Theatre of the Living Arts of Philadelphia records
Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Theatre of the Living Arts was the brainchild of two local Philadelphia women, Celia Silverman and Jean Goldman, both veterans of the theatre world. They were determined to establish a regional theatre in the Philadelphia area, which would also function as a multipurpose performing arts center, featuring film, dance, and music. In order to establish the theatre, Silverman and Goldman partnered with Anthony Checchia and Howard Berkowitz to form the non-profit organization that would operate and become the Board of Directors for the TLA, the Philadelphia Council for the Performing Arts (PCPA). A derelict movie theatre was purchased in 1964 at 334 South Street, renovated, and was completed in 1965. The first production, Galileo, took place in January 1965 and ran for three weeks. The goal of the TLA was to establish a repertory theatre company that would both represent and enrich the Philadelphia region, and during its six-year run it performed the works of over twenty-one major playwrights, including Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Moliere, Luigi Pirandello, and Bertolt Brecht. Many of the performances were resounding critical and financial successes, but controversy over some of the more radical play choices, combined with a mounting debt, contributed to the eventual disbandment of the repertory theatre in 1970.
In addition to performances using its own company, the TLA also played host to other theatrical groups and performing arts events. The Twyla Tharp Dancers were one such group featured, as well as Max Morath and selections from the Marlboro Music Festival. The company also frequently performed in school tours for Philadelphia children, and in 1970 the Routy Rep Players were established, an improvisational mime group aimed at young audiences. The TLA’s 1968 summer program for children, "Theatre in the Streets," was developed in conjunction with the Philadelphia Anti-Poverty Action Commission and worked to connect disadvantaged youth with the theatre and performing arts.
The TLA’s final production season took place in 1969-1970. Over the course of the six years it was active, however, it fostered the early careers of some well-known actors, including Judd Hirsch, Morgan Freeman, Danny DeVito, Sally Kirkland, Estelle Parsons, and Rob Liebman.
The Theatre of the Living Arts records house the organizational records of The Theatre of Living Arts (TLA), a small Philadelphia theatre that developed as a result of the desire for regional plays and productions. This collection, which dates from 1930 to 1971, with bulk dates of 1964 to 1970, consists of administrative and production reports, correspondence, contracts, photographs, programs, and other planning and organizational materials created by the TLA. These records paint a picture of a small theatre struggling to become and stay relevant in Philadelphia, gain and keep an audience and membership base, and produce artistic, timely plays that generated revenue as well as contribute to the flourishing culture of the city. The somewhat haphazard nature of the records provides an interesting look at how the theatre tried to organize its functions, despite being a rather unorthodox institution. This collection illustrates the beginnings and endings of a longstanding Philadelphia cultural institution, which remains a popular concert venue through 2014.
The collection is arranged into three series: I. Administrative, 1952-1971, II. Financial, 1964-1971, and III. Productions, 1930-1970.
Series I. Administrative dates from 1952 to 1971, with bulk dates of 1964 to 1970. Included in this series are materials from TLA’s Board of Directors and formative council, the Philadelphia Council of the Performing Arts, including articles of incorporation, by-laws, and other establishment materials. The series also includes theatre histories, minutes, press releases, establishment photographs, mailing lists and labels, clippings, correspondence, actor and staff information and contracts, and documentation of other events held at the theatre. This series provides insight into the early development and establishment of the theatre, relationships between the theatre and other organizations, staff turnover and hiring practices, and the struggles to establish the theatre’s presence in Philadelphia and membership. There is some crossover between these materials and press releases in Series III. Productions, especially in terms of press releases and event documentation. This series is divided into four subseries: Ia. General, 1952-1971, Ib. Correspondence, 1963-1971, Ic. Actors, staff, and contracts, 1964-1970, and Id. Events and programming, 1965-1971.
Subseries Ia. General dates from 1952 to 1971, with bulk dates of 1964 to 1970. Included in this subseries are documents from TLA’s early history and founding, including an initial run of materials from the Philadelphia Council for the Performing Arts, the group that formed in order to create the TLA and remained active as the Board of Directors. Within this specific run of documents, there are articles of incorporation, by-laws, a Charter of Accountability, Board of Directors minutes, meeting schedules, correspondence, and elected officers lists. Following the PCPA materials, there is a run of assorted administrative documents, comprised of histories, early photographs of the TLA, mailing lists and labels, advertisements and press releases, various planning documentation, clippings and publicity, and other general administrative correspondence. Although the documentation in this subseries is somewhat scattered and incomplete, there is substantial evidence of the efforts to establish the theater and an audience base, as well as thorough documentation of the establishing officers and initial theatre staff. Of particular interest may be materials pertain to the resignations and ousting of certain board members, which illustrates the theater’s early financial difficulties. The subseries is arranged first with a run of Philadelphia Council for the Performing Arts materials, followed by assorted administrative documents, each in chronological order.
Subseries Ib. Correspondence dates from 1963 to 1971, with bulk dates from 1966 to 1972. This subseries consists largely of out-going letters, illustrating the various activities of the theater. Major correspondents featured in this subseries are John Bos, the producing director; Andre Gregory, the artistic director; Ellen Roston, general manager; and Selby Fleming Holmberg, executive secretary. The letters demonstrate the wide range of topics involved in the administration of a regional repertory theater, including job applications, ticket and information requests, financial matters, Board of Directors’ politics, and promotional mailings, among others. This subseries is arranged chronologically by production season, including "1968-1969" and "1969-1970," then alphabetically within each season, with assorted records in each season arranged chronologically following the alphabetical runs. These are followed by a run of chronological outgoing correspondence.
Subseries Ic. Actors, Staff, and Contracts dates from 1964 to 1970. This subseries contains materials pertaining to employees of the theater, mainly actors and technical crew members. Much of the material pertains to the more permanent or long-term employees such as production crews, repertory actors, and administrative staff; however, there are also materials regarding one-time services provided to the theatre such as insurance, hardware supply, and film rentals. This subseries also presents the most restricted files within the collection, particularly within the "Contracts" run of documents. Researchers should consult repository staff regarding access. This subseries is arranged by categories represented in the subseries title from greatest to least represented: staff, contracts, and then actors.
Subseries Id. Events and programming dates from 1965 to 1971, with bulk dates from 1965 to 1969. This subseries shows the various activities of the theater outside of theatrical productions. A significant portion of the subseries consists of the papers of the theater’s Southwark Theatre School, which instructed children and adults, professionals and non-professionals, in the dramatic arts. In addition to the operations of the school, the theater arranged several summer film festivals, as well as numerous dance and musical performances. This subseries illustrates that the Theatre of the Living Arts initially embraced a wide range of performances during their first few years of operation. This subseries is arranged first with a run of Southwark Theatre School materials, followed by assorted events and programming papers, each filed chronologically.
Series II. Financial dates from 1964 to 1971 and includes various financial reports, invoices, purchase orders, contracts, subscription campaign materials, ticket vouchers, ledgers, and budgets. The series is divided into two subseries: Ia. General, 1964-1971, and Ib. Fundraising, 1964-1970.
Subseries IIa. General dates from 1964 to 1971 and is arranged in order of most well-represented document category, followed by a run of general financial documents, and then chronologically within that order. The document categories are Box Office, Expenses, and Payroll. The Box Office records document house counts; daily and weekly reports on the many productions and events held in the theatre; reports on individual and group ticket sales; subscription campaigns where patrons received discounted rates for season tickets; ticket vouchers and exchanges, surveys, and contracts. This run of material provides insight into the TLA’s primary revenue stream, audience counts, and efforts to increase attendance. The Expenses materials are primarily made up of the invoices and purchase orders created by TLA, both in terms of administrative and production expenses, and highlight some of the companies frequently used to obtain supplies for shows. The Payroll documents are mostly timesheets and accounts due lists. Many of these records are restricted, so researchers should consult the repository regarding access. The remaining assorted financial materials are primarily made up of check stub booklets for expenses, petty cash, and other accounts payable information, as well as budget summaries, balance sheets, forms, and ledgers. This subseries is fairly complete, especially the run of Box Office documents, as it includes reports on many specific productions, and is a good representation of the effort to establish an organized and thorough record of finances in a small theatre. These materials may be particularly interesting for researchers when considering the financial problems that eventually drove the TLA to cease producing shows.
Subseries IIb. Fundraising dates from 1964 to 1970, with bulk dates of 1967 to 1970. Included are pledge acknowledgements, mailers, letters of appreciation, clippings, mailing lists, solicitation letters, and event brochures and invitations. This subseries highlights some of the fundraising efforts put forth by the TLA, especially in the later years when financial troubles became more apparent and the theatre struggled to eliminate its deficit. The documents are mostly from a membership drive and a few production benefit events, as well as a "Costume Bizarre and Auction." It is not very complete and appears to indicate a lack of fundraising efforts. This subseries is arranged chronologically.
Series III. Productions dates from 1930 to 1970, with bulk dates of 1964 to 1970. This series is arranged chronologically by season, then alphabetically by production within each season, with assorted season materials following the production-specific files. At the end of the series is a short run of assorted production material, followed by research files, arranged chronologically. Materials found here are performance-specific production files, scripts, cast lists, programs, production posters, seating charts, contact sheets and photographs, reviews and clippings, season schedules, set design maps, correspondence, booking contracts, promotional materials, and production notes. Some seasons are better represented than others, in particular the 1968-1969 season, which featured productions such as Little Murders, America Hurrah, and Walk, Together Children. Other productions well represented in this series are A Scaffold for Marionettes (1967-1968 season), The Line of Least Existence (1969-1970 season), Galileo (1965 season), and Six Characters in Search of an Author (1968-1969 season). This series provides a fairly complete look at the many productions performed at the TLA and the process by which those shows were performed, although there is substantial overlap with other series, especially Subseries Ic. Actors, staff, and contracts, which provides better insight into cast and staff searches for the productions. However, this series additionally contains contact sheets and photographs of some of the productions (although many are absent), advertisements and flyers, correspondence about the production process, programs and playbill mockups.
Many people in the Philadelphia region are familiar with the TLA as a concert venue in its current iteration, but researchers will be interested in this collection’s documentation of TLA’s initial purpose as a regional theatre. Additionally, there are records of early career roles for many well-known actors, including Danny DeVito, Morgan Freeman, Judd Hirsch, Sally Kirkland, and others. Although there are some gaps in the record (mainly images from the productions and some administrative documentation), this collection offers excellent evidence of a small regional theatre struggling to gain a foothold in the Philadelphia community, putting on some well-regarded and successful plays before having to shift its purpose. The scattered nature of this collection provides rich contextual information regarding the organizational habits of the TLA and its staff, as well as very thorough contractual documentation, making it an important record of the history of the dramatic arts in Philadelphia.
This collection was processed in 2013-2014 as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlogs in sixteen Philadelphia repositories. The project used a less intensive processing methodology than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article "More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections," the project team processed at an average rate of 4 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time traditionally reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections or complete any preservation work.
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Annalise Berdini and Megan Evans.
- Finding Aid Date
- ; 2015.
- The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project.
- Access Restrictions
A number of folders are closed to researchers are closed to researchers for 75 years from date of creation. These folders have been moved to Box 89, which may not be accessed. These files will be returned to their boxes once the restricted period as noted on each folder ends. See the Collection Inventory for specifics. Otherwise, this collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact HSP's Rights and Reproductions department with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.