to appreciate the possibilities inherent in a theatrical work; the changing perceptions of it over time; and the theatrical styles and approaches of specific places and times.
How do you find production histories? Unless someone else has compiled one for you, there’s no single, simple place to find them. You have to piece the history together from several kinds of sources, both primary and secondary.
Secondary Sources & Reviews
For information on a particular show, consult secondary sources such as these. Books can be found using HOLLIS (Library Catalog option); journal articles and reviews through HOLLIS 'Everything' and the databases listed below.
- Biographies of the playwright or composer
- Texts of the play (critical introductions and notes often give an account of productions)
- Websites on the author, the composer, the director, or the work
- For Broadway production data, search the Internet Broadway Database; for Off-Broadway, the Lortel Archive; for Broadway and Off-Broadway, the Playbill Vault. Both Broadway and Off-Broadway productions are listed in Theatre in Context.
- For musicals, consult:
- Journal articles via e-resources such as:
- Performing Arts Periodicals Database -- also includes reviews
- International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance (IBTD) -- also includes reviews
(Under "Narrow by Discipline," select Performing Arts)
- Project Muse
(Under Research Areas, choose Film, Theatre and Performing Arts or Music)
- The New York Times and other newspapers (search by newspaper title in HOLLIS or Chronicling America)
- Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive
- Google Scholar
- MLA International Bibliography
- Stage histories of particular shows or playwrights. Examples: Oklahoma! : The making of an American musical, by Tim Carter; The Chekhov theatre: a century of the plays in performance, by Laurence Senelick. To find others, see suggested library subject headings below.
These Library of Congress subject headings can be useful for finding production histories in HOLLIS. But you don't have to type them meticulously, or know the playwright's dates. In HOLLIS, use the Advanced Search; select the Library Catalog option; change "Keywords" to "Subject" and type words such as Arthur Miller stage history in the search box. You can also use the Starts With/Browse function, choose "Browse by Subject," and type the author's last name and first name to bring up a list of subject headings like those below.
[Lastname, Firstname, Dates] -- Stage history.
Example: Miller, Arthur, 1915-2005 -- Stage history
[Lastname, Firstname, Dates] -- Appreciation.
Example: Miller, Arthur, 1915-2005 -- Appreciation
[Lastname, Firstname, Dates]. Name of show.
Example: Rodgers, Richard, 1902-1979. Oklahoma!
[Lastname, Firstname, Dates] -- Dramatic production.
Example: Williams, Tennessee, 1911-1983 -- Dramatic production
[Lastname, Firstname, Dates] -- Stage production.
Example: Bernstein, Leonard, 1918-1990 -- Stage production
Productions can be documented with various types of primary sources. All of these are represented in the Harvard Theatre Collection, which is a department of the Houghton Library:
- Newspaper Clippings
- Theatre Reviews
- Prints & Photographs
- Scene and costume designs / artwork
Some of these resources are cataloged in HOLLIS and HOLLIS for Archival Discovery. Others are not individually cataloged, but are part of so-called "arranged series" in the Theatre Collection stacks. The stacks are not open for browsing, but you can request that Houghton Library staff search these series for sources on a particular production. The more information you can supply about it -- dates, place, theater, persons involved -- the more likely it is that staff will be able to find material. This information can often be found in secondary sources and reviews (see the box to the left). If you're looking for a particular type of source -- e.g., photographs of scenes or costume designs -- you can request it by filling out a "New Request" on the Special Collections Request form. See Placing Requests to find out how to complete the form.
To find production histories of Shakespeare's plays, go to the HOLLIS+ Advanced Search. In the Subject search field, type Shakespeare Name of play Stage history.
The World Shakespeare Bibliography Online lists productions of Shakespeare's plays all over the world since 1960. To find productions of a particular play, use the Advanced Search. Type the title of the play in "Words in Title." Then, under "Document type," choose Production, and click Submit. The productions will be listed alphabetically by the director's name, but you can sort them chronologically by clicking on the "Date" header.
If you're interested in adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, be sure to check Denise Buhr's concise Shakespearean Adaptation: A Bibliography. Then search in HOLLIS+ for particular books or articles listed there.