I love collections of theatre-related items, from costume and set designs to used, wilted, and scribbled-in scripts. I was so pleased to discover the following collection available from the Library of Congress through its American Memory series.

Playbill for "The Echo." Washington, D.C. : New National Theatre, 1910 October 3.

The American Variety Stage is a multimedia anthology selected from various Library of Congress holdings. This collection illustrates the vibrant and diverse forms of popular entertainment, especially vaudeville, that thrived from 1870-1920. Included are 334 English- and Yiddish-language playscripts, 146 theater playbills and programs, 61 motion pictures, 10 sound recordings and 143 photographs and 29 memorabilia items documenting the life and career of Harry Houdini. For more information on the intriguing background of this collection, please see the collection’s Introduction and the  Editor’s Note.

Highlights of the American Variety Stage collection include:

  • Sound recordings. Click on the “Browse” link for a list of the ten recording titles. Files are available in RealAudio or WAV versions.
  • The Harry Houdini component. Click on the “Browse” link for a complete list of materials. If an image does not appear in the record, click on “View this item” to open it.
  • The Theater Playbills and Programs collection is a fantastic snapshot of popular graphic design styles and typefaces of the vaudeville era.
  • The Motion Picture collection offers a rare glimpse of vaudeville performances. The collection includes information about the films and their historical context, help with viewing the films, and more.
  • The collection of English-language play scripts contains 270 unpublished manuscripts of vaudeville sketches, spectacles, monologues, and more.
  • The collection of Yiddish-language play scripts contains 77 unpublished manuscripts that came out of Jewish immigrant communities in the vaudeville era.

The American Variety Stage Collection is a remarkable resource for scholars, artists, and writers who are interested in the material performed in the American theatre 1870-1920 and the ephemera associated with those performances.

We hope you enjoy browsing the American Variety Stage Collection as much as we did – let us know what you find! Tweet at us on Twitter and post your comments on Facebook. We can’t wait to talk with you! – Laura

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