What is a Performance History?

A performance history (also called production history or stage history) is an account of significant productions of a theatrical work (play, opera, dance, etc.).

There are two levels of research on performance history:

  • Dates, places, interpreters: When, where, and by whom has the play been performed?
  • What was each production like? What made it significant or unique in terms of style, approach, or reception?

Why study a play’s performance history?

  • A play can serve as a case study of changing cultural norms and theatrical styles over time.
  • Seeing how different interpreters have approached a play can deepen our understanding of it.

How do you find performance histories? Unless someone has compiled one, 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.

Performance History: Secondary Sources

To find out when and where a particular play has been performed, consult secondary sources such as these. Books can be found using HOLLIS; journal articles through the e-resources listed.

Performance History: Subject Headings

Library of Congress subject headings can be useful for finding production histories in HOLLIS. Use the Advanced Search; choose "Subject;" and type keywords such as Chekhov stage history. Other terms that will work with the playwright's name, or the name of the play, are Appreciation; Influence; or Dramatic production.

Performance History: Primary Sources

Performances and productions can be documented with various types of primary sources:

  • Newspaper and Magazine Articles
  • Theatre Reviews (see e-resources listed above)
  • Playbills
  • Promptbooks
  • Prints & Photographs
  • Posters
  • Scene and costume design / artwork

You can often find specific primary sources (articles, reviews, etc.) cited in secondary sources about the theatrical work or its creator. Some of these primary sources are individually cataloged in HOLLIS and HOLLIS for Archival Discovery.  The Harvard Theatre Collection owns all these types of materials; for information about how to find them, see this guide.

Case Study: Waiting for Godot

Secondary Sources:

Primary Sources: