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Guide to Research in Theatre and Performance

Reference Sources - Books - Journals -
Finding Critical Articles and Reviews of Plays in Journals, Magazines and Newspapers
Selected Websites for Theatre

This guide includes basic resources, both print and electronic, in the fields of theatre and performance. Since these fields are interdisciplinary (the history of theatre, for example, includes general history, popular culture, and the history of particular theatrical productions) and can be subdivided into more specific areas of study (technical design, acting, directing, etc.), this guide does not cover in depth all of theatre’s related fields and subfields. Please consult a librarian for further help in defining your research needs.


The books in the reference collection (located on 2nd floor) can be a good starting point for research--to give you background on a playwright or play, historical period, fashion trend, or cultural phenomenon. Reference sources often include bibliographies, that is, lists of books and articles that will provide additional information on your topic.

Plays, Playwrights, Production History

The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre
REF PN1861 .W67 1994 (6 vols.)
An encyclopedia of nations and their theatres since 1945.

Contemporary Dramatists
REF PN1625 .V5 1993
Short introductions to playwrights.

Drama Criticism
REF PN1601 .D59 (21+ vols.)
Long entries providing background and essays on playwrights and plays of all periods and nationalities.

American Drama Criticism
REF PS332 .A4 1979 (5 vols.)
Lists of reviews and criticism of American plays published from 1890-1993.

Black Literature Criticism
REF PS153 .N5 B556 (3 vols.)
Similar in format to Drama Criticism. The biographical info overlaps with Drama Criticism, but the essays about the works do not overlap.

Historical Background

The People’s Chronology
REF D11 .T83 1992
A classic reference book that includes lots of tidbits about events and culture that occurred each year throughout history, including such topics as music, sports, everyday life, agriculture, religion, and more.

Chronology of World History
REF D11 .M39 1999 (4 vols.)
Similar to People’s Chronology, but more extensive information in 4 volumes.

The Timetables of History
REF D11 .G78 2005
Arranged in tables that allow you to compare easily from year to year such areas as historical events, literature and theater, religion, visual arts, science, and daily life.

The U.S.A.: Chronicle in Pictures
REF E174.5 .W4 1991
A year-by-year list of events with pictures.

American Decades
REF E169.12 .A419 1994 (11 vols.)
Each volume covers a different decade in the 20th century, through the 2000s. Each chapter includes short articles in categories such as fashion, the arts, and lifestyle and social trends.

Popular Culture

African-American Culture & History
REF E185 .E54 1996 (5 vols. and supplement)

Atlas of the Baby Boom Generation: A Cultural History of Postwar America
REF E741 .A88 2000
Fun and useful for trends, maps, pictures about boomers.

The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life
REF 31 .G74 2004 (6 vols.)
Each volume covers a different era of history beginning with the ancient world and finishing with the modern world. Broad topics such as domestic, economic, intellectual, material, and recreational life introduce the reader to people’s everyday lives.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture
REF E169.1 .S764 2000 (5 vols.)
An alphabetical arrangement of articles on hundreds of aspects of American popular culture, from Bugs Bunny to Snow White, hoola hoops to the ice cream cone. The indexes are useful--by decade and by category.

Costume and Set Design

Children’s Costume: The Complete Historical Sourcebook
REF GT1730 .P43 2009

Fashions of a Decade
REF GT596 .C67 1992 (8 vols.)
Each volume covers a decade through the 1990s.

Fashion Since 1900: The Complete Sourcebook
REF GT596 .P39 2007

For Appearance’ Sake: the Historical Encyclopedia of Good Looks, Beauty, and Grooming
REF GT499 .S49 2001

For both costume and set design, primary sources are important resources to use. If you are setting a play in 1930s Chicago, for example, you would want to see photographs of people and places in Chicago in the 1930s. A good resource is older magazines, and we own a few titles from early time periods. Browse for these in the call number area AP2 on the 1st floor. A few examples are:

AP2 .L547

Saturday Evening Post
AP2 .S2

AP2 .T37

We also own the database American Periodical Series which provides PDF’s of magazines that started publication between 1740 and 1900. Images and advertisements are included. APS is located under “Databases A-Z.”


You will probably look for photographs as documentation for set and costume design. The best advice is to search for books on the historical period and geographical place of your play, such as, “Illinois—History--Civil War.” Or, you can look under the topic of the play, such as, “farm life.” To find photographs of Iowa farms, for example, you could look in ALiCat under the subjects “Farm Life—Iowa—Pictorial Works” and “Iowa—Social Life and Customs—Pictorial Works.” The subheading “Social Life and Customs” is useful in looking for photographs of a place.

A History of Private Life
GT2400 .H5713 1987 (note this is NOT in the reference collection)
An interesting set of 5 volumes that chronicles the history of private life. Great for theatre students! In the last volume, for example, a piece called “Myths and Realities of the American Family” includes illustrations.


If you want to find artists’ renderings of clothes, hairstyles, or interiors of a period, the best approach is to identify artists of the time and place and then look for their work. Use the sources below to identify artists.

Timetables of History
REF D11 .G78
Here, you can look up a specific year throughout history and be informed of the artists working at the time. Then look up the artist you find in ALiCat or Oxford Art Online (see below).

American Decades
REF E169.12 .A419 1994 (9 vols.)
This is a variation on the timetables idea. Each decade of the 20th century in America is covered in a separate volume. Each volume has a section called “The Arts.” Look here to find out the trends and artists of the decade.

Oxford Art Online
Located on the library home page under “Databases/Databases A-Z,” OAO is an encyclopedia about art. The article “USA” in the section titled Grove Art Online outlines the major American movements and artists.

Encyclopedia Americana
REF AE5 .E333 2005 (30 vols.)
A general encyclopedia is sometimes helpful. For example, look under “American Art and Architecture” for names of artists.

Great Events from History II
REF NX456 .G72 1993 (5 vols.)
In each of 5 volumes, this source provides overviews of art, dance, fashion, music, etc. from 1897 to 1992. An article on “Artists Find Inspiration in African Tribal Art,” for example, describes the work of four artists. No pictures.

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Find books in the Tredway Library through the library’s catalog ALiCat. Find books in college libraries in Illinois through the I-Share catalog. Both catalogs work in the same way. You can request books from I-Share, and they will be sent to Augie.

Here are some useful subject headings to browse in ALiCat or I-Share. You can substitute other countries in the examples given. If you use these headings, choose “subject” rather than “keyword” in the AliCat search box:

Experimental theater
Women in the theater
United States—History
United States—Social Life and Customs
Clothing and Dress
Interior decoration—United States—History
Decorative arts—United States—History
Furniture—United States—History
Art—United States
Art, American
Art, Modern
Photography of Farms
Photography, Agricultural
Farm Life—Iowa—Pictorial Works
Iowa—Social Life and Customs—Pictorial Works

Useful Library of Congress call numbers (for browsing in the stacks on 1st floor):

Drama: PN 1600-3307
American drama: PS 330-353
English drama: PR 621-744
Special subjects: PN 1635-1650
Playwriting: PN 1660-1693
History: PN 1720-1861
Dramatic Representation: PN 2000-3307
Acting: PN 2061-2071
The Stage/Accessories (Design): PN 2085-2091
Tableaux, Pageants, “Happenings”: PN 3203-3399
Costumes: GT 500-GT2250 (3rd floor)
Interior decoration, furniture, etc.: NK 1700-3496.3
History of photography and collections of photographs by particular photographers: TR1-820

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These are prominent journals related to theatre. Most of them are available in electronic format through “Journals and Magazines” on the library website. The library’s journal holdings do fluctuate, so check “Journals and Magazines” for up-to-date information about what we have and where it is located.

Journals are an important resource in terms of critical analyses of plays. You can browse journals, but you can also search the library databases to find out exactly where critical articles have appeared. See the next section below.

American Theatre
Educational Theatre Journal
Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film
Theater - current paper issue located on 2nd floor
Theatre History Studies
Theatre Journal
Theatre Notebook
Theatre Survey - current paper issue located on 2nd floor
Theatre Topics
Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama and Sociometry
Modern Drama
TDR: The Drama Review
Tulane Drama Review
Performing Arts and Entertainment in Canada
TD&T – current paper issue located on 2nd floor

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Many reviews of play productions first appear in newspapers and magazines, from the New York Times and Village Voice to the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe. Although you can browse and search specific newspapers and magazines online, such as the New York Times, sometimes a more efficient way to find reviews of productions is to use a database such as Academic Search Complete or LexisNexis to search a bunch of periodicals at one time. Also, many online periodicals limit your access to the full text of articles. The library has a subscription to the New York Times, however, so we can provide you with a user name and password to access the full archive online--ask a reference librarian.

To help you pinpoint when and where productions of a play occurred, check the acting version of the play which often lists premieres and other notable productions.

To find articles of theatre criticism in journals, also use the library’s databases. Project Muse and Academic Search Complete are the two best databases to find theatre criticism.

Although most databases provide access to the full text of reviews and articles, you may come across articles that do not have the full text provided. In that case, look up the title of the periodical you need in “Journals and Magazines” on the library home page to find out where you can get the full text of the article. In some infrequent cases, you may have to use interlibrary loan to get an article; it’s easy and fast. Ask a reference librarian to help you.

The following are databases that will be useful in searching for reviews and articles related to theatre. You can find these databases by looking in the alphabetical list under “Databases/ Databases A-Z” on the library web page.

Academic Search Complete – includes indexing for magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals, so you will find reviews of productions as well as critical articles; many links are provided to the full text of the reviews and articles

Lexis-Nexis Universe – excellent for finding reviews of productions in newspapers around the country and the world; all full text

Project Muse – scholarly journals only; provides all full text; very good theatre coverage

JSTOR Journal Archive – scholarly journals only; provides all full text

America History & Life – scholarly; provides access to articles about American history and culture

Historical Abstracts – scholarly; world history

Humanities Abstracts

MLA Bibliography – provides access to scholarly journals in the field of literature, so here you will find articles of criticism rather than reviews

Wilson Omnifile

Historical New York Times – This database gives you access to the New York Times back to its beginning in 1850; the articles appear in PDF form, as they would have in the printed newspaper. There is a time lag, so you won’t find the current couple of months here.

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A Brief Guide to Internet Resources in Theatre and Performance Studies

Theatre History on the Web

The WWW Virtual Library of Theatre and Drama

Performing Arts Encyclopedia

The Costume Gallery

Costume Society of America

The Costume Page


Internet Broadway Database

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How do I get a job, you ask?

Louis Catron's 25 reasons a theatre major prepares you for jobs:

And take a look at this printed book in the Reference collection on 2nd floor:
Working in American Theatre: A Brief History, Career Guide and Resource Book for Over 1000Theatres
REF PN2074 .V65 2011

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