A handy guide on how to research theatre

The V&A museum’s Theatre & Performance section has released a useful document on how to go about researching theatre.

The thorough guide runs through a range of options for theatre scholars and people interested in learning more about theatre, especially in the UK.

Topics covered include:

Finding sources of information about theatre and performance

Including advice on the V&A special collections and archives of theatre and the performing arts, from individual performers and collectors, theatres, theatre companies and other organisations; and the British Library’s collection of Lord Chamberlain’s papers, plays and daybooks.

Researching specific theatre and performance topics

Based on people (theatre actors and creatives), theatre companies, specific theatre productions and theatre buildings.

Researching people in the performing arts

Registration documents, parish records, wills and census returns are the best source of information, alongside playbill or programmes from the shows they performed in. Since 1930 Equity has registered professional actors. Specialist magazines such as The Play Pictorial (1902 – 1910) can also be a useful source of information.

Researching performance companies

First port of call should be the website of the production or performance company if it is contemporary. The V&A holds copies of the British Performing Arts Yearbook from 1986 onwards, and the British Theatre Directory from 1971 onwards.

Researching specific productions of plays and performance

The web may be quite new but you can find information on past productions since around 1990. Archives of newspapers, magazines and books are also a useful source of information, featuring news pieces and reviews, including Time Out Magazine, The Times, The London Stage 1660-1800: a calendar of plays, Who’s Who in the Theatre, 1912-1976, and Theatre Record from 1981 onwards.

Theatre buildings

The Theatres Trust provides a great resource on current and past theatre venues.


V&A: Researching Theatre and Performance

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