Germantown Theatre Guild records
Held at: Germantown Historical Society [Contact Us]5501 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, 19144-2225
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Germantown Historical Society. 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 Germantown Theatre Guild (GTG) in Philadelphia is one of the oldest small non-profit regional theatres in the country. Founded in 1933, the Theatre Guild continued (as of 2014) to operate out of the small carriage-house theatre and offices which are part of the historic residence built in 1742. The stage was the site of the first live televised theatre performance in the world in 1947. In 1970, the School District of Philadelphia built a theatre in the John B. Kelly school for the GTG to use for its Free Theatre for Children program. Known for years as “the theatre with a social conscience,” the GTG has had as its mission serving audiences that are out of the mainstream of the cultural experience, taking plays into rural communities, inner city schools, libraries, senior citizen and recreation centers, as well as prisons in three states. It was the first theatre in the nation to have a policy of culturally inclusive casting, which it initiated in 1968. Its productions mingled all ethnic groups, both in the social structure as well as within the family groupings of the plays. For this forward-looking policy, the Germantown Theatre Guild was cited by Actors' Equity as being on the cutting edge of “non-traditional casting,” and seen as an example for the casting policies of professional theatres around the country.
Since the 1940s, the Germantown Theatre Guild offered classes in acting, playwriting, mime, puppetry, dance, and story telling, supplying teachers, directors and actors to numerous theatres in the Delaware Valley. Over one hundred of the Guild's artists have gone on to further careers in theatre, films, and television elsewhere in the United States. The Germantown Theatre Guild received awards from the Philadelphia Human Rights Commission, the American Theatre Association, the National Commission on Literacy, La Salle University, the Pennsylvania Society for Retarded Children, The Black Actors' and Designers Guild, and the City of New Orleans.
"A Brief History of The Germantown Theatre Guild." 1993. Document found in collection.
The Germantown Theatre Guild records are the institutional records of the Germantown Theatre Guild. This collection dates from 1910 to 2009, with a number of undated records, and contains administrative records as well as materials related to theatrical performances, such as programs, scripts, and photographs. Together, these records document the activities of one of the oldest and most respected small, non-profit theater companies in the country.
This collection is organized into two series: “I. Theatre productions, 1910-1996,” and "II. Administrative files, 1910-2009.” Many materials are undated, so these dates should be considered an approximate range. Since much of the legacy arrangement was preserved, some overlap is present between the two series.
Series “I. Theatre productions, 1910-1996” is divided into two subseries: “Ia. Plays, 1910-1994” and “Ib. Publicity, 1937-1995.”
Subseries “IIb. Publicity” dates from 1937 to 1995 and contains press clippings, press releases and other materials that promoted Guild productions. The subseries is arranged by document type, with the materials arranged in various ways within each type.
The legacy arrangement of the newspaper clippings was preserved, and they are arranged alphabetically by production name, followed by other subjects. One example of this is a series of editorials authored by Katharine Minehart in the 1940s concerning theatrical companies and their wartime duties. Since different record keepers assembled these clippings, there are duplicates often found in multiple locations. For example, at some point clippings were organized in envelopes labeled with alphabetical runs; these were preserved in this legacy order. A large portion of the clippings were not arranged chronologically and this legacy choice was also preserved.
Newspaper clippings are followed by promotional materials, which include press releases, flyers, brochures, and artwork. These are arranged alphabetically by play or subject. They document events such as fundraisers (the “Curtain Call Bargainza,” a sale of stage costumes and props) and participation in city programs (the “Inner City Cultural Festival” hosted by the Philadelphia Museum of Art), along with the theatrical productions staged by the Guild. A notable item used to promote the Guild and its activities is a calendar first published in 1945 and featuring block prints designed and cut by students at Simon Gratz High School.
Other publications and resources kept by the Guild, such as promotional materials related to other theatrical companies in the area, are filed at the end of this subseries and are arranged alphabetically.
Series “II. Administrative files, 1910-2009” is made up of five subseries: “IIa. Board of Directors, 1950-1999” “IIb. Financial records, 1968-2001” “IIc. Development, 1939-1995 “IId. Correspondence, 1942-1998” and “IIe. Subject files, 1910-2009.”
Subseries “IIa. Board of Directors” dates from 1950-1999 and includes board correspondence, meeting announcements and meeting minutes, reports to the board, lists of board members, and two notebooks that contain the Secretary’s records for the years 1977 to 1979 and 1980 to 1982. These records also include materials that reflect the civic role of the Guild in Germantown—an ongoing involvement in neighborhood concerns, such as zoning and neighborhood watch, is apparent. This subseries is arranged by document type and then chronologically within each type.
Subseries “IIb. Financial records” dates from 1968-2001 and includes records related to accounts, banking, bills, payroll, the overall budget (including balance sheets for cash, income, and expenses), and income tax related records. These files are arranged alphabetically by topic, and then, in some cases, in chronological order within the topic. At the end of this subseries, there are nine legacy files from the years 1968 to 1983, still in their original housings, which mainly contain fiscal year accounting records, and are also arranged by document type and then chronologically within each type.
Subseries “IIc. Development” dates from 1939 to 1995 and includes grants, organized alphabetically by funding institution, and proposals, organized alphabetically by production or project name. The grants files often contain a single fundraising appeal letter; correspondence generally indicates that a polite letter of refusal was sent in answer to that request. When records documenting a grant application and/or an award are present, the folder title reflects that. The proposal files contain Guild-generated literature or packages of materials, often related to a specific production or project, that were submitted for a specific grant proposal or sent to funding institutions with an appeal letter.
Researchers should note that subseries IIa through subseries IIc, especially, do not represent a comprehensive account of the Guild’s administrative activities: in some cases, documentation is clearly missing. Subseries “IId. Correspondence” contains the correspondence of the Guild and dates from 1942 to 1993. Files are organized alphabetically by subject or correspondent’s name, preserving the legacy arrangement. Notable files contain material related to World War II, the Bicentennial in Philadelphia, and exchanges with various organizations such as Saint Michael’s Neighborhood Association. These materials are followed by a group that was labeled “General correspondence” and chronologically sorted; this legacy arrangement was also preserved.
Many records related to post-1970s Guild productions were filed under “Touring,” another large group in this subseries. These records contain materials related to specific aspects of these touring plays, such as confirmation agreements from host institutions, as well as season schedules for all plays available for tours. The group that directly preceded the Germantown Guild, the Wakefield Players, are also represented in this subseries. Katharine and her parents, John and Violet Minehart, were all members of this company and these records include photographs and programs of their productions.
The processing of 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.
This collection was minimally 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 backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate 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 tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages in 16 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 4 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily 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.
The wooden sign that hung on the theater building at 4821 Germantown Avenue, reading “Germantown Theatre Guild” and painted in white on blue with a small pitched roof cover, was also donated to the Germantown Historical Society. Additionally, a selection of costumes from theatrical performances are part of the Germantown Historical Society collection. For further information about these items, please contact the Germantown Historical Society.
- Germantown Historical Society
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Carey Hedlund and Alina Josan
- Finding Aid Date
- 2014 September 1
- 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
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.