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Harold Washington Library
Photograph: CC/Flickr/Daniel X. O'Neil

Chicago Public Library to host archive of filmed theater performances

Written by
Kris Vire

The nascent Chicago Film Archive of Performance has found a home as part of the Chicago Public Library’s Special Collections and Preservation Division. Housed at the Harold Washington Library Center, the archive will preserve live performances of Chicago theater and dance for future viewing on film, along with video interviews with theater professionals.

Founded as a 501(c)3 in 2013 by Drew Blau, a film and theater professional and member of the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee, the archive has an agreement with Actors’ Equity Association approving the recording of performances for preservation purposes. It’s already logged 21 archival recordings, mostly at the storefront-theater level, with plans for five more by the end of June and a total of 40 by the end of the year. The productions recorded so far include:

Animals Out of Paper, Shattered Globe Theatre
Byhalia, Mississippi, The New Colony & Definition Theatre Company
Circle-Machine, Oracle Productions
Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, Raven Theatre
The Drowning Girls, Signal Ensemble Theatre
The Few, Steep Theatre Company
The Hairy Ape, Oracle Productions
The Jungle, Oracle Productions
Le Switch, About Face Theatre
Miss Buncle’s Book, Lifeline Theatre
Murder Ballad, Bailiwick Chicago
No Wake, Route 66 Theatre Company
Porcelain, Prologue Theatre Company
Posh, Steep Theatre Company
Sender, A Red Orchid Theatre
Really Really, Interrobang Theatre Project
Red, Redtwist Theatre
Rolling, Jackalope Theatre
United Flight 232, The House Theatre of Chicago
The Wild Party, Bailiwick Chicago 
Yasmina’s Necklace, 16th Street Theatre

It wasn’t immediately clear from CPL’s announcement, which I received after the library’s press office was closed for the day, whether there would be restrictions on who can access the archive’s recordings. The Theatre on Film and Tape Archive of the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, which similarly preserves Broadway and Off Broadway productions on film, requires that patrons “must meet eligibility requirements, which include theatre professionals, students, or researchers with work or study-related reasons for viewing.” I’ve reached out to the library and will update this post with further information. UPDATE: Blau says the archives are non-circulating (no surprise there), but anyone with a valid photo ID can access them for viewing—you don’t even have to have a library card. Materials are available in the Special Collections Reading Room on the library’s 9th floor; Reading Room hours are Monday and Tuesday, 12pm–6pm, and Friday and Saturday, 12pm–4pm.

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