Rhode Island Theatre Collection

Just in time to close out 2013, I'm happy to announce the newly processed Rhode Island Theatre Collection.   This collection pulls together a number of theatre and performance materials previously uncataloged in the Rhode Island Collection.  Our Fall intern, Jessica Lemieux, spent many hours organizing the items by theatre and then chronologically, rehousing them into archival folders and boxes and inventorying the them.   I completed the fully searchable finding aid and got the materials ready to be accessible to researchers during the slower-than-usual Christmas holiday week.  

The first dramatic performance in Rhode Island was performed in Newport in 1761 by a comedic troupe lead by David Douglass.  However, after a single performance by the company in Providence in 1762, the colony passed legislation making the staging of plays illegal – a law which applied until the 1790s.  The popular era of theatre began in the late 19th century, but it was not until the 1870s that Rhode Island, specifically Providence, experienced a truly robust theatre scene.  The heyday of Providence theatre, from the 1870s to 1940s, mirrored the popularity of theatre nationally.  Providence became the center for performances and was home to a large number of theatres, music halls and theatre companies showing plays, musicals, vaudeville, burlesque and music concerts.  While a number of venues closed in the latter half of the 20th century or were repurposed as movie theaters, Rhode Island has maintained a thriving and popular theatre and performance community.  

The Rhode Island Theatre Collection contains handbills, performance programs, newspapers clippings, and personal notes related to theatres and theatre companies in Rhode Island from 1855-2006.  It includes materials from theatres and performance venues from across Rhode Island, but predominantly in Providence.   Many well known theatres such as the Providence Opera House, Metropolitan Theatre, Modern Theatre, Providence Performing Art Center and Trinity Repertory Company are represented. 

The largest portion of the collection includes materials from Trinity Repertory Company in Providence and includes performance programs, materials associated with their Humanities programs, clippings and ephemera. The remainder of the collection holds programs and corresponding newspaper clippings, photographs and notes from theatres and musical performances throughout Rhode Island.  

You might remember a post last month about some handbills advertising the Forbes Theatre - these handbills are now part of this larger archival collection.  Come and check it out yourself!  

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Kate Wells

As the Rhode Island Collection librarian at Providence Public Library, Kate Wells helps bring Rhode Island history to light by increasing access to the collection and providing research assistance to patrons. In the “Rhode Island Red” blog, Kate showcases interesting materials from the collection, provides research tip & techniques, and highlights local history. Feel free to contact her if you have any Rhode Island related questions; she is always happy to help. Email: kwells@provlib.org.


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