Performing Arts


Throughout its history, the Newberry has collected a variety of materials relating to the performing arts, including dance treatises, theater programs, broadsides, as well as the papers of dancers, journalists, and performing arts critics. With the guidance of Chicago dance documenter, collector, and journalist Ann Barzel, the Newberry has become a significant center for the study of dance history in Chicago and the Midwestern region. Barzel’s own massive dance collection forms the nucleus of the library’s Midwest Dance Collection. Performing arts may be studied within the context of the library’s broad and deep special collections, focused on the history and culture of Europe and the Americas (including indigenous peoples) from the era of discovery. For Music research and resources, see the Music Research Guide.

To find performing arts-related materials in the Newberry’s collections, you can search by Subject in our catalog using the following headings:



Performing Arts



You can also search by the name of a specific performer, critic, or theater company. All items with a “Ref” call number can be viewed on the open shelves on the 3rd floor. General and Special Collections items must be retrieved by staff.

To find Modern Manuscript collections related to the performing arts, go to the Modern Manuscripts and Archives search page. You can use the “Browse by Topic” feature or conduct a keyword search for a specific dancer, dance or theater company, circus name, or genre. You can click on the links to “Arts”, “Dance”, and “Theater” or conduct a key word search for a specific dancer, dance or theater company, circus name, or genre.

Bordman, Gerald Martin. The Oxford Companion to the American Theatre. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. Location: 3rd floor Reference. Call Number: Ref PN 2220 .B6 1984.

Cullen, Frank, Florence Hackman, and Donald McNeilly. Vaudeville Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. New York and London: Routledge, 2007. Location: 3rd floor Reference. Call Number: Ref PN 1968 .U5 C85 2007.

The Encyclopedia of Dance and Ballet. New York: Putnam, 1977. Location: 3rd floor Reference. Call Number: Ref GV 1585 .E53 1977.

Gänzl, Kurt. The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre. New York: Schirmer Books, 1994. Location: 3rd floor Reference. Call Number: Ref ML 102 .M88 G3 1994.

Giordano, Ralph. Social Dancing in America: A History and Reference. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007. Location: 3rd floor Reference. Call Number: Ref GV1623.G56 2007.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre & Performance. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Call Number: Ref PN 2035 .O94 2003.

Stratman, Carl Joseph. Bibliography of Medieval Drama. New York: F. Ungar, 1972. Call Number: Ref Z 5782 .A2 S8 1972.

Abelson, Hope, 1910-2006: Hope Abelson Papers, 1914-2008

Materials related to the theater career, business, and personal life of Chicago theater producer and philanthropist Hope Abelson, including scripts, theater mementos, correspondence, financial documents, photographs, audio recordings, and video recordings.

Barzel, Ann: Ann Barzel Dance Research Collection, ca. 1830-2010

Materials collected by dance critic Ann Barzel, documenting the history of dance in Chicago and worldwide. Research collection includes brochures and other publicity, news clippings, programs, souvenir books, audiovisual material, posters and prints, photographs, scrapbooks, and artifacts.

Cassidy, Claudia: Claudia Cassidy Papers, 1880s-1996

Articles and reviews, correspondence, broadcast scripts, photographs, and clippings of the Chicago Tribune performing arts critic from 1942 to 1965. Cassidy wrote her influential “On the Aisle” column for the Tribune, then wrote freelance criticism and hosted a weekly program of arts criticism for WFMT, helping to shape the course of music, theater, and dance in Chicago.

Olson, Christina, b. 1881: Christina Olson Papers, 1891-1918

Material relating to Chicago dancer Christina Olson, who, at the age of twelve, performed as a Turkish dancer in the Turkish Theater at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Includes her music school diploma, hand-written documents concerning her employment and performances, her marriage certificate, and two photographs. Also, three items relating to the Exposition – a general ticket of admission, her passbook, and a program for the Turkish Theater.

Theater programs, ca. 1755-present

Programs, playbills, and scrapbooks for theatrical productions, including music recitals, opera, motion pictures, and other spectacles in addition to drama. Programs from Chicago, New York City, and England make up a large portion of the collection, but there are examples from theaters across the United States and Europe. Printed inventory available in the checklist area in the General Reading Room.

The Newberry offers a number of digital resources including online exhibitions, classroom resources, and digital collections. These resources showcase digital images of materials from the Newberry’s collection, as well as providing background information and context for these materials.

Ballyhoo! A Peek Under the Big Top

In 1939, Chicago architect Irving Kane Pond (1857–1939) gave his collection of circus memorabilia to the Newberry Library. As a child, Pond enjoyed doing acrobatics and the thrill of the circus, a passion which continued throughout his lifetime through his involvement with the National Circus Fans Association. Pond’s collection represents over 20 circuses that toured throughout the United States and Europe, consisting of circus programs and inscribed photographs, as well as original drawings for Pond’s 1937 book, Big Top Rhythms.

Most of the databases at the Newberry are subscription databases; therefore access is available to registered readers only within the library building. Those listed below are subscription databases.

JSTOR: Provides full-text access to an archive of major scholarly journals. Contains complete runs from their first volumes up through approximately five years ago.

ProjectMuse: Provides full-text access to recent volumes of scholarly journals in the arts and humanities published by Johns Hopkins University Press and journals of other university presses.

For a comprehensive list of all our databases, visit our Databases webpage.

The Harold Washington Library Center Special Collections has several performing arts-related archival collections that include papers of Chicago playwrights, theater companies, and a large collection of historical theater programs.

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