Here at the Theatre Research Institute we are always busy acquiring new items and collections to support the research of our students, faculty and worldwide visitors. Some of the treasures we have acquired are currently on display in the Thompson Library Special Collections display area.


New TRI Acquisitions Display

New TRI Acquisitions Display

Below is a list of the included items:


[Stratford-upon-Avon] [n.d., c. 1800]. British Theatre Collection.

Fragment of wood from Shakespeare’s Mulberry Tree, bearing the seal of John Doubleday and inscribed with a note by Doubleday: “A fragment of the Mulberry Tree planted by Wm. Shakespeare at Stratford upon Avon, given me by the Revd. Thos. Rackett, one of the executors, for the famous 18-century actor David Garrick.” John Doubleday (circa 1799-1856), was a dealer in casts of coins, and an object restorer for the British Museum.


1868. Charles H. McCaghy Collection of Exotic Dance from Burlesque to Clubs.

Lydia Thompson [a.k.a. Eliza Hodges Thompson] (1838-1908) was born in London, where she became a popular actress, dancer and theatrical producer. In 1868 she came to America with a burlesque troupe called the “British Blondes.” The troupe was a hit in New York and then went on an extremely popular national tour lasting almost six years. Thompson returned to England in 1874, but came back to perform in the United States several more times before her death.


1935-36. Cole Porter’s Jubilee Collection.

Jubilee is a musical comedy with a book by Moss Hart and music and lyrics by Cole Porter. It premiered on Broadway in October 1935 to great reviews. Several of its songs became popular, including “Begin the Beguine” and “Just One of Those Things.”


Jubilee Photos

Jubilee Photos


various dates. Ralph MacPhail, Jr., Howdy Doody Collection.

The Howdy Doody Show is a program that was telecast on the NBC network in the United States from 1947 until 1960. The show featured Howdy Doody (a red-haired, freckled marionette) and several other recurring puppet and human characters. It was a groundbreaking children’s television show that combined educational content with entertainment. It was also one of the first programs to use extensive merchandising and branding on a wide variety of products.


1940. Martha Scott Collection.

Actress Martha Scott (1912 – 2003) had a career that spanned more than fifty years. She originated the role of Emily Webb in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town on Broadway in 1938 and played the role in the 1940 film version. She was also featured in several other major films including The Ten Commandments, and Ben-Hur. From 1979 to 1985 she had a continuing role on the popular television series Dallas. Scott also co-produced the stage and film versions of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s First Monday in October.


mid-20th century. Jesse and Rochelle Shereff Gilbert and Sullivan Collection

This “toby jug” depicts the character of the Major General from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance. A set of fourteen jugs was created by Shorter & Sons, Ltd. based on the characters from The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s productions. The designs depict the actual costumes worn by the actors, with each posing in the best possible stance to portray their character.


1981. Film Promotions Collection.

Butterfly McQueen (1911-1995) was an actress who appeared in numerous films and television series throughout the mid-20th century.

She is most well-known for her portrayal of Prissy in Gone With the Wind (1939). In addition to signing the front of this photo, Ms. McQueen also wrote an inscription on the back: “To whom it may concern: This is a publicity photo of Prissy; she is never so “happy” in “G.W.T.W.” Butterfly McQueen 2/81.


Jerome Lawrence’s Big 100: A Celebration of the Individual

Jerome Lawrence portrait

Jerome Lawrence’s Big 100: A Celebration of the Individual

by Cecelia Bellomy

In an interview with Jerome Lawrence and long-time writing partner Robert E. Lee, conducted by head of Thompson Library Special Collections, Nena Couch, Lawrence quotes a line from John Donne’s famous poem, “No Man Is an Island.” “I am involved in mankind,” Lawrence recites, and it is clear from the legacy he has left behind on the 100th anniversary of his birth, that this author’s involvement with humanity has left an indelible stamp on the stage, screen, airwaves, and most importantly, the hearts and minds of multiple generations of theatregoers.

Jerome Lawrence “always wanted to be a writer,” as he confesses in the same interview for Studies in American Drama (Couch). Born Jerome Lawrence Schwartz, he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. His father Samuel owned a printing press, his mother Sarah wrote poetry, and his sister Naomi was an actress. Based on their occupations alone, it is easy to see that Lawrence’s upbringing encouraged creative and intellectual expression.

He received a bachelor’s degree from the Ohio State University in 1937. While attending OSU, Lawrence was involved in many theatrical productions as an actor. He was also a writer for the student newspaper and the student radio station. He even published his first play during his undergraduate career: Laugh, God!, published in the timely Six Anti-Nazi One Act Plays (1939).

After graduating, Lawrence worked as the director of summer stock for multiple theatre companies, a reporter, and editor for multiple small-town newspapers and one radio station. It wasn’t until after earning a graduate degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, that Lawrence really began breaking into the writing world. He began working in New York and Los Angeles, writing for CBS and Paramount.

Though Lawrence and Lee were born and educated approximately thirty miles apart (Lee was born in Elyria, Ohio and attended Ohio Wesleyan University), and their similar careers writing for the radio brought them both to New York, the two men didn’t meet until January, 1942. Their partnership was immediate. They collaborated on several radio plays, the first of which, “Inside a Kid’s Head,” aired on the experimental Columbia Workshop. Lawrence and his partner Lee’s burgeoning writing careers were put on hold, however, as the partners turned their focus toward the War effort.

Lawrence and Lee became Expert Consultants to the Secretary of War during World War II and co-founded the Armed Forces Radio Service for which Lawrence was a correspondent in North Africa and Italy. Additionally, Lawrence and Lee wrote and directed official Army-Navy programs for D-Day, VE Day, and VJ Day.

After a few halting post-war years, the collaboration between Lawrence and Lee began to truly soar. The musical Look Ma, I’m Dancin’!, for which the duo wrote the book, opened in 1948 with good reception. Lawrence and Lee also continued collaborating regularly for the radio, writing “299 broadcasts of notable musical theatre works for the weekly series, The Railroad Hour” (Woods xiii). And that is just one program for which the pair wrote during this time.

It was during the next several years in which Lawrence, with Lee, wrote the plays and musicals for which he is still remembered today. The partners showed a true knack for versatility from the light-hearted comedy musical Mame (1966) to the serious, topical, straight drama, Inherit the Wind (1955), which used the famous Scopes Monkey Trial to address the individual’s right to think freely. Other famous plays and musicals written by the duo include Shangri-La (1956), The Gang’s All Here (1959), and First Monday in October (1975).

On their writing technique, the duo claimed they oftentimes could not remember who wrote what. They also employed a “UN veto” in which either had the power to veto a creative idea but only if the dissenter could come up with a better replacement.

Despite their critical success on Broadway, Lawrence and Lee co-founded the American Playwrights Theatre, based in Columbus, Ohio, to attempt to bypass the ever-more stringent rules and regulations of Broadway. By connecting new scripts by new writers to theatres outside New York, the APT was instrumental in the regional theatre movement of the second half of the twentieth century. Lawrence and Lee’s Vietnam War-commentary, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail (1970), made its debut through APT.

In 1972, Lawrence and Lee wrote a play on the life of Columbus playwright and humorist James Thurber. Jabberwock: Improbabilities Lived and Imagined by James Thurber in the Fictional City of Columbus, Ohio premiered at the opening of the Thurber Theatre at Ohio State. The duo also founded the Margo Jones Award, now administered by OSU Libraries’ Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute, to honor citizens-of-the-theatre who have demonstrated a significant impact, understanding, and affirmation of the craft of playwriting, with a lifetime commitment to the encouragement of the living theatre.

Though Jerome Lawrence is most known for his work with Robert E. Lee, he did some solo work throughout his career, including the play Live Spelled Backwards (1966) and the book Actor: The Life and Times of Paul Muni (1975).

Always interested in expanding theatre education for young people, Lawrence taught at universities across the country, including the University of Southern California. Lawrence passed away at the age of 88 on February 29th, 2004 from complications of a stroke.

Through his life, with the help of Lee, Jerome Lawrence encouraged people to think. Though his body of work is diverse in tone and content, one string stretches throughout—the power and importance of the individual. Throughout Lawrence’s life, from his upbringing in a creative home, to his commitment to expression during World War II, to his varied and provocative playwriting career, he has championed and proven the importance of individual expression for the person and their larger society. With his passing, the world lost a true individual, but on his 100th birthday, we celebrate the legacy he left behind in his work.


Works Cited

Couch, Nena. “An Interview with Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.”Studies in American Drama 7.1 (1992): 3-18. Web.

Woods, Alan. “General Introduction.” The Selected Plays of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Ed. Alan Woods. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1995. Ix-Xxiii. Print.


Congratulations to Dr. Beth Kattelman





Dr. Beth Kattelman to receive award 7/9/2015

Dr. Beth Kattelman to receive award 7/9/2015

Annual Research Excellence Award Announced

The Committee for Faculty Benefits, Research, and Responsibilities is pleased to announce this year’s recipient of the Annual Research Excellence Award. Congratulations to Beth Kattelman on her 2014 book chapter and article called “Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?: American Ghost Shows of the Twentieth Century.” published in Theatre and Ghosts: Materiality, Performance and Modernity.

Invitation to Award Ceremony


“To the citizens of Russia: the Provisional Government is overthrown”

“To the citizens of Russia: the Provisional Government is overthrown”

By Cecelia Bellomy

To the citizens of Russia: the Provisional Government is overthrown

To the citizens of Russia: the Provisional Government is overthrown

It is a cold, late fall Russian morning and you leave your home to go about your business. You’re on your way, a day like any other, until you see a notice posted on the side of a building or wall: “To the citizens of Russia: the Provisional Government is overthrown.” The notice is time-stamped 10 AM. It is November 7th, 1917, and at this moment, you realize that your life has changed forever.

This notice, posted in St. Petersburg to alert the populace of the victory of the Bolsheviks and the beginning of Communist rule, was a gift to the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute from Frank Lloyd Dent to the Norris Houghton Collection in 2008. Dent was a close friend of Houghton, one of the few Americans allowed to experience the Golden Age of Russian theatre firsthand. Houghton visited the Soviet Union multiple times and got to sit in on rehearsals and watch productions by Konstantin Stanislavsky and his Moscow Art Theatre and Vsevolod Meyerhold and his Meyerhold Theatre. He outlines his time in the USSR in his two books Moscow Rehearsals (1936) and Return Engagement (1962).

Other than the fact that the proclamation was gifted into the Houghton collection by a close friend, the document’s history remains a mystery. One likes to imagine that perhaps Stanislavsky himself gave it to Houghton as a thank-you for chronicling what the Soviet theatre was doing right in an age when the American opinion of all things Red was negative indeed.

Though the proclamation belongs to the Theatre Research Institute, it has fallen  to Predrag Matejic, the Director of the Resource Center for Medieval Slavic Studies and Curator of the Hilandar Research Library, to provide historical context. I interviewed him about the piece and his face lit up at its first mention.

“I was truly amazed when I read it,” he said, “because it couldn’t be anything other than the announcement of the Bolshevik victory.” Matejic gave me a full translation of the document with added words in brackets to make understanding a bit easier:

To the citizens of Russia: the Provisional Government is overthrown. That [those things] for which the people fought: the immediate tendering of a democratic peace, the abolition of large landowner ownership of the land, worker control  of the means of production, the creation of a Soviet government – this has been achieved. Long life [Glory] to the revolution of the workers, soldiers, and peasants! Bread – [to the] hungry! Land – [to the] peasants! Factories – [to the] workers! Peace – [to the] peoples!

Military-Revolutionary Committee
of the Petrograd Soviet of
Workers and Soldiers Deputies

25 October [November 7] 1917 10:00 A.M.

Such a valuable and irreplaceable historical artifact seemed almost too good to be true to Matejic, so he did extensive research of Russian-language sources, eventually finding that the document did, in fact, “reflect something that was real.” As far as we know, this document really did hang in St. Petersburg, soon to be re-named Petrograd (and later Leningrad), and notified people of the success of the revolution. After more research, Matejic also found evidence that this notification and others like it were produced and distributed straight from Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, himself. In fact, multiple versions were likely distributed, customized for different groups to read. It is unknown what type of citizens read this proclamation, but Matejic does draw an interesting parallel between the list of promises at the end of the proclamation, “Long life [Glory] to the revolution of the workers, soldiers, and peasants! Bread – [to the] hungry! Land – [to the] peasants! Factories – [to the] workers! Peace – [to the] peoples!” and the Beatitudes spoken by Jesus Christ during his Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:3-10, KJV)

Just as Jesus promised heavenly rewards to the poor, oppressed, and peaceful, Lenin promises earthly comforts and peace to the downtrodden lower Russian classes. Though the exact audience of this proclamation is unknown, it could easily have been posted on a factory door or street corner surrounded by tenements. The language of the notice suggests that it is meant to bring comfort and excitement to those who would benefit most from the nationalization of privatized wealth.

Besides its historical significance and artistic language, the proclamation is interesting simply as an archival object. Matejic notes that the date printed on the proclamation is October 25, 1917, though it is well known that the day St. Petersburg was delivered into Bolshevik hands was, in fact, November 7th of that year. This date disparity is not a typo but a last, soon-to-be-destroyed vestige of pre-Revolution Russia. The October date coincides with the Julian calendar, used by Russia and a few other countries at the time of the Revolution. Within a year, the Soviets would change Russia over to the Gregorian calendar used by the majority of the world. In hindsight, it is an irony to see this remnant of the old Russia clinging to the bottom of this proclamation declaring the beginning of the new, Communist era.

The proclamation also lacks one character from the Russian alphabet, “yat” (pronounced YEH). Matejic explained that the notice is written in the orthography in use in Russian during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The “yat” (Ѣѣ) is replaced with another character known as the “hard sign” (Ъъ). Despite giving an odd look to some of the words in the document, this fact  supplies a tidbit of information that adds to our understanding of this very important day in Russian history: simply, as Matejic puts it, “Wherever Lenin was on that day, they couldn’t find a yat.”

Today, the document is one of the busiest and most popular in OSU Libraries’ Thompson Library Special Collections. It is often shown to classes of history students who “just can’t believe” we own such a piece. It is also used to illustrate differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars.  Matejic also expressed his desire to get inside the frame the document came in to preserve it better and investigate it for further clues as to its origins.

Matejic doesn’t “believe [another one of these documents] exists anywhere in North America.” “Many people on this campus…for them, the USSR and Soviet-bloc European countries…are not something they grew up with” so the significance of a historical document like this is “incredible.” Just as Norris Houghton got to experience a slice of the Soviet world which was so foreign to him, the Theatre Research Institute, with this special document, can share a little bit of the dawn of a world now past to people who will be as stunned as Houghton was upon his first view of Stanislavsky.



The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute is pleased to announce its acquisition of:

The Ralph MacPhail, Jr., Howdy Doody Collection

The collection was donated by Ralph MacPhail, Jr., Professor of Theatre emeritus of Bridgewater College of Virginia who has long been a Howdy Doody scholar and enthusiast. Professor MacPhail is also an authority on Gilbert and Sullivan and serves as the Artistic Director of The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin.

Ralph MacPhail, Jr., and his wife Alice with Clarabell the Clown and Buffalo Bob of The Howdy Doody Show

Ralph MacPhail, Jr., and his wife Alice with Clarabell the Clown and Buffalo Bob of The Howdy Doody Show

This resource provides deep insight into The Howdy Doody Show and is also a treasure trove of information about puppetry, performance in children’s television, early television programming, and merchandising history. Some collection highlights include:

• Original H.D. “Test Pattern” flip card used at the end of telecasts
• Scripts, manuscript music and photographs from The Howdy Doody Show
• Extensive information on Eddie Kean, script writer, music composer, and driving force behind The Howdy Doody Show.
• Extensive Information on “Buffalo Bob” Smith, creator and star of The Howdy Doody Show.
• Working papers for issues of The Howdy Doody Times (Newsletter of the Doodyville Historical Society)

doody buttons

In addition, the collection contains hundreds of toys, product premiums, and audio and video recordings. The collection is available for use by students, faculty and researchers worldwide. For those interested accessing it, please contact the TRI staff at 614-292-6614 or visit  for more information.


Margo Jones Medal

Margo Jones Medal

2015 Margo Jones Award Recipient

Emily Mann, playwright and Artistic Director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, has been named as the 2015 Margo Jones Award recipient. Mann was selected based on her significant impact, understanding, and affirmation of the craft of playwriting and work to encourage the living theatre everywhere.

The award will be presented to Ms. Mann during a ceremony on May 16th at the McCarter Theatre. Speakers will include Nadine Strossen, Jade King Carroll, and Christopher Durang, who received his own Margo Jones Award (along with Marsha Norman) in 2004 for his work with the Juilliard School’s American Playwrights Program.

Emily Mann has piloted the McCarter Theatre for 25 seasons, directing, writing, and/or overseeing over 200 productions in her time there. Under Mann’s direction, the McCarter accepted the 1994 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater and the 2013 Tony Award for best new play for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. During her time at the McCarter, Mann has also ensured the ongoing advancement of new plays through commissions and development.

Mann herself is a prolific writer of both original plays and adaptations. Her original works include: Annulla, An Autobiography; Still Life; Greensboro (A Requiem); Meshugah; and Mrs. Packard and her adaptations include: Antigone, Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, a free adaptation of The Seagull: A Seagull in the Hamptons and The House of Bernarda Alba (recently staged in London). Having Our Say, wrote and directed by Ms. Mann and adapted from the book by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth, appeared on Broadway in 1995. Mann’s adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage premiered this fall at New York Theatre Workshop.

A winner of the Peabody Award, the Dramatists Guild Hull-Warriner Award, and the Edward Albee Last Frontier Directing Award, Mann is a member of the Dramatists Guild and serves on its council. She is also the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from Princeton University.

Members of the Medal Committee are Deborah Robison for the family of Jerome Lawrence; Janet Waldo Lee, Lucy Lee, and Jonathan Barlow Lee for the family of Robert E. Lee; and Nena Couch, Beth Kattelman, and Mary Tarantino for the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute at the Ohio State University. Joining the committee to make the presentation is Lisa Carter, Associate Director of Special Collections and Area Studies for OSU Libraries.

“Emily has contributed to the creation and support of new plays in so many ways,” said Beth Kattelman, Curator of the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute, “In addition to being an accomplished playwright herself, she has fostered the work of numerous playwrights throughout her years at the McCarter. The committee believes she truly epitomizes the spirit of the Margo Jones Award.”

Go see the list of past award recipients.






In March the TRI made a trip to Cincinnati, Ohio to share some tech theatre artifacts with the attendants of the national conference for the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). The exhibition, Tech Treasures from the Ohio State University Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute, was curated by Beth Kattelman and was mounted with the support of the University Libraries and the Ohio State University Theatre Department.




The mounting of this traveling exhibition was a real team effort, combining the talents of several theatre students—Shane Cinal (exhibition designer), Zach Bailey and Zac Cooper, in particular–and faculty from two OSU campuses–Dan Matthews, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Design (Lima campus) and Brad Steinmetz, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Design (Columbus campus). The exhibition proved extremely popular with USITT attendees, who especially enjoyed the interactive pose slide display, which featured projections of magic lantern slides from the Joel E. Rubin collection. The pose display allowed visitors to see what they might look like if they were featured in a “pose plastique” entertainment. [For more information on pose plastiques read Prof. Mervyn Heard’s essay, “Dressed in Light”!research-page/c21jb ]


Student, Zac Cooper, appears “in his boudoir” courtesy of the interactive pose slide board

The exhibition featured items from over twelve different TRI collections, including artifacts from the Joel E. Rubin Collection, the William Barclay Collection, the Daphne Dare Collection, the Nancy Walker Collection, the Toy Theatre Collection, the Frederick D. Pfening Collection, the Sylvia Westerman Collection, the Curtiss Showprint Collection, the Gerald Kahan Collection Mircea Marosin Collection, the Tony Straiges Design Collection, the Robert W. Wagner Cinema Collection, the Magic and Conjuring Collection, and the Artist Photograph Collection. The exhibit was visited by hundreds of people throughout the course of the three-day showcase, including several Ohio State students, faculty and alumni, who also participated in celebrating the installment of Mark Shanda, OSU Dean of Arts and Humanities, as the newest president of USITT at a special Ohio State get together.


TRI Director, Mary Tarantino, TRI Curator, Nena Couch and Curator of Theatre, Beth Kattelman pose with set designs and a model from the William Barclay Collection.




by Cecelia Bellomy

Over the years, many printmaking companies have gone digital or disbanded in the wake of technological advances, leaving letterpress printing equipment to be sold, thrown out, or simply forgotten. This is not true for of all presses, however, and it certainly is not true of Hatch Show Print. The vintage and digital worlds collided recently when Jim Sherraden, manager of Hatch Show Print in Nashville, came to visit the Ohio State Department of Design.


Sherraden and TRI’s Curtiss Show Print Collection Materials

This visit was held in the Thompson Library Special Collections Reading Room on February 20th for Peter Chan’s Intro to Visual Communication Design II class for the Department of Design second-year undergraduates, but a wide range of graduate students and faculty also came to experience what was an incredible opportunity for anyone interested in letterpress printmaking, promotional art, or design in general. Sherraden gave a special lecture using the TRI’s Curtiss Show Print Collection to talk about the art of letterpress printing and then examined the second-year students’ letterpress work, giving praise and advice and using the archival prints for context.


Hatch Show Print Master Printer

In addition to being master printer for Hatch Show Print where he has worked since the mid-eighties, Sherraden is an active visual artist exploring the aesthetic potential of the historical printing resources of the press. Before Sherraden came to Hatch, it looked like its doors may be about to close permanently.  After its establishment by Charles R. and Herbert H. Hatch in 1875, Hatch Show Print (at that time CR and HH Hatch) steadily became a major name in show printing and had its heyday from the mid-1920s to the early fifties under the ownership of Charles’ son Will Hatch.  The press took jobs as vast and varied as country, bluegrass, and, eventually, rock concerts, advertising for companies and movies, and promotional materials for travelling diversions like minstrel shows and circuses. (This was the common work for show printers at that time, including Curtiss Show Print from Continental, Ohio. See the Curtiss Collection for examples of show prints from Curtiss.) However, after Will’s death, the company ownership changed hands many times, and this coupled with the increasing digitalization of the medium threatened to put Hatch out of business. Jim Sherraden came to the company at the perfect moment, revitalizing it and shepherding it through its purchase by Gaylord Entertainment (owners of The Grand Ole Opry) and donation to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 1992.

Jim is a celebrity in the printmaking world and a major figure in the revival letterpress printing has found in the last few years. He believes in preserving the manual labor and homespun quality of non-digital printing in a philosophy he describes as “preservation through production.” Hatch Show Print embodies this philosophy, continuing to take orders for musical acts, tours, businesses, and product promotion, doing 500-600 jobs each year.


OSU Design Undergrads

The Ohio State design undergrads are used to working primarily with digital printmaking, though their recent projects were letterpress, so getting to meet with Sherraden provided the opportunity to not only improve their own work, but to learn from the history of their craft. Sherraden himself was introduced to Hatch by a college instructor who admired his exhibit of linocuts and woodblock carvings, so perhaps one of these second-year students will one day credit Sherraden’s visit and instruction as the beginning of their own career in design.

The TRI would like to say thank you to Columbus Society of Communicating Arts for bringing Jim Sherraden to Columbus in the first place for a sold-out presentation at the Gateway Film Institute and a workshop with Igloo Press in Worthington.

Department of Design blogpost


 From the Armbruster Scenic Studio Collection SPEC.TRI.ARM.1.50

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute staff

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute staff

Danish Porgy and Bess Production Used as Tool for Nazi Resistance

Danish Porgy and Bess Used as Tool for Nazi Resistance

by Cecelia Bellomy

Cecelia Bellomy holds Holger Bech  letter to Breen

Cecelia Bellomy holds Holger Bech letter to Breen

Robert’s Breen touring production of the African American folk­opera Porgy and Bess is most notable for its use as a political tool during the Cold War, unprecedentedly being allowed to tour in the U.S.S.R. But this was not the first time Porgy and Bess was used to fight tyranny.

While the Breen production famously toured the world, it was not the first production of the opera to be done overseas. This claim goes to the Royal Danish Opera in Denmark. From the Theatre Research Institute’s records on the Breen touring production, there is some correspondence which uncovers this little­known first overseas production and the political controversy attached to it.

Carl Strakosch Limited bought the rights for a Scandinavian production of Porgy and Bess between 1938 and 1939, and Holger Bech translated the script into Danish. Performed with an all­white cast, the production debuted in March, 1943, three years after the beginning of Nazi occupation. The Germans, incensed by a production full of black characters (even performed by whites) written by the Jewish George Gershwin, “protested against this ‘offence’ [sic] and threatened to blow up the theatre” Bech wrote to Breen. With a sold out house every night, the performances continued in the face of Nazi scrutiny, eventually with “20 policemen posted around the building” for security. The production carried on until 1944 when the “whole policeforce [sic] was arrested and sent to camps in Germany.” The production was then jubilantly revived in May, 1945 after the end of occupation and continued to be performed until 1952.  Bech writes that staging Porgy and Bess became a part of the Danish “‘Resistance Spirit’” against the Nazis and that the production “helped [the Danish people] through the bad years” of occupation.

All of the letters from which the above quotations were taken  are letters in which Bech begs Breen to give Carl Strakosch Ltd. back the rights to revive the Scandinavian production of Porgy and Bess. Breen revoked the rights in 1952 after his Everyman Opera Company gained control of them. Breen never allowed Bech the rights, as he refused to let the opera be performed by anyone besides African Americans. This correspondence finds itself at a fascinating intersection: Bech wanting the production back which spirited his countrymen against Nazi oppression, and Breen refusing a production which perpetuated the oppression of blacks. Porgy and Bess finally returned to the Danish Opera House in 2014 with an all­black cast as a symbol of freedom on two fronts.

Note: All of the letters quoted above can be found in the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute at call number SPEC.TRI.RB.1.87.8

The blogpost author:

Cecelia Bellomy is a 2nd Year (Sophomore) English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration and a Theatre minor.  She has been a student employee at the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute for a year and a half, most recently working with the Robert Breen Collection.

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